British English or American English?

Jakob Nielsen recently covered the issue of which English language variant to use in one of his recent Alertbox emails. This topic usually interests me or bugs me in equal measure (but for different reasons).

I’ve written for companies that want to use British English and for those that prefer American English. As Nielsen points out, it’s not just a case of changing the spellings. It’s about terminology and more. He provides some useful tips, as well as guidance on which version to use.

As ever, it boils down to your website’s target audience, which is your first consideration in any type of communication. However, your choice is also influenced to some extent by how you want to portray yourself or your company. That is, as an international business or a regional one.

Nielsen also explains how using the incorrect version can alienate the people you’re trying to speak to. As he says, ‘language matters’. Visitors will make assumptions about a company or product based on the variant used.

Finally, he says to be consistent in your choice, which refers to a source of constant annoyance for me! Switching between the two shows ‘poor attention to detail’ and a poor grasp of the English language, whichever version you choose.

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