METM21 Online presentation 

An overview of institutional styles: from excellent tips we can all apply to the downright weird guidelines we should probably ignore

Timothy Barton, Oranjemund, Namibia

International institutions generally use style guides to ensure consistency within and across documents. On some points of style, almost all institutions adopt the same criteria, but on others there are significant differences between them.

Using samples taken from style guides, I will look at some of the similarities and differences among the styles of several international institutions, including the OECD, the UN, the WHO and the WTO. Which use American English and which prescribe British English? Of those that use British English, which prescribe -ize spellings? What does each style guide advise, if anything, about serial commas? How do they refer to currencies? How do they capitalise elements such as internal departments, names of ministries and job titles? What citation and bibliography styles do they use? And what unique – and sometimes weird – guidelines are hidden away in the institutional style guides?

I will also mention some of the more general guidance and tips found in the institutional style guides, such as the use of parallel structure and the active voice.

Finally, I will discuss how each institution goes about updating its style guide and whether rank-and-file translators (as opposed to senior revisers) are involved in the process. I will give some examples of contributions that I made when the OECD style guide was updated.

My presentation will give translators and editors an idea of what to expect if they want to work for international institutions, but will also provide some useful pointers on how to deal with stylistic issues that arise in jobs from clients that do not have a style guide.
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About the presenter

Timothy Barton ( is a freelance translator and editor based in Namibia. He regularly works in-house or as a freelancer for several international institutions including the OECD, the UN, the WTO and the IDB. He is a member of four professional associations, including the Association internationale des traducteurs de conférence.