Writing documentation that can be easily translated into other languages and delivered to audiences in other countries is becoming a mandate for the computer industry. Fortunately, the guidelines that you need to follow when writing for an international audience also apply to good technical writing in general, and can help you avoid producing documentation that is inadvertently confusing or offensive.
Internationalization involves creating a "generic" document that can be used in many cultures or easily translated into many languages. Localization involves converting a document that is specific to a particular language or culture into one that is specific to a different language or culture.
Working closely with translators and localization experts who are based in the countries to which you are exporting is important. See "Internationalization and Localization" in Appendix A, "Recommended Reading," for books on developing software and preparing documentation for the international market. See "Internationalization and Localization" in Appendix B, "Developing a Publications Department," for management issues related to the global market.
Writers need to think globally. Conventions that are taken for granted in the United States may be handled differently in other countries. Keep in mind the following guidelines when writing for an international audience.
For clarity, write out dates. For example, write "6/28/95" as "June 28, 1995." If abbreviations are necessary, define and use them consistently.
Time formats using a 12-hour clock and the ante meridiem, post meridiem system (a.m. and p.m.) may not be universally understood. Consider using a 24-hour system. For example, you might write "1:00 p.m." as "13:00."
Include telephone area codes and time zones when you provide phone numbers and calling hours in a document that may be distributed internationally. Consider the applicability of contact information. Will readers more likely write, send email, fax, or call?
What may be funny in American English, whether an illustration or written text, may be obscene in another language. Humor is strictly cultural, and it cannot be translated easily from one language to another.