Formatting Guidelines for Translated Documents

When translating documents, converting the words from one language to another is only one part of the equation. Proper formatting is crucial to ensure that the translation maintains the clarity, readability, and professionalism of the original. This guide covers essential formatting considerations, including text expansion and contraction, font compatibility, line break rules, handling languages with different script directions, and capitalization differences. This was written with a focus on how tools like Adobe InDesign facilitate such adaptations.

  1. Your translated text will be longer or shorter than the original.

One of the most overlooked aspects of translation is text expansion and contraction. Different languages use varying quantities of words and characters to express the same ideas. An English sentence might expand by 20-30% more characters when translated into German.  Conversely, verbose English instructions often condense when translated into Chinese due to the succinct nature of the script.

English: “Data Protection Regulation” – 26 characters

German: „Datenschutz-Grundverordnung“ – expands to 29 characters

Chinese: 《資料保護條例》- contracts to 8 characters

Buffer Space: Always plan for extra space in your original page layout to avoid overcrowding or empty spaces. This is especially important in brochures or slides that contain many graphics.

Flexible Design Layouts: Use layouts that can accommodate variations in text length without losing aesthetic appeal. Design software (such as Adobe InDesign) offers functionality like elastic text boxes that resize to fit the length of the newly translated text.

Orphans and widows: Verify single words (orphans) are not left hanging at the bottom of a paragraph and single lines do not wrap onto the next page (widows). Also verify that your translation didn’t get cut off or hidden outside the edge of a text box, button, or page.

Consistency Checks: Post-translation, review the document to ensure that text expansion or contraction hasn’t led to any odd visual or structural issues, such as text overflowing or awkward gaps.

  1. Is your font compatible with the new alphabet?

Fonts play a crucial role in document design, but not all fonts support the characters in every language. Originally computers were programmed to accept a very simple  set of 128 characters (a b c d e f… 0 1 2 3…) called ASCII. In the next wave of development (ANSI), additional characters were added to support accent marks and more European languages (á è î ñ…). Yet the computing world also needs to type characters for Chinese, Japanese, Sanskrit, and thousands more languages. In the late 1990s, a more expansive characters set called Unicode was introduced and has steadily enabled more computer users to type in more languages – including emoji.

However, fonts are usually only designed to depict a particular set of characters, rather than all of the possible characters for all of the world writing systems. So it’s important to experiment if your favored font is compatible with the new languages you are translating.

Universal Fonts: Select fonts that support extensive character sets, such as Arial Unicode MS, OTF (Open Type Fonts) or Google Noto fonts. These fonts cover multiple languages and script types, reducing the risk of unsupported characters.

Fallback Fonts: Always have a secondary font that can cover any characters not supported by your primary font. This helps maintain a uniform appearance throughout the document.

Testing: Before publishing the final translation, verify that fonts display correctly on various platforms and devices (Android, Windows, iOS) as well as different software interfaces. Google Docs, MS Word, and a browser window may all react differently to the character encoding.

3. Pay attention to capitalization rules.
Capitalization rules differ vastly and can affect the readability and tone of a document. In German, all nouns are capitalized; this rule must be consistently applied in all professional documents. Conversely, there is no way to capitalize Korean words.

Titles: English often uses uppercase letters for all keywords in headlines. This contrasts sharply with languages like Spanish or French, where only the first letter of the first word is typically capitalized (unless another word is a proper noun).

Bullet lists: English often uses capital letters for the first word following a colon or in a bullet list. Many other languages use lowercase letters in these situations. Trust that your translator’s choice of case is language-appropriate and don’t modify the other language to follow English rules.

InDesign Features: Utilize InDesign’s language-specific capitalization features to manage and adjust text formatting according to the selected language, ensuring that titles and headings adhere to the correct linguistic standards.

  1. Where to insert a line break or hyphenation?

Knowing where to wrap lines or hyphenate words in translated documents can be tricky. Breaking lines or words incorrectly with complex scripts like Arabic or Thai can fundamentally alter the meaning of the word or passage.

