Marketers, here are some tips to get your white paper ready for translation

White papers require lots and lots of research, crosschecking, editing, and proofing. Readers expect it to be well-researched with solid sources and data. They hope to learn something from your white paper. So you put a lot of effort into writing one.

Once that’s done though, you’ll want to capitalize on this work and publish your white paper on different markets. That’s a natural step in your international strategy. White papers will generate leads, especially online, and will help you identify your target customer in each market. The more the better right?

But with each new market comes potential pitfalls. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing a preposition to fit your local version of English. Sometimes you need to translate it. And almost every time, you’ll need some localization to make sure your white paper fits what your leads in other countries expect of a white paper.

Making sure your potential customers receive information tailored to their cultural and linguistic particularities will improve your success rate. That being said, are there steps you can take to make sure nothing gets “lost in translation”?

Yes there are. Let us give you three:

#1. Shorten your phrases. Shorten your texts.

Yes, simple is better. Leave the beautifully worded sentences to literary essays. You may feel your text is a little dry as a result, but there is nothing wrong with that.

First, shorter sentences are always easier to understand. That’s true for everybody, even natives, but they improve your texts’ readability even more for non-native speakers.

Second, translators tend to follow your source text’s syntax. Sure, you can give them license to be creative with the translation, but it won’t always work with a white paper. Or any scientific/medical/financial writing, for that matter. That means that some easily understandable sentence structures in a language can quickly become syntactic monsters in their translation.

So yes, shorten everything. Shorten as much as you can without losing your intended meaning. That will make the translation and review processes easier, and less expensive.

#2. Avoid cultural references when possible.

We talked about this here and here before. But it’s worth mentioning here too.

Cultural references are complicated for your translator. This implies longer translation times and probably higher costs. But it’s not an insurmountable hurdle for them either.

Where they can pose problems is for the reader. Will they really understand that reference to “bank holidays” in England, or to “typical Vancouver weather”?

Like we mentioned in other publications, the type of cultural content to watch out for includes:

  • Idiomatic expressions, jokes
  • Pop culture references
  • Colors, Styles
  • Etiquette, Rituals, Beliefs
  • Video games, books, movies
  • Images, illustrations, graphics
  • Societal values
  • Marketing, Branding, Public Relations
  • Family, Relationships

If that seems like a lot, well, that’s because it is. So if you are not sure you can follow all these rules while writing the white paper, simply make a note to check for this type of content in the proofreading process.

#3. Use precise terminology.

There’s this great article illustrating just how differently the same expression can be interpreted in different cultures. Basically, the words “We can try that” can mean a timid approval in the USA while it would be a resounding “no” in Japan and a very strong “yes” in many European countries.

The same thing could be said with “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea” or “Let’s meet next month”. In Asia, that could safely be interpreted as “that’s not going to happen”, while in Germany that would mean “I’ll show up at your office exactly one month from today”.

The problem with these expressions is that while they have very direct translations, they have different meanings depending on where in the world you are.

So what are you to do?

Go over your white paper. Whenever you see a sentence that could potentially be misinterpreted, flag it. Then look for better, more straightforward ways to put it.

And don’t stop at these expressions. Sometimes the issue is with a single word, such as “lunch“, “faster turnaround time” “mid-sized company”. Basically, whenever you can quantify something, do it.


That’s it. If you follow these three steps, your white paper translation will be much smoother. You will need less editing. And your readers will have a better time understanding your message.

All that in the hopes of increasing your prospects, leads, customer feedback or client base.