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Translating for multi-country research projects

By Amanda Johnston, Sagitta Research and D.Code Translations

In a previous blog post we wrote about some important factors for ensuring the success of your multi-country product testing project. This includes providing accurate translations of the recruitment screener, questionnaire and other materials such as showcards.

At Sagitta, we are often presented with questionnaires that have already been translated into English by the client. In this case we always conduct a thorough proofreading to be certain that they will be understood by respondents in the UK, and this is an integral part of the service we offer. It is notable that questions are sometimes worded in a way that would seem unnatural or awkward to a native speaker. Since we do not want the meaning to be lost, it is important to be clear. Another frequently encountered issue is that response options for closed questions may not be clear or accurate with regard to the question asked; I will look at this in more detail below.

It may seem obvious to state that the questionnaire should be fully comprehensible for a respondent in a specific market, and this includes an element of ‘localisation’, which is best provided by a native speaker translator who is resident in the country in question.

Localisation encompasses some seemingly trivial elements that may nevertheless be slightly irritating for the recipient of the information if they are poorly adapted. Besides such components as currency conversion and formatting for pricing questions, for example, it is also advisable to alter date and time formats (for appointments, say, if placing products). Different markets may also have various approaches to the introduction, especially since on-street / in-venue recruitment proceeds via the ‘cold’ method of intercepting people who are going about their daily activities. Perhaps the introduction needs to be kept as brief as possible for this reason. Or maybe a slightly longer explanation is required, stating the name of the company conducting the fieldwork rather than the commissioning agency. A more or less detailed explanation of the reason for approaching them and the purpose of the research may be necessary: too long and the respondent’s interest may be lost; too brief and they may feel suspicious that it is a selling opportunity. The translator / research agency in that country is generally able to gauge the best solution with regard to these aspects, and should be permitted some freedom in doing so.

Looking now at the finer details of translating questionnaires and survey materials, besides producing an accurate translation of the original version of course, a good translator will also think as a respondent to ensure that the questionnaire is clear and easy to understand. For example, for a questionnaire about breakfast cereals, with detailed questions on texture, flavour, aftertaste, etc., the closed question responses need to be translated with some insight, to find terms that respondents in that country would naturally associate with this category of products.

Going back to the matter of proofreading a questionnaire in English submitted to us by a client, this may have been written in-house in that language, or it may have been translated from an original version. In the latter case, it is useful to compare it to that original. In any event, if something is not clear we always query it. For a project we were conducting on behalf of another agency in Europe, to test cosmetics, it was apparent when proofreading the questionnaire that several translated terms would not have had any meaning to a respondent in the UK in relation to the type of product being tested. After some discussion with the client, and even some exchanging of images to aid the description, we were able to find accurate wording to convey the meaning. To ignore such inaccuracies in a questionnaire not only leads to frustration for the respondent (and interviewer), but it could result in a failure to collect precise responses and data for those questions, and might affect any comparison with other markets. Eliminating such anomalies at this point is therefore of vital importance.

D.Code Translations specialises in translations for market research, and works closely with Sagitta to ensure the high quality of research materials deployed for all projects. We can also count several other market research agencies in Europe among our clients, and are highly experienced in a range of European language combinations in this sector.

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