Writing for a global audience

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My website statistics indicates that majority of my readers are from the USA, Canada and Australia. At the same time I get a fair number of comments and feedback from readers all over the world. I can see a lot of diversity in my readers. I feel happy and privileged to know that I am able to share my views and experience with people from all walks of life.

In this post, I examine how we can reach out for a global audience. Building a global readership is a great way to increase the number of visitors to your website. So here are some of my tips. But, before you proceed a word of caution. These tips are there to get you thinking about writing for a global audience. Based on your website topic/niche you have to make a decision on how much you want to cater for an international audience. It is not easy to satisfy all. You have to find the right balance for your website.

Use Simple English

English has become the language of the Internet. It is also the International language that is used in many parts of the world. But English is not the native language for many countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. People, who have studied English as a second language, may not have the same level of language proficiency as a native speaker of English. In order to attract these people, you have to write in simple English. To achieve this use short sentences and write in active voice. Also, try to avoid complex words and use simple words. For example, complete instead of comprehensive and understand instead of comprehend to name a few.

Try to Avoid Local and Cultural References

Using local references can alienate a reader who does not understand what you are talking about. For example, consider the sentence “I am writing this blog post from the Windy City”. Not too many people outside of the United States will know that the Windy City is a nick name for Chicago. Similarly cultural references, such references to local TV programs and events can confuse your global audience.

Try to Avoid Country Specific Words / Slang etc

There are words that are used only in a region or country. For example, in Canada there are number of terms that are only used in Canada and not widely used outside. For example, the word Hydro refers to electricity and Knapsack refers to a backpack. Some words have different meanings within different countries. For example in Canada the word Entrée refers to starter meals (i.e. appetizers) while in the US it refers to the main course of a meal.

Be Sensitive to Other Cultures and Respect their Values

Different cultures around the world have different traditions and habits. You have to show respect for their traditions. For example, eating with hands is a common practice in many parts of the world.

Try to Avoid Jokes

Jokes and humor are better understood and appreciated with in a cultural context. What is funny in the west may not be funny in the east (and vice versa). So when you are writing for global audience it’s better to avoid jokes and humor since they do not translate well across cultures. You have to be more careful in what you say. Some jokes could also be considered to be of bad taste within certain cultures. For example, imitating a foreign accent is considered to be funny by many. At the same time a lot people can get offended by someone mocking their accent.

Avoid Stereotyping

All teenagers are not fast drivers and all elderly people are not very slow drivers. Not all Chinese made toys have lead paint on them and the city of Rio is not the only place in the world with street kids. Think twice before you write. You do not want to offend any group unnecessarily.

Speak on Universal Values

No matter what culture or race you belong to, all of us have some core values that are universal. For example, the need to earn money and lead a comfortable life, the need to be healthy and happy are some examples of such values. Consider the following sentence “to be healthy, you have to work at the gym for 30 minutes three times a week”. This statement is more relevant to developed countries and less relevant to developing countries where gym facilities are not readily available. We can rewrite the same statement as “to be healthy do 30 minutes of exercise three times a week”. This statement is now universally applicable. Try to deliver the message with no religious, social and economic strings attached to it.

Clarify Metrics Used

Look at the following sentence: “It’s a very cold day in the Windy City. The temperature is 19 degrees and it feels even colder with the wind chill.” Many of your global readers would be puzzled by this statement. Isn’t 19 degree nice warm weather? They are thinking in Celsius and you have mentioned the temperature in Fahrenheit, the metric used in the US. The same applies to other metrics such as MPG (Miles per Gallon). Kilometers and Liters are more commonly used through out the world. In the above example you can mention that 19 degrees Fahrenheit is minus 7 degrees in Celsius!

The above points are based on my own observations, if you have any more tips please share. I would love to hear from you.

Which part of the world are you from? If you wish, feel free to mention your country’s name in the comment.

Comments

  1. Bill Chapman says:

    This is all thoroughly good advice, but I would take issue with you on one point – the use of “international language” to describe English. I am not sure that English is as widespread as you claim. There are certainly plenty of other languages present on the internet – the large number of languages used by Wikipedia is evidence of this. I would like to argue the case for Esperanto as the international language.

    It is a planned language which belongs to no one country or group of states. Take a look at http://www.esperanto.net

    Esperanto works! I’ve used it in speech and writing in a dozen countries over recent years.
    Indeed, the language has some remarkable practical benefits. Personally, I’ve made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. And then there’s the Pasporta Servo, which provides free lodging and local information to Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 90 countries.

    Having said that, I’m grateful for your suggestions. They are true for Esperanto too!

  2. Aaron,
    Great list. I would add, don’t assume others will have the same values. For example, many US Euro-Americans are very future-oriented. Not so for many others globally who place more emphasis on the past.

  3. Aaron,
    I’m one of your followers on twitter, so I got the information about this very interesting article. I am from Berlin, Germany, and I write a bilingual photo-blog (well, at least I try – it is not that easy to write in a foreign language). Your statements are very important to me – especially that one considering other cultural values and writing in simple and clear sentences.

  4. Bill Chapman, Thank you for your comments. I never knew about Esperanto. You have enlightened me. Yes, English is not planned well to be an International language, I agree with you. But English still remains to be the most learned second language in the world.

  5. Great points, Aaron.

    However, I’d not say that “Avoid Jokes”. Jokes, IMO, are a good way to communicate with your audience and when used in moderation can actually help you establish a personal connection with your readers.

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