04 October 2019
Text adaptation

Table of contents

When publishing a text that's directed at different readers, one of the first questions should be: is one version enough?

For a target audience with several language communities, the answer is clear – you'll need a translation. But what about when you're dealing with just one language?

Tailoring text for the target group

Put simply, an adaptation is a customisation. Depending on how diverse your target audience is, it can be very useful to have different versions that specifically address each particular group, even when they all speak the same language.

Different types of adaptation

Adaptation is possible in a variety of cases: as a form of translation, to adapt to target groups with different levels of expertise, or both – as a translation and content adaptation in one. Ultimately, it’s about creating text that is precisely attuned to your target audience group, both in terms of content and language.

• Adaptation as a form of translation

When translating for a foreign-language audience, the text has to be adapted in terms of both language and style. It's not just a matter of simply translating the words, but of adapting them to suit the particular traits of each target group, such as cultural habits, social structures or certain expectations regarding individual types of text. Let’s take a newspaper article as an example. If the structure of the piece differs between the country for which it was written and the country in which it will be republished, then the text needs to be adapted for the target country.

Especially in the field of marketing, it is crucial to adapt advertising messages for different target audiences. Wordplay, for example, is an integral part of marketing and cannot be translated directly. This explains why a slogan from one and the same brand can be completely different in two languages. Humour is also something that’s very individual, which means you can’t always translate a slogan one-to-one.

An adaptation therefore makes no claim to being a literal, word-for-word translation, but rather frees itself from those constraints and focuses on the impact of a text instead.

• Adaptation within one language: specialist audiences vs. the general public

The practice of adaptation doesn’t just occur within translations. A piece of text can also be adapted within one language, such as an article that was originally written for a specialist audience but is then to be published for the general public.

In the adaptation process, the language style is adapted to the new target audience, which, in this case, would mean writing simpler copy with fewer specialist terms. This may include providing further explanations for terms contained in the text or defining abbreviations that, while commonly used in expert circles, are perhaps less known among non-specialists.

• Translating and adapting text simultaneously

It gets particularly interesting when a text needs to be simultaneously translated and adapted for content. Imagine you have a specialist text in Portuguese that’s aimed at medical experts and reveals new findings in the field of cystic fibrosis research. This text is now supposed to appear in an English-language health magazine for lay people who are interested in the subject but don’t possess nearly as much background knowledge as experts in the field.

The adapted text should inform readers about the topic, but also raise their level of knowledge to some extent. While they may be aware of common abbreviations, other terms will be unfamiliar. When it comes to more complex terminology, an explanation for lay readers is always helpful. And, of course, the text has to be translated from Portuguese into English while stylistically adapting it to the needs of the target audience.

When is an adaptation worth it?

An adaptation is always worthwhile when you’re addressing different target groups about one topic, whether those groups speak different languages or not. This is particularly effective when recipients within the same language have different levels of knowledge on the subject. Think about readers who are professionally involved with a topic and those who just like to read about it out of general interest.

You want the text to be adapted in such a way that the average lay person can read the entire text from start to finish without putting it down in frustration after a few lines through lack of understanding. At the same time, you don’t want to alienate your expert readers by giving them text that they may find too simplistic. So again, you can see that the text has to be specially adapted to the different target audiences because nobody likes to feel over- or under-challenged.

Do you want to reach your individual target groups in a way they’ll understand? Have your text adapted!

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