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.

Part I
Purpose of the publication
Planning schedule
Target audience
Target countries
Source and target languages

Part II
Key people
Designing for translation
Part III
Outlining the publication
Technical details or specifications
Company information
Standards and guidelines
Part IV
Project implementation
The process
Information development coordination
Internal resource requirements
External resource requirements
Potential exposures
Translation plan
Project schedule

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...


Part I

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:

  1. Purpose of the publication
  2. Target audience
  3. Target countries, source and target languages
  4. Key people
  5. Design
  6. Content
  7. Standards and guidelines
Planning schedule

Create a schedule for the plan so that everyone knows what they must do and when they must do it, for example:

WhoDoes whatWhen
<name>Issues first draft to <name, name, name>.15May00
<name>Reviews plan, gives input to <name> for second draft.16-20May
<name>Approves final draft of plan.31May00
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:

  • Describe current and external problems that led to the development of the system
  • Explain how the system solves those problems
Target audience

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.

Target countries

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 the target countries are ... Then ...
Australia, Canada, Ireland, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the U.S. and UK Use English as the source language. That way, only slight modifications are required for localizing the publication. And it's less expensive to translate from English to Swedish than the other way around.
Worldwide You might find, for example, that it costs more to translate from Swedish to Japanese that to translate from English to Japanese. So call translation agencies for estimates. A huge price difference might help you determine the source language.
European only Here, Swedish as the source is probably the best choice. But call for an estimate anyway.

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:


Part II

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:

Who Does what
First Last (FL) Information development planning.
  Managing/leading project.
  Updating plan/schedule.
  Coordinating information development.
  Researching and writing.
  Moderating review meetings.
  Coordinating translation.
  Producing camera-ready copy.
  Conducting post mortem; updating plan template for the next project.
Design of the publication

Before you ask a designer to design the publication:

  • Create a design schedule (see "Planning schedule" earlier in this article)
  • Describe exactly what you want and don't want in the design
  • If the publication is related to other company publications, state this in the plan. Ensure that the designer sees these publications so that the design does not deviate too drastically from previously published material.
  • Refer to company-specific guidelines (logo color, placement, and so on) in the plan and ensure that the designer has a copy of the guidelines.

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:

Swedish kylsystem
English cooling system
German Kühlvorrichtung
French réfrigérant

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:

stubin   detonating fuse
Zündschnur   Mèche de mise á feu

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:

Color Indicates or suggests In
Red Warning or danger Europe, North America, and Japan
Red Joy China
Blue Nothing special—acceptable Europe and North America
Blue Villainy Japan
Yellow Caution or cowardice Europe and North American
Yellow Fertility or strength Arabic 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.


Part III


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:

  • Clichés and plays on words
  • Culture-specific references
  • Sports jargon

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:

  1. Problems
  2. Solutions
  3. Features and benefits
  4. Technical details (as needed)
  5. For more information
  6. Your company presentation


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:

Problems Solutions
This is the first paragraph that describes a problem. This is the solution to the first problem in the first paragraph.
This is the second paragraph that describes a problem.  
This is the third paragraph that describes the problem. This is the solution to the third problem in the third paragraph.

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:

Features Benefits
This is a feature, which does ... This is how customers benefit from the feature.

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.

Company information

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:

  • Capitalization and punctuation of headings, captions, table columns, list items, job titles, footnotes, reference lists, and call outs.
  • Treatment of cross-references
  • Highlighting conventions
  • Company-specific terminology


Part IV

Project implementation

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:


  • Plan approved. All key people agree to assume responsibilities described in the plan.
  • External designers and contributors agree to apply company guidelines and standards when designing the publication and writing the articles.
The process

This table describes tasks for publishing a newsletter:

Stage Who Does what
1   Assigns articles to contributors.
2 Contributors Research, write, and then submit the first draft to <name> for an edit.
3 Copyeditor Copyedits first draft of each article. Returns article to contributor for review and approval.
4 Contributors Return corrections and comments to the copyeditor.
5 Copyeditor Inserts contributors' comments into newsletter. Submits first draft to reviewers after all articles are in.
6 Copyeditor Inserts change requests from review meeting (marks changes with revision bars), submits the second draft for approval.
7   Approves second draft.
8 Copyeditor Sends second draft to <name>.
9 Designer Submits first draft in layout to <name> for editing.
10   Implements translation plan.
11 Copyeditor Edits first layout draft.
12 Designer Inserts <name> corrections, issues second draft to <name>.
13   Reviews second layout draft, sends corrections to <name>.
14 Designer Insert corrections, creates final layout draft.
15 Copyeditor Final check of all changes.
16 Designer Prepares camera-ready copy (CRC) for printing and online copy for placement in the system.
17   Checks printer's proof.
18   Approves CRC for printing.
Information development coordination

Coordination tasks will vary—depending on the type of publication. If, for example, you will produce a newsletter, you should specify:

Who Provides this assistance Dept.
  Assigns articles to internal contributors and specifies deadlines when assigning the articles. Or ensures that external writers receive necessary input, that is, support material.  
  Ensures all project participants have each other's addresses, e-mail addresses, phone and fax numbers.  
  Reminds contributors to submit articles (continuous follow-up).  
  Reminds contributors when articles are late.  
  Reminds contributors to return their review comments after their articles are edited.  
Internal resource requirements

Here, you can list all internal resources for tasks such as:

  • Coordinating
  • Researching, writing, editing
  • Reviewing
  • Approving

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:

  • Designing
  • Copyediting/writing/translating
  • Layout/production/coordination with printer
  • Printing
Potential exposures

All project members, who read this plan, must know, for example:

  • Delays caused by contributors will affect the first-draft review meeting date. For each day that review input to the copyeditor and designer is delayed, printing is delayed one day.
  • The schedule is dependent on thorough, timely reviews, which means that reviewers must commit to the required number of hours needed to complete inspections and review meetings.

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.

Translation plan

Put the translation plan in an appendix. Or state the plan owner's name and where the plan is stored.

Project schedule

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.

Who Does what When
  Project kick off.  
  Researches and writes first draft.  
  Edits first draft.  
  Inserts editor's comments and issues first draft to reviewers.  
  Read/study first draft, hold review meeting, compile input.  
  Sends first-draft review meeting input to <name>.  
  Inserts corrections into second draft  
  Edits second draft.  
  Inserts editor's comments, issues second draft, gets approval.  
  Starts implementing translation plan.  
  Creates first layout draft.  
  Edits first layout draft.  
  Corrects first layout draft, issues second draft to <name>.  
  Reviews second layout draft, sends changes to <name>.  
  Inserts changes into second layout draft.  
  Approves camera-ready copy.  
  Inspects printer's proof print, ensures changes are in, approves.  


*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.