Five Tips for Website Writing When English Is Your Second Language

Five Tips for Website Writing When English Is Your Second Language

The ubiquitous ready-to-assemble-furniture retailer IKEA uses only stick figures in its assembly instructions, no text. Selling its products in 38 different countries, IKEA realizes that translating its instructions would be not only costly, but could also lead to possible misinterpretation. Unfortunately, there is no similar hieroglyphic solution for website content.

At Web Done Write, we often work with clients whose first language is not English. These clients fall into two groups: those based in the United States who rely on us to ensure that their websites are properly written, and international clients who want to provide visitors with English counterparts to their websites. This second group has become increasingly common as the Internet continues to dissolve geographic boundaries. In fact, we have ongoing relationships with clients throughout Europe, South America and Asia, with the heaviest concentration in Japan.

When we undertake these projects, we sometimes see English versions that are technically correct. Even then, though, we almost always see one common element: an overall mood that is completely inappropriate. It is either overly colloquial and familiar, or it is stiffly dignified and overly formal. Most fall into the latter category, something that can best be described as “stilted.” Either way, such content can achieve the exact opposite result of what you intended.

If English is not your native language, these tips can help you whether you are writing text for an English-language website or converting text from another language to English.

  • Never depend on computer-translation software. Hard as they try, machine translators cannot detect the nuances in language that are so critical to effective communication.
  • Maintain the style and tone of the original. If the original is written in a friendly, conversational tone, be sure the English version is too. If the content was first written in a more formal style, make the English version formal. If you cannot tell for certain, ask for help from someone who can.
  • Write in short sentences that convey ideas directly and concisely.
  • Have a native English speaker review the text to be sure it sounds completely natural, neither overly colloquial nor inappropriately formal. Then have another native English speaker do the same.
  • Be sure that the final text contains correct spelling and punctuation. Ensure that it is grammatically perfect.

With all its rules and exceptions, English can be a very difficult language to master. Following these tips will make it a little easier (and certainly easier than assembling a Billy bookshelf).


Web Done Write specializes in personalized, expert website proofreading, editing and copywriting anywhere in the world.


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