Localising Your Writing: America, England, and everywhere else

Online writing tips for an international community

If you’ve been reading our daily writing blogs, you’ll know that we source jobs from all over the world. Part of the joy about freelance writing is that languages transcend borders and cross oceans. Well, almost.

A quote, widely attributed to George Bernard Shaw, suggested that “the United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.” Add in to that Australia, New Zealand, and (most of Canada). For writers, however, the language is not so common.

American and British English can often be hugely different. There’s plenty of resources which explain why this is the case and which issues you should focus on. We’ll be looking at something else. If you’re American and want to write for a British audience or if you’re British and want to write for an American audience, what tools, tips, and tricks can you use to make your life easier?


Expose Yourself

If you want to learn all the idiosyncrasies of American, English, Canadian, Australian, or New Zealand(ish?) writing, then you’re going to have to expose yourself. You’re probably doing this already, in actual fact. But try it out now. Go to a major news site from one of the countries and read through a few articles. Soon enough, you’ll pick out the differences. Once you start recognising these details, you can start adjusting your writing accordingly.

What’s more, the more you read, the more acutely aware you’ll become of the differences. Social media is particularly useful for this. If you’re on Twitter, for instance, be sure to follow accounts from the respective countries and make sure you’re seeing as much of the local lingo as possible. When it comes time to put words on the page, you’ll have an excellent understanding of the differences already in place.


Reading Backwards

For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume you’re spending time editing your own work. What’s more, we’ll assume that you’re reading through everything as closely as possible and picking up on every minor error. But we all make mistakes.

If you want to improve your close reading and editing skills, then you might want to try reading backwards. This might sound daft but it can really help picking up on the smaller stylistic issues and spellings which you might not notice. When you’re not reading for content, flow, or tone, reading the words in the wrong order can help you to spot erroneous letters or misapplied verbs. Start at the bottom, work your way to the top, and you’ll find that you encounter more errors than you might have expected.


Work with an Editor

Of course, some of us work with editors on a daily basis. If you’re working on an international job, having a localised editor can be a godsend. Not only will they help catch those small errors, but they can point them out and provide constructive criticism. This is especially true of the errors which go beyond spelling. Referring to sports teams in the singular when using American English, for instance. British writers might completely overlook this.

If you’ve worked with a content mill in the past, you will probably have been asked to write for different markets. American and British might be one thing, but when you’re considering Canadian, Australian, and other markets, you might have no idea about the differences. This is where an editor can really pay dividends. If you’re lucky enough to work with an editor, this is one of the biggest benefits.


Online Tools

If you’re new to the whole writing for different countries malarkey, one of your first instincts might be to rely on your spell-check. In Word, for example, you can quite easily switch between various types of English and the program can make the adjustments on your behalf. But don’t rely too heavily on these simple, in-built spellcheckers. They can often miss quite a lot.

Instead, there’s a few online tools you may wish to use. JSpell, for example, can be a lot more pedantic than Word when it comes to the smaller issues. This is great. You’ve probably heard of Grammarly, as well. For non-subscribers, putting a document through Grammarly can be useful for picking up on more of the syntactical and grammar-based differences you might not have noticed. Run your writing through both of these before submitting and you can be extra sure of writing for the right market.


Practice, Practice, Practice

Yep, it’s boring and dull and obvious. It seems almost facetious to suggest, but practice really can help you with your writing. If you have an American client or a Canadian client or an English client, writing for them on a regular basis will mean that you steadily become more and more aware of the linguistic differences. The more you write, the more you’ll notice.

Soon, you’ll find that you’re pre-emptively adjusting the work to fit the locality. If you’re using online tools or an editor, you’ll be able to fix issues before they’ve even been flagged up. It’s painful to admit, but the best way to get better is to practice the same thing over and over again.


So that’s our advice for those who are getting used to writing for other countries. We’ve limited this to just the English language, but similar rules and advice apply for many other languages. If you’ve got any tips, the Find a Writing Job team would love to hear them. Either comment below or send them into our email and we’ll share them with the community.

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