Terminology for a global audience#

Rackspace is a global company, with customers in many countries. A small amount of content has been translated, but most has not, which means that many customers who don’t speak English as their first language consume our English content. All of the guidelines in this topic (“Basic writing guidelines”) are designed to make content easy to understand for all audiences, but the following guidelines will especially clarify content for global audiences.

Don’t use idioms or colloquialisms#

An idiom is an expression whose meaning can’t be derived from the literal meaning of the individual words. Some examples are in a nutshell, the bottom line, across the board, and on the fly.

A colloquialism is an expression considered more appropriate to familiar and casual conversation than to formal speech or to formal writing. Although we might like to establish a more conversational tone in some content, colloquialisms can be hard for non-native English speakers to understand.

Avoid idioms and colloquialisms as often as possible.

The following table lists some idioms and colloquialisms, and provides alternatives that you can use.

Idiom or colloquialism


for the most part


bear in mind, keep in mind

consider, remember

keep an eye out for

look for

figure out


stand for


come across


fine tune

refine, customize

get a feel for

become familiar with

in light of

because of

set aside

defer, allocate

kind of like

similar to

lots of


what’s more


a hair smaller than

slightly smaller than

when you’re done

when you’re finished

Avoid metaphorical terms#

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that denotes one kind of object or action is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them. Although some common metaphors are easy even for people who don’t speak English as a first language, avoid them as often as possible.

The following table provides some examples of metaphorical terms that can easily be replaced with one or more words.



a handful of companies

a few companies

table a discussion

postpone a discussion

the vanilla model

the standard model

avoid common pitfalls

avoid common problems

the drawback of frequent updates

the disadvantage of frequent updates

Don’t use humor#

Humor is culture specific. What might be funny in one culture might be offensive or obscene in another culture. Humor doesn’t translate well, literally or figuratively, so don’t use it.

Use jargon carefully#

Jargon is the specialized language of a profession. Jargon can be useful for technical audiences, but it can be meaningless to novice users and difficult to translate. Don’t use jargon if you can easily and correctly use a more common or familiar term, or if the jargon obfuscates rather than clarifies the meaning. However, if the jargon is essential to the technical meaning of the content, use it. If the audience isn’t highly technical, consider explaining any jargon that you use.

The following table lists some jargon typically used in the high tech industry and some possible alternatives.




abort (verb)

stop, end, cancel

If an error occurs during data entry, the update process stops.

boot, reboot (v)

start, restart

To apply your changes, restart the server.

bounce (v)


Restart the service.

box (noun)

computer, server

The configuration specifies four servers.

cache (v)

place in cache

For quick access, you can place the command in cache.

debug (v)


After you resolve the problem, restart the server.

dropped (adj)


In this release, support for Windows is discontinued.

execute (v)


Run the script.

fire, fire up (v)


After repairs are completed, you can start the server.

freeze (v)

stop responding

If the console stops responding, restart the application.

grayed, grayed out (adj)

unavailable, dimmed

You can’t reduce the size of a Windows server, so options for smaller size servers are unavailable.

hang (v)

stop responding

A severe error might cause the server to stop responding.

interface (v)

connect, communicate, interact

Host 1 interacts with Host 2.

kill (v)

stop, end, terminate

You can terminate the process by pressing Ctrl+C.

launch (v)


Start the application monitor in debug mode.

machine (n)

computer, server

If a UFO lands in the data center, the servers stop working.

Note: When referring to a virtual machine (VM), machine is correct.

ping (v)

contact, alert

To verify the connection, use the ping command to contact the other server.

sanity check (v)

test, evaluate

You can use a pre-existing function to evaluate the data that users enter.

slave (n, adj)

subordinate, secondary (adj)

Database replication that uses a master database server and a secondary (or slave) database server provides key advantages.

spin up (v)


If you need more capacity, create a new server.

throw (v)


If the program fails, an error is generated.

Use culture-neutral language and examples#

Cultural references and examples in your documentation can cause problems for a global audience and for translation. Sounds, colors, animals, gestures, events, and symbols don’t convey the same meaning in every culture.

  • Don’t use the names of places, public figures, or holidays. If you must, use examples that represent a variety of cultures or that are internationally recognized. For example, use international cities, such as Paris, New York, Tokyo, London, and Hong Kong.

  • Don’t use political, religious, ethnic, or historical references.

  • Don’t use metaphors that are specific to one culture (for example, an American football metaphor).

Use generic examples that work in any target market.

If you create “named” users for extended examples or scenarios, use names that represent a variety of ethnic backgrounds, genders, and locations.

Use culture-neutral graphics#

Use graphics whenever possible to present processes and complex ideas. However, be aware of the following possible issues:

  • Some users don’t typically read from left to right. If a graphics illustrates a sequence, make that sequence explicit by using numbers, arrows, or directional terms.

  • Don’t rely on color alone to convey meaning. The color red, for example, has different meanings in different countries so could be interpreted differently by different users. Also, colors can have political or religious significance. Use neutral colors as often as possible.

  • Don’t use a picture of a hand by itself (for example, a hand that is pointing). Almost every hand gesture is offensive to someone. A picture of a hand that is holding an item or interacting with something is generally acceptable.

  • Use generic or international images. Some examples are soccer players and equipment, generic landscapes, pens and pencils, and generic images of computer equipment. Avoid using images of men, women, flags, maps, animals, alcohol, trendy objects, historical references, or film, cartoon, or video characters.