Another project, another problem – a few words about style guides

After bringing our first localisation project (Beholder) to a close, we decided it’s time for a new one. This time around, we’re thanking Michał Tosza and his Free Indie L1ON initiative for allowing us to work on Borealys Games’ newest project – Mages of Mystralia! Working on the localisation has taken up most of our holidays, but it was worth it. Guided by our Beholder experience we managed to organise the project pretty well, although Michał showed us that we don’t know everything yet. One of the first tasks he gave us was to develop a style guide. A question naturally arose – what exactly is a ‘style guide’?

A style guide, just like the name (and the Wikipedia page) implies, is a set of rules and precedents that you need to know in order to write a text in the right style. It mainly refers to the way you ought to stylise and format your wording, remember often forgotten rules of punctuation, and so on. It’s seldom used for terminology (that’s the glossary’s job). But why do we need such a thing to translate a fantasy game? You won’t find here the troublesome and intricate syntax of legal and technical documents, and everyone does know where to put a comma or a capital letter, don’t they?
They do, but there are still many reasons for which having a style guide is a significantly better choice than relying on instinct and common knowledge. How else would we prevent a situation, where two translators decide to use different standards of writing numbers, be they letters or digits? What if someone forgets about one of many complicated rules of letter capitalisation in the Polish language? Why reach for the internet or a dictionary every time a problem arises, if you can gather every rule and precedent you need to know while working on a given project in one place? That’s where the style guide comes in.

I have to admit that the first time we got down to writing our own style guide we were completely unaware of how to go about it. Which rules should be stressed as the most important? Which are utterly unnecessary, and which are too obvious to write about? How long exactly should this style guide thing be? Ultimately we decided to study some professional style guides on the internet (some of which were event sent to us by Michał Tosza). It turned out most of them were at least several dozen pages long and filled with introductions, descriptions of different chapters, complex spelling rules, and some of them were even intended for many projects. We decided that in our essentially small project there is no need to construct extensive introductions for translators, or to write pages filled with rules on where to place commas. We came to the decision that short, concise and easily understandable instructions concerning, among other things, style, text formating, conjugation of verbs (especially grammatical genders – we all know the dilemmas concerning the gender of the default recipient in translation!) or letter capitalisation were best for us. In all of these rules we used examples from the game, sometimes even writing out every problematic expression, provided that there weren’t too many of them.

In the end, our style guide turned out not very long, taking up only a few pages. However, in our case, it was more than enough. Our translators preferred to use it for quick reference, as opposed to having to sluggishly go through a lengthy official document.
Even though at first the inexperienced team had to be reminded of the style guide’s existence, it quickly became clear just how much of an impact it had on the cohesion of our translation. Of course, proofreaders were the ones whose jobs were simplified the most, and thankfully so, since they’ve had their hands full to begin with.


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