Hyphenation: English rules instruct us to break words between syllables or between double letters, such as “ll” or “rr.” Up until this year the Spanish Academy treats “ll” and “rr” as a single letter – never to be divided in half. Arabic characters change shape depending on the surrounding letters; a simplistic comparison would be how an English “b” or “w” modify the shape of the following character when handwriting in cursive.

Natural pauses: Ensure line breaks occur at natural linguistic pauses rather than arbitrary points. For instance, avoid breaking a line in the middle of a noun phrase or between an adjective and the noun it modifies.

Software settings: Use typesetting software capable of recognizing and correctly implementing line break rules for different languages. Then, when you change the language settings to recognize the appropriate language, advanced word processors and graphic design software are often smart enough to adapt to the correct hyphenation and line-breaking rules for that language.

  1. Managing bidirectional languages

Languages like Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian read right-to-left (RTL) or bidirectional, which fundamentally impacts your entire design. Often a passage written in these languages will start at the right side of the page and move left, so pressing the right arrow on your keyboard will cause the cursor to move left.  However, when the cursor encounters a European word or Arabic numerals (1 2 3), the cursor leapfrogs from the left end of the Arabic word to the far-right side of the European word and continues moving in a left-to-right direction. When it reaches the end of the European word, the cursor leapfrogs left again back past the European word to the right end of the next Arabic word and continues its motion from right-to-left again. Imagine the cursor doing somersaults across the page.

Language settings: Your design technology absolutely needs to have language settings changed to the appropriate language. It is still common enough for software to be unable to process bidirectional languages that you should verify the software’s capabilities before you begin.

Mirrored Layouts: Consider mirroring the entire layout to accommodate right-to-left (RTL) scripts while maintaining a logical flow of information. Images and text may need to be repositioned to match the reading flow of the target language. Move the logo in your letterhead from the top left corner to the top right corner. Where an English bullet list is usually justified along the left side of the page, the Arabic bullet list will align down the right side of the page.

  1. Images: cultural conflicts and embedded text

Graphics containing text. Determine whether your graphics also contain text that needs to be translated.

    • Best solution: Provide graphics in their native and editable format, so the translation team can replace the old language with the new language as they translate the rest of the content.
    • Good solution: Number the various elements in your diagram or chart. Then create a legend that can be translated or made into a bilingual table.
    • Cumbersome solution: Rebuild the image entirely or mask over portions with textboxes containing the translated text.
    • Ignore it: It is appropriate to leave company logos and other copyrighted images in their original language. Decorative images are also appropriate to leave alone.

Cultural conflicts: Beyond the words, are all colors, symbols, and gestures culturally appropriate? Pay careful attention to culturally appropriate use of national flags, national landmarks, fictional characters, and body parts.

Our translation process is approved and defined by the American Translation Association (ATA).  In addition, Verbio has a written quality management manual and has passed a certification audit for compliance with ISO 17100 for translation services. We bring to bear 24 years of professional translation experience and deep knowledge of industry best practices. Each translation is reviewed by multiple language experts, who have been handpicked based on their technical familiarity with the subject matter, language and culture at hand. What follows is a graphical and a narrative version of our Standard Operating Procedures.


Understanding and implementing robust formatting standards is key to successful document translation. Proper attention to text expansion, font selection, line breaks, script direction, imagery, and capitalization ensures that translated documents are linguistically accurate and culturally appropriate. These guidelines will help improve the quality and effectiveness of your translated content, whether the documents are technical manuals, marketing materials, or corporate communications.

Use a human proofreader. Always have a human familiar with the target language verify that all text is placed correctly, wraps correctly, uses the correct font and imagery. Read Verbio’s QA checklist for more suggestions.

For further assistance or to discuss your specific translation needs, feel free to contact Verbio’s experts. We’re here to help you communicate effectively across any language barrier.