Why is length important?

Translated text can grow by 30%.

Translated text is generally longer than the original source text. If you have left no extra white space in your brochure, website or software, the translation has to be reviewed to match the space, which takes time and costs more. This is common when software and web pages have to be translated where extra space for translated text is limited. If the size cannot be adjusted, the translation has to be adapted to match the available size.

Options for Adjustments

Options for adjusting the length of a translation when space is limited can be a challenge. Where space is limited, abbreviations can be used, some less important meaning can be dropped from the translation or some text can be left untranslated. If possible it is best to avoid combining abbreviations with leaving text untranslated as this will be confusing for the reader. It is always better to know in advance what size is allowed for translation and if possible, allow room for say five extra characters per sentence or about 30% expansion – it will save you time and money in the long-term. Where you have specific length requirements please let us know in advance as this will save time and costs.

Step by Step

Length of a Translation

Process for managing translation length

The ideal process for managing translation length requirement will depend on the project. Below are some options:

Define the space available in advance
Length can be defined in characters such as when translating Google AdWords or in pixels. Defining width in pixels takes into account that when using a proportional font as a W, it will take up more space than an I, for instance. This approach works well because the translations delivered will fit in the space available. The disadvantage is that the lengths all have to be defined in advance. The basic premise is working with a fixed length or size gives the translator guidelines to work with.
Translate and Review
With this approach the translation teams are advised of the length-sensitive areas in the text and request that the translations are kept as short as reasonably possible. The translations will be delivered and loaded into the application. The text will be reviewed in context and areas where the text is too long are identified. The translation teams will then be requested to revise the translations and produce a shorter version. The updated translations are loaded and reviewed again in context. This approach avoids the need to define the widths in advance. It also produces a good quality translation as only the areas that really do need to be shortened are. However, if many changes are required additional costs can be incurred because of the additional work.
Pseudo Translation and Preparation for Translation
If you have concerns that the translations may not fit into the space available STAR can do a pseudo translation for you. This will identify length restricted areas and allow the space available to be increased before the real translation begins. This is a good approach where translation is being done into many languages. The change only has to be made once in the source and all languages will benefit

Characters Grow

Length is not only a problem of number of characters, a W will take more space than an I; for example, depending on the fonts used. Lengths can be restricted and / or specified in characters or point sizes. Lengths can be adjusted after translation where needed in the final files. It is the most expensive way to edit, however it gives a very good result because the text is being seen in context by the editor.

Translations can be different

Sometimes it is necessary to lose some of the meaning to make a good localization of the text. Indeed sometimes the message cannot be translated literally and has to be adapted for the target audience: that is localization; and with this process some of the meaning can be lost but the translation will sound more natural in the target language. Remember for translation the most important factor is how it reads to the end user. Will they see a translation or a local document? Watch out for abbreviations


Using unofficial abbreviations can be useful for documents intended for internal use; however, it can be confusing for users and for the translator. If you want to use unofficial abbreviations, please provide a list of the unofficial abbreviations and the corresponding full words to us. It will save time, as we won’t have to ask you what the abbreviations mean during the translation process.

Do your clean-up

Leaving some leftover text in the source language can be confusing. We often find uncompleted sentences in documents, or just random words at the side of pages. If you use InDesign, have you removed all the temporary layers and draft texts?