How to Write for a Global Audience

If you're advertising or writing about a carbonated beverage, what do you call it? Soda? Pop? Fizzy drink? Mineral? All of these terms are "correct" depending on where your readers are. Today, there is a greater chance of your work being read by someone on a different continent, especially if you write online. It's predicted that by 2011, there will be 1.5 billion people with Internet access, with most new users coming from Brazil, Russia, India and China.[1] Move to Step 1 to learn how to tailor your writing to the emerging global audience.


  1. Image titled Write for a Global Audience Step 1
    Be aware of differences in terminology. Such differences exist even between cities (like athletic shoes being called "sneakers" or "tennis shoes") and there are many differing names to deal with on an international scale. For example, what is called a "potato chip" in the U.S. is referred to as a "crisp" in the UK. The best way to note these differences is to find out which countries your readers are coming from (which can be done relatively easily online through analytics) and have some people from those countries read your work before it's published.
    • There are many websites where you can find freelance editors and pay them to read your work and point out any unclear terms.
    • An alternative is to find forums or communities where most of the members are from the country in question, and ask them if the writing makes sense to them.
    • If you always write about a particular topic, you'll eventually become familiar with relevant differences in terminology, and you may not need as much feedback.
  2. Image titled Write for a Global Audience Step 2
    Use active or passive voice appropriately. You probably tend to write in either active or passive voice, depending on what is customary in your country. If you are writing in active voice, you will write "The user turns on the computer" whereas in passive voice, you would write "The computer is turned on by the user." Some cultures, like Japanese and Chinese, consider active voice to be condescending and rude. In countries where active voice is the norm, passive writing may come off as awkward and impersonal. Read material written in English for and by people in the country in question (such as in a magazine) and make note of whether they prefer using the active or passive voice. Adjust your own writing accordingly.
    • If in doubt, use active voice. It is generally better understood by non-native English speakers.
  3. Image titled Write for a Global Audience Step 3
    Avoid colloquial (informal) writing. While you may not want your writing to be so formal that it alienates your audience, some aspects of formal writing may help your work reach a wider audience:
    • Colloquial words and phrases are called "colloquialisms." There are also terms such as "ain’t," which are not considered standard English and generally are not appropriate for formal writing. Finally, there are non-words, combination of letters and characters that do not form real words, such as "a lot." If you are in doubt about a certain word, look it up in the dictionary. If the dictionary makes no comment about it, but it sounds informal to you, consult another dictionary. A dictionary will label an incorrect word such as "ain’t" as "Nonstandard" and informal word as "informal," "colloquial," or "slang." Some dictionaries also include phrases. For example, when you look up "to put up with" ("to tolerate") in the dictionary, you will see that it is informal.
    • Avoid contractions. You may want to avoid all contractions or use fewer contractions in your writing than you would use in your speech. "Cannot" is preferable to "can’t," especially in formal contexts. Some languages don't use contractions at all, so this can become a big obstacle for translators.
    • Do not use apostrophes to indicate possession, either, as it may be confused for a contraction. Instead of writing "the calculator's battery" write "the calculator battery" or "the battery of the calculator".
    • Omit needless words. Look at every adjective and adverb in your writing. Is it clear? Is it necessary? If not, take it out. A common "fluff" word is "really" (e.g., I am really tired). It's a vague synonym for "very" that is not likely to be understood by a non-native English speaker, who may wonder "What makes this tiredness more 'real'?"
  4. Image titled Write for a Global Audience Step 4
    List quantities in metric units. There are only three nations in the world that don't officially use the metric system: Myanmar, Liberia and the United States.[2] If you aren't using the metric system already, and you want your work to be reach a global audience, it's time to start. This applies to temperature, distance, ingredient amounts, height, weight, and any other measurement.
    • Keep in mind that while most of the countries officially use the metric system, some of them continue to use Imperial units. If your writing is aimed at readers in the UK, for example, you might indicate weight not only in kilograms, but also in stone.[3]
  5. Image titled Write for a Global Audience Step 5
    Specify any references to currency. You probably won't list sums of money in currencies for more than one or two countries, but make sure to name whichever currency you list. Remember that the dollar sign ($) denotes currencies in many different countries, so it is wise to include some indication of which country is intended, e.g., USD, AUD, or other currency.
  6. Image titled Write for a Global Audience Step 6
    Be cognizant of cultural differences. Remember that what exists in one country may not exist in another, or it may exist but go by a very different name. For example, if you live in the U.S., the number to dial in case of an emergency is 911. If you live in the U.K., the number is 999. If you were writing about this subject for a global audience, you might need to mention both, or, if it wasn't central to the subject, you might just state it generally: "summon an ambulance," "call the police," or "dial emergency services."
    • Remember that the names of such things as governmental departments, grades and levels in school, and political parties and systems vary between countries. Try to provide some context if you do refer to them, e.g., "the fourth grade class (9-10 year old students)..."
  7. Image titled Write for a Global Audience Step 7
    Avoid ambiguity. The following guidelines will help eliminate potential confusion.
    • Don't use slashes.
      • Mary/John will go to the store. The reader may have trouble knowing if you mean both of them, or one or the other.
      • and/or
    • Keep sentences short (16 word maximum, in most cases). While native English speakers usually read in phrases, international readers tackle each sentence one word at a time, and a long sentence can be difficult to follow from beginning to end.[4]
    • Avoid false subjects. Don't start sentences with "It is" or "There are". What is "it" or "there" referring to?[4] Here are a few examples:
      • It is cold outside. > The weather is cold.
      • There are trees in the meadow. > Trees are in the meadow.
    • Avoid negative words (no, don't, not, won't, etc.) when asking questions. Negative questions can be very difficult for international readers to decipher.[4]
      • You're not coming to the party, are you? > Are you coming to the party?
      • Don't you want to be there? > Do you want to be there?
    • Avoid double negatives. In English, a phrase like "not unpleasant" roughly means "pleasant" (or at least "tolerable"), but in other languages, double negatives are interpreted differently, and could be interpreted as "extremely unpleasant."[4]
    • If the use of the word "which" may be avoided, do so. Don't worry about being repetitive.[4] Example: The tree, which I used to climb when I was a kid, was gone. > I used to climb a tree when I was a kid. Now it is gone.
    • Write out dates. The ways in which dates are written can vary from country to country. For example, 6/2/00 can mean the 6th of February or the 2nd of June.


  • For differences between U.S. and Commonwealth English, consult a dictionary that lists both.
  • Remember that billion, trillion, and larger numbers are ambiguous. In some the US, a billion is 109, a thousand million, while in much of Europe a billion is 1012, a million million (a US trillion). See the table in the article: Billion (the word).
  • Putting a translation tool next to your work can help international readers get a better idea of what you're trying to say, but remember that machine translations still miss a lot of context and nuance. Try translating a page from another language to see what the results look like.
  • Keep acronyms and abbreviations to a minimum. If you have to use a shortened version of the word or phrase, be sure to explain it the first time that it is used.


  • Some words might be totally innocuous in English or American usage, but be very offensive or insulting to someone from another culture or language. Be aware of these differences, if possible. For example, asking to borrow a "rubber" in the U.K. will get you what in the U.S. is called an "eraser", whereas the same request in the U.S. is likely to be interpreted as a slang word for "condom". For differences between U.S. and Commonwealth English differences, consult a dictionary that lists both.
  • Humor rarely translates. Don't use it.

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Web Writing and eBooks | Writing