UN Arabic Language Day
December 18, 2012
What we “Found in Translation”
February 1, 2013

Text Expansion in Translation Services

Text Expansion

Last updated on May 6th, 2021 at 12:32 pm


There is always text expansion or contraction when you translate content from one language to another. It is important to take into consideration this expansion or contraction, especially when translating  any marketing material, for example: brochures, presentations, or websites since you will need to revise, and adapt your layout and design for proper presentation. Text expansion in translation is inspected by graphic designers in the multilingual desktop publishing department of translation agencies or by the person responsible for testing/proofreading in the website localization process. 

Designing With Text Expansion in Mind

When a document is translated from English into another language, it usually takes more words to convey the same idea. It is always possible to handle text expansion when translating technical or marketing documents by tweaking it a little, although the presence of graphics, diagrams and images in any type of document makes the adjustment a bit more complex, if it wasn’t considered  at the document creation stage.

It is safe to design your layout assuming that English text will expand by 20 to 30% once translated. Each language has a different expansion percentage but, when it comes to adequate space, the expression “better to be safe than sorry” holds true. Remember that white space is not necessarily wasted space; it allows for a more versatile layout and can greatly increase the readability of a document.

A few elements to keep in mind for document translation:

  • Pagination (the arrangement and number of pages): Does this need to remain the same as the original? Will references within the text be affected if the page numbering differs?
  • Table of contents: Is consistency between languages important?
  • Any areas (tables, diagrams, etc.) where your English document completely fills all available space can be problematic upon translation without layout adjustments.

When dealing with online material:

  • Navigation elements and links can change in length and might cause problems in display.
  • Online forms and page elements in your website, like graphics and buttons, may also need to be re-sized after translation.

Save Time and Money by Planning Ahead!

Although easily overlooked, text expansion can affect much more than the visual consistency of your document and websites. It can bring higher cost to your project by adding hours of multilingual desktop publishing. By addressing the relevant elements that can change at the beginning of the process, during the design stages, and by designing with Internationalization practices in mind, layout sacrifices and rework can be avoided and reduced; saving you time and money.

Sergio Ruffolo
Sergio Ruffolo
Sergio has more than 25 years of multinational experience providing consulting services and leading IT organizations in Africa, Asia and America, which has given him plenty interesting and insightful lessons to teach about global business. He is fluent in Spanish and English, in addition to conversational Portuguese. He has lived in more than 12 cities around the world, moving around and working in different cultures has left him with a real global perspective. Sergio is a real citizen of the world.