Planning international publications
by Judy Petersen
Originally, this article was published as a four-part article* about planning for publications that will be distributed globally. It describes how to save time and money.
Someone once said: "If you don't know where you're going, you might end up somewhere else." So to guide those who will review and approve the information development plan, write an introduction that briefly summarizes the purpose and scope of the plan...
Introduction and scope of the plan
... The scope depends on the type of publication that you want developed. Here are lists of topics to consider:
Create a schedule for the plan so that everyone knows what they must do and when they must do it, for example:
Purpose of the publication
Define the objectives of the publication. Share this information with everyone involved with the project so that everyone works toward the same goal. Be as specific as possible, for example:
This brochure will provide general, high-level information about an internally developed business-support system for market operations in the Pacific rim countries.
Its purpose is to internally market the system—to persuade second-line managers to start using the system as soon as possible.
Its objectives are to:
Specify exactly for whom the publication is developed: decision makers? purchasers? doctors? wholesalers? retailers? consumers? system administrators? application developers? end users?
Specify age and education level. This information may affect your design specifications (see "Design of the publication" later in this article).
Leave all-purpose publications to the major daily newspapers. Do not try to create one publication for everyone. For example, if you try to reach wholesalers, retailers, and consumers, then you can't talk about "tricks" that can help retailers market the product. And you can't suggest retail prices.
Specify the countries in which the publication will be distributed
Source and target languages
The source language is the language of the original publication. Target languages are those languages into which the publication is translated. Decide on the source and target languages. Then specify them early in the plan, because this decision affects all other parts of the plan.
This decision also affects the project budget. Here are some issues to consider:
If you plan worldwide distribution in English only, then you must plan the design and content very carefully. For details, see these headings later in this article:
Key people and their responsibilities
You might use a table like this to outline tasks that are performed in an information development project. In the left column, specify the person's name and initials.
That way, later on, you need only use initials. Ensure that all key people receive a copy of the information development plan:
Design of the publication
Before you ask a designer to design the publication:
Designing for translation
Always specify these instructions for publications that are translated and ensure that the designer implements them:
Allow at least 40% extra white space around heading and in figures. That way, layout people (DTP) need not spend a lot of time trying to get the translation to fit into the original design—time that you pay for. Watch what happens here:
Do not use all uppercase letters in headings and figures, because uppercase letters are difficult to read and take up more space than lowercase letters. The shapes of lowercase letters aid readability. Compare these headings in 12-point bold:
Do not use small italic text in captions because if you ever need to fax the information, the captions are very difficult to read.
Avoid certain colors. This table describes of the meaning of color in some countries:
Avoid hand and body gestures as symbols. In some countries, certain gestures such as pointing with a finger are very offensive.
Avoid high-gloss publications unless you're sure that your target group will read them. Glossy publications are attractive, but aren't always taken seriously—or read. So specify in the plan that the designer must include this information in the design specification and include paper samples with the first draft of the design.
Avoid very small fonts and unusual, fancy, or very modern fonts. Again, you need to know your target group. Decision-makers over age 40 might not continue reading information that is presented in small fonts that are difficult to see.
Specify as much as you can about the content of the publication in the plan. If the plan goes through at least two reviews, internal reviewers can contribute input and correct errors, which reduces draft review time and writing time—especially if the writer is an outside consultant who is not familiar with your products or services.
Specify that the person who writes the publication must not use:
These items consume an enormous amount of time during translation. Sometimes they cannot be translated, which means that the translator must rewrite the information, which also takes time. These items can cause confusion if the publication is written in English and distributed worldwide.
Outlining the publication
Never start a product brochure by describing your company and its history. Save that for last. You might specify the order of the content like this:
Plan to put your customers' problems first—to let them know that you understand their problems. Then specify that each problem must be matched with a solution.
Specify that the writer must use a table like this during draft reviews so that missing information can be located more quickly and easily, for example:
Specify in the "Design" section that the layout of the publication must clearly show this problem-solution matching. The designer need not use a table; a two-column layout (with paragraphs) or bullet lists might be alternatives.
Specify that the problems-solutions section is followed by a features-benefits section that describes in more detail how your product or service solves customers' problems.
For draft reviews, specify that the writer uses a table similar to the problems-solutions table so that missing information is easily detected:
Technical details or specifications
Specify technical details if your target audience needs them. When you describe these details, strive for precision—do not use functions and features interchangeably.
Apply international standards for measurements and their abbreviations, for example: MB = megabytes and Mb = megabits.
When you specify these details in the plan, reviewers have a chance to correct inaccuracies before the writer has a chance to make mistakes later on—mistakes that irritate draft reviewers, take time to correct, and get worse as deadlines approach.
When planning the end of the publication, specify how readers can find out more about your product or services.
Cross-reference your company's approved presentation for international publications; indicate where this information is stored or who to contact for this information.
Standards and guidelines
Specify preferred style guidelines in the plan so that all writers, editors, and translators can create clear, concise, and consistent information.
If your company does not have a preferred style guide, then the project manager or leader should ask someone to write a small style sheet that specifies, for example:
Specify all prerequisites and define the publication development process so that everyone heads in the same direction, for example, for a customer newsletter, you could specify:
This table describes tasks for publishing a newsletter:
Information development coordination
Coordination tasks will vary—depending on the type of publication. If, for example, you will produce a newsletter, you should specify:
Internal resource requirements
Here, you can list all internal resources for tasks such as:
If the project depends on people in different departments, managers usually want to know who will be involved, when, and for how long. This aids their planning and scheduling.
External resource requirements
Here, you can list all outside resources for tasks such as:
All project members, who read this plan, must know, for example:
Note: If you must rely heavily on external consultants, keep in mind that delays in your project could cause even more delays because consultants might be forced to start another, previously booked project while still working on your delayed project. This also applies to internal personnel who have other commitments.
Put the translation plan in an appendix. Or state the plan owner's name and where the plan is stored.
As the schedule changes, you can update this table and distribute it to project members. (You need not distribute the entire plan after it is approved.) This table covers the development of a brochure. You can adapt it, as needed, to your project.
*Copyright 1997. Judy Petersen. All rights reserved. Parts of this article appeared in INK Business, a newsletter published by INK Sverige AB. For more information, contact Judy Petersen.