Stylistic errors vs linguistic errors – how a style guide can help

In translation, stylistic errors should not be confused with linguistic errors, which will incorporate mistakes in spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Linguistic errors deviate from accepted rules of language as opposed to the stylistic rules of the company.

Stylistic rules are set out in a translation style guide. This details how your company presents itself not only textually but also visually. It will contain rules about voice, writing style, formatting, branding elements and end usage for the company. Each style guide will be unique, as every company has a different end client, audience and purpose.

Determining quality

When linguists complete a quality assurance (QA) on a task, they look mostly at linguistic errors.  These are categorised from preferential to critical; each with a different grading system which affects the final score.

Where style guides are available, the QA linguist will also take into consideration the readability of the document bearing the style guide in mind.

Linguistic errors

A linguistic error can be identified as:

The linguistically-correct version is:

Stylistic errors

Whereas with a stylistic error, you can understand the intention of the text, though it sounds strange or perhaps doesn’t fit with the end use of the document. For example, this phrase was intended for use in a rejection letter following a job interview – usually a formal document:

As you can see, the overall meaning still comes across, but the wording doesn’t sound quite right. It could be improved as per the below suggested translation:

In this translation, the style, voice and end user has been taken into account.

Creating a style guide

Style guides shouldn’t be arduous.

Most marketing teams will have the basic content for the style guide, which will just need tweaking for translation purposes.

Where possible there should be reference materials, information about the audience so that linguists can get the tone right, any specific language that the company uses; this can include specific spelling, use of capital letters or slogans, as well as any information on visuals and formatting.

Some companies continually build on their style guides, as they aren’t sure of the potential problems they may face in different languages, and prefer to add to their guide when they encounter new stylistic queries.

At the end of the day, having a style guide will save time and money for all parties. What’s more, fewer amends will be required, meaning you’ll receive your translated content quicker.


Steph is a Project Manager mostly in the Legal and Financial vertical at Capita TI, having been a Spanish and German teacher at Secondary and Sixth Form level for 5 years. She is also the Service Delivery and File Engineering representative for the Employee Engagement Group. When not at work, she’s usually doing sport.

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