Reference material

This is a selection of books, web sites, glossaries and style guides that we’ve found helpful, informative and/or inspirational. It's not meant for one second to be exhaustive: indeed, it barely scratches the surface of all the useful material available on the web. It contains resources on: 

Writing (English) 

How to write clearly (downloadable pdf file – 292 KB) is a guide for people who write, commission or translate official documents. But it’s useful for all writers. Produced by the EU Commission's translation directorate and available in all 23 official languages of the European Union.

Plain English Handbook: How to create clear SEC disclosure documents (pdf, 640 KB). “This Securities and Exchange Commission handbook shows how you can use well-established techniques for writing in plain English to create clearer and more informative disclosure documents”. But it’s useful for business-writing in general. 

Writing for Translation (pdf, 635 KB). A booklet produced by the Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union and intended for writers of EU texts for translation. "In it you will find tips on how to structure your texts to make them concise, unambiguous and easy to read. […] This booklet gives advice on how you can help the translator convey your words successfully". 

See also the Reference and Style Guides, below. 


Chris Durban, a leading French-to-English translator, has co-written the following book and pamphlets, which contain useful tips for translation purchasers and providers:

Other books by translators include: 

Found in Translation
How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World
by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche
For teachers and students of translation, Thinking Italian Translation, published by Routledge, is a university course book that illustrates the many linguistic problems translators working between English and Italian have to solve. It shows how the English translation can vary markedly from the Italian original yet retain the same meaning. I taught this course at Glasgow University and didn’t like the book’s layout (“wall-of-words” and poor usability). But it’s a useful insight to the translation process. 

Websites and usability

Jakob Nielsen and the other members of the Nielsen Norman Group are “user experience pioneers...they advocated user-centred design and usability before it became popular to do so”. Their site is packed with useful information. We’ve attended their Usability Weeks, which are enjoyable, interesting, and – most important – immensely useful for anyone writing or translating web content.

Don’t Make Me Think is an accessible and enjoyable book by usability expert Steve Krug. Essentially, if your web site is well-designed, visitors will be able to think about your product or services, and the message you want to convey to them. If it’s badly designed, they’ll think – but about the wrong things: “how do I get around this site?”, “how the hell do I get to the ‘buy now’ button?”. Which do you prefer? 

Reference, Style Guides and Glossaries

The BBC News Styleguide (pdf, 283 KB) “This is not a ‘do and don’t’ list but a guide that invites you to explore some of the complexities of modern English usage and to make your own decisions about what does and does not work. It should improve your scripts and general writing, not to mention making you feel better informed, challenged and amused”.

The Economist Style Guide

The Guardian Style Guide

The Chicago Manual of Style (subscription based)

Comunicare con chiarezza, a project by Matteo Vitale. Matteo’s Anthology is an excellent resource for clear and concise writing, intended mainly for library staff but useful for all writers and readers of Italian.

Financial Times Lexicon: thousands of words and phrases selected by Financial Times editors 

UK Parliament Glossary: a Helpful A-Z glossary listing key parliamentary terms and their definition.

European Union

The wonderful BBC provides an EU glossary to “untangle the jargon that sometimes makes the European Union hard to understand”.

For more detailed (much more detailed!) EU style guides see:

For EU languages other than Italian and English, see Translation and drafting aids in the European Union languages and InterActive Terminology for Europe.

Another useful EU resource is the Country Compendium, a companion to the English Style Guide, with English terms and translations relating to the geography, judicial bodies and legal instruments of EU member states.

Glossary Links. A glossary search tool from the European Parliament's Terminology Coordination Unit, with a database of almost 1,400 glossaries available online. You can find glossaries according to topics and by language.

DocHound. A one-stop shop of links to useful document resources of the EU Institutions all gathered in one single place. An amazing and endlessly useful resource!

World, and international law

United Nations Multilingual Terminology DatabaseA database "compiled over the years in response to diverse and wide-ranging demands of United Nations Language staff for terminology and nomenclature". 

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Geographical Names and Information lists the FCO’s approved British English-language names and descriptive terms for countries and territories of the world and their citizens. (Downloadable CSV file, 16KB).

For the US (OK, CIA) slant on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 (at July 2011) world entities, see the World Factbook. Which also provides maps of the major world regions, Flags of the World, a Physical Map of the World, a Political Map of the World, and a Standard Time Zones of the World map.

UN Treaty Reference Guide and Glossary

FCO Treaty Glossary

UK Law

The Judiciary of Scotland provides a useful glossary of Scottish legal terminology


The Economist's Economics A-to-Z. A glossary of economics terms, based on "Essential Economics", by Matthew Bishop - Bloomberg Press; Economist Books.


Garzanti dictionaries


Inspiration: Macs, typography, Shakespeare and more

Robin Williams, designer, teacher and author, is a DNA Language heroine. Her books helped us appreciate Macs to the full and opened our eyes to the wonderful world of typography. Robin writes marvellous books on design and writing, typography, Macs and Shakespeare. She is funny, wise and an inspiration. Her books, available from Peachpit Press, look beautiful too.

Translators, editors, writers and researchers, your help is needed!

These resources are a work-in-progress, so if you have any suggestions or recommendations, please let us know!