Most journalists will avoid slipping into slang or dialect when writing for non-native English speakers, but writing for a global audience goes beyond removing colloquialisms.

The language we use is a reflection of our culture and society, so when you write for people from very different backgrounds, your writing has an extra gap to bridge.

This effort is not a waste of time: clearly written journalism is good journalism. By reflecting on how you use language and making your writing more accessible to non-native readers, you are often making it a better reading experience in general.

So if you are writing for an international audience - whether that is a narrowly defined group such as public policy workers in Switzerland or expats in Singapore, or a much broader group - here are some of the ways you can adapt your language.

Be concise

No matter how proficient you become in a second language, it is almost always more tiring to read it. Avoid flowery language and long sentences; help your readers follow the story and get to the point.

Even a step as simple as breaking your text up into shorter paragraphs can help non-native speakers scan it more easily.

Be specific

Watch out for your word choices. Some words have different meanings even between different varieties of English (sceptical? Check out the excellent linguistics blog Separated by a Common Language), so if choosing between two synonyms, always go for the one that is more widely used and does not have multiple meanings.

Context means being specific matters: Vague phrases like "a large city" or "a typical October day" would mean very different things to natives of Tokyo and Finland, so include numbers and details where you can. 

In political reporting, terms such as ‘centrist’ and ‘conservative’ have different meanings depending on the country - consider including examples of flagship policies as well. Even positions with the same title (president, prime minister) can confer different amounts of power and duties and may be chosen in different ways.

Similarly, if you report that a certain party won X number of seats in an election, do not forget to explain the total number of seats that were up for grabs, along with other valuable context such as any thresholds for entering parliament and/or historic highs or lows for that party.

Extra effort isn't a waste of time: clearly written journalism is good journalism

Add extra information

Exactly what knowledge you can assume your readers have depends on your audience - if you are writing for a niche or geographically-focused publication, you can count on certain shared experiences.

When writing for a broad global audience on the other hand, you should assume readers have widely varying levels of existing knowledge of the topic, and it is your job to identify and fill in those gaps.

If you are covering the French news for an international audience, you cannot simply translate an article originally written for a French-speaking audience.  People, political parties, systems, historical events and cultural topics that need no introduction for a local audience need extra context for a global one.

This also applies to quotes - you may need to add context to interviewees' comments to make sure the point can be understood, especially if they reference a date, person, or event that is common knowledge only in their region.

Always take a look at your article from the perspective of someone who may go into it knowing nothing about the topic and assume this could be the only thing they read about it. Will they finish your article better informed about the story, or with more questions than when they started?

Be alert to your biases

Writing for a global audience means trying to shed your own preconceptions as much as possible. Make sure that you are not treating your own culture as a 'default'.

These biases can easily creep into innocuous-seeming sentences, for example: "In Australia, the school term typically starts in February instead of September", which makes sense to most Europeans, who also start their school year in September, but would come across oddly in dozens of other countries.

If possible, it is a good idea to have someone read over your work who can flag these things up. Ideally this would be a non-native English speaker, or alternatively someone who speaks a different variety of English or has experience in writing for international audiences.

Beware comparisons

Comparisons are an area where it is especially easy to be influenced by our own cultural context. This can be something as simple as a phrase like "letterbox-red" or "the Swedish answer to Mary Berry".

International comparisons are a valuable way of adding that much-needed context - just be careful of how you choose them.

If you are writing for a British audience, you might explain that a town or city elsewhere is "roughly the same size as Manchester" to help readers relate. This won't work for a global audience.

Instead, you could either include a few different examples ("a similar population to Manchester or Lisbon") or make sure you vary where you take your examples from throughout an article - and include the specific details in any case ("a population of around 500,000, similar to Manchester or Lisbon").

Watch out for idioms

This one should be fairly obvious, but if you are used to writing in a conversational tone it may surprise you how easy it is to slip in a phrase that will be nonsensical to a non-native reader.

Spare your readers the trouble of wondering why you are suddenly talking about an albatross or a blue moon in an article about economics, and remove idioms unless they are absolutely necessary.

Catherine Edwards is acting editor at Journalism.co.uk and was formerly Europe Editor at The Local, an English-language publication aimed at international residents of nine European countries.

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