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Translate Your Message

In a business writing seminar this week we talked about global communication. The topic meant something to the attendees, who work in an international company with employees in 18 countries.

I asked seminar participants to review the writing samples they had brought, looking for words that might confuse a global audience. Two people immediately found phrases to revise.

One confusing phrase was “cascade a message down.” The writer meant “communicate a message to employees,” and he decided to use those words instead.

Another example was “software for capturing information.” When she thought about it, the writer decided to replace capturing with recording. Although both words have several meanings for a global reader to consider, recording seemed the better choice because a common meaning of capture is “seize by force.” She did not want to lead the reader mistakenly to that conclusion.

Sometimes the simplest words (such as right, take, and give) have the most meanings and can therefore confuse people who must translate your work. (For more about this problem, see my entry “Do You Like My Dressing?”) To communicate your meaning clearly to your readers around the globe, choose a word with the precise meaning you intend.

If you speak several languages, you may want to try Babel Fish Translation. Insert your text in English, and have the program translate your text into another language you speak. If the translation is accurate, you will know you have used language that is likely to be recognized by global readers.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.