Janet Harkness with (alphabetically) Dorothée Behr, Ipek Bilgen, AnaLucía Córdova Cazar, Brita Dorer, Lei Huang, An Lui, Mathew Stange, Peter Ph. Mohler, and Ana Villar,  2016


The following guidelines describe how to find and select suitable people for a  team translation  effort; they also outline a briefing for members of the team. The strategies used to select translators and others members of the translation team can also be used to train them, as relevant, in the unique aspects of survey translation. The term " source language " used below refers to the language out of which a translation is made. The term " target language" is used to refer to the language into which a translation is made.


Goal: To locate potential candidates for a  team translation  effort and to select the most suitable from among these; to brief selected translators on general features of relevance for survey translation and on specific features of the study; and to engage and brief relevant other members of the team.

⇡ Back to top

1. Search for translators in contexts in which they are likely to work, advertise, or acquire their translation training.


At the selection stage it is important, whenever possible, to have multiple candidates from whom to choose. A team effort also requires more than one  translator . Organizations that employ or train translators and associations with which translators register or advertise are likely places to begin locating translators for the language(s) required.

Procedural steps

1.1    Identify likely organizations, associations, and places where translators register and advertise. Local options may vary greatly; search the internet and telephone directories, places of instruction (e.g., translating colleges), newspapers, and trade journals, and contact any local chambers of commerce, publishers, medical institutions, international firms, advertising companies, places of higher education, and your own network channels and institutions, as available, for help in making contact.

1.2    Compose and write a job description. Post this at any place identified as potentially relevant. Send the description to any contacts made in organizations. If appropriate, include in the advertisement a request for help in locating suitable people.

1.3    Utilize your own organizational and personal networks. Post the advertisement or job description within your own institution, and ask people you know to suggest contacts.

Lessons learned

1.1    In some locations it may be difficult to find trained translators, either in general or for a language you require. In this case, proficient bilinguals may be the only personnel available. Follow through with them as many of the selection and briefing steps as possible.

⇡ Back to top

2. Require candidates to submit application materials prior to the job interview.


Information about a candidate's experience and training and examples of previous translation work may help decide whether a candidate merits consideration. If there are numerous applicants, these materials can be the basis for selecting people to interview.

Procedural steps

2.1    Identify the application materials required in the advertisement. If contact is not made through an advertisement, provide candidates with the job description and request delivery of the application materials before arranging an interview.

2.2    Ask applicants to provide the following:

2.2.1   An outline of their training and experience in translation for the languages involved ( source  and  target ). This should include the kind of translations the applicant has worked on.

2.2.2   Examples of any recent work if possible.

2.2.3   Recent references relevant to the job application.

2.2.4   Details of their computer skills and access to computer technology.

2.2.5   Details of their work experience.

2.2.6   Details of their education in general.

2.2.7   Details of how, when, and where they acquired competence in the source and target languages.

2.2.8   Details of whether they have knowledge about surveys and questionnaires in general and experience in questionnaire translation in particular.

Lessons learned

2.1    Application materials only tell part of the story; avoid hiring on the basis of these alone. Translations delivered for inspection are, for example, not produced under  team translation conditions, nor can you know precisely who contributed to their production.

2.2    It is important to identify whether candidates are currently working in the  source  and  target  languages, or whether their exposure and use of one or the other lies in the past. Translators should ideally be embedded in the target culture and language, as well as fully conversant with the source language and, as relevant, the culture from which it springs. It is also important to ensure that applicants are competent in both speaking and writing the target and source languages.

2.3    Although language competence in the source and target languages does not guarantee that someone can translate, it is a prerequisite. If bilingual individuals without translation training represent the highest level of expertise available in a given context, select from these, using the materials described in Guidelines 4 and 5 below, and train them intensively.

2.4    Avoid engaging someone simply on the basis of recommendations whenever possible. If there are people with whom, for whatever reasons, the project team is expected to work, evaluate these people to ascertain their skills and possible language expertise. In looking for translators, you may also find suitable candidates for back-up personnel.

⇡ Back to top

3. If working with translation agencies, require reference materials and specifications for both the agency and the translators.


The professionalism of the agency needs to be verified, as well as the suitability of translators employed for the survey project.  Team translation  requires the translators to be available for meetings. Make sure that any agency involved understands and accepts the requirements (see Translation: Overview).

Procedural steps

3.1    Ask agencies to provide the following information about themselves:

3.1.1   A list of clients and contact options.

3.1.2   A list of projects (the agency experience record).

3.1.3   Experience in translating questionnaires, if available.

3.1.4   References from recent representative clients.

3.1.5   Years of operation.

3.1.6   Information about the business focus and personnel in the agency (for example, whether the owner or manager has a translation background and whether translation is a central part of the agency’s activities).

3.1.7   Any agency sub-contracting procedures relevant for your project.

3.1.8   The agency’s procedures for hiring and training translators.

  • How they find and select translators.
  • How they train, if they do so.
  • How they monitor translation performance (who monitors, and how).
  • How they ensure quality (4-eyes principle, systematic expert or peer reviews?)

3.1.9   How they intend to accommodate the  team translation requirements of your project (meetings, repeated access to the same translators, etc.).

3.2    Ask agencies to provide the  translator  materials outlined in Guideline 2   above in preparation for the selection interview(s).

Lessons learned

3.1    The cost differential between translators working as self-employed professionals and those provided by agencies greatly depends on the individual context. The same holds with regard to  quality . In general, agencies pay translators less than what independent translators working full time earn. Competent translators may nonetheless work with agencies. Agencies, for example, can provide a steady flow of work.

3.2    Agencies initially reluctant to cooperate on requirements for team translation may later develop into valuable and reliable partners.

3.3    If working with a translation bureau or agency, it is important to ensure that you have direct contact with the translators, that you can work with the same translators if possible over rounds (if that is what you wish) and that other requirements for your translation effort can be met. Using translation bureaus will in some cases not be a viable option, since, for example, translators may work long distance and will be unable to attend review meetings. They may also not be allowed by their employers to interact directly with you as ‘clients’ or, indeed, with each other. It is not common for translation bureaus to accommodate the selection procedures outlined below and they may be more expensive than individual translators are. Many fielding agencies may not be able to provide translators to fit the TRAPD model either (European Social Survey, 2014).

⇡ Back to top

4. Select translators on the basis of submitted materials and their performance in the interview.


The interview is the opportunity to explore and verify information provided in the application and to test performance in tasks needed for a team translation  effort.

Procedural steps

4.1    Appoint one or more people with expertise in survey translation and the languages in question to conduct the interview (typically, senior translation  reviewers ).

4.2    Organize the interview in such a way that candidates actually demonstrate their competence on the spot, including their ability to produce translations, review existing translations, and accept critiquing of their translations, as well as indicate their knowledge of relevant tools, etc. It can be also helpful to let new translators work as interns before hiring them definitely.

4.3    Use the following indicators as the basis of evaluation criteria for selecting any given  translator :

4.3.1   Current knowledge of and competence in the  source  and  target languages  and cultures.

4.3.2   Generally, the mother tongue of the translator is the target language.

4.3.3   Translation and review performance on test materials.

4.3.4   Experience and expertise in translation.

4.3.5   Knowledge of translation tools.

4.3.6   Team suitability.

4.3.7   Computer skills and access to computer technology. This may be a requirement in many projects.

4.3.8   Knowledge of and experience with translating surveys.

4.3.9   Availability and salary/payment requirements.

Lessons learned

4.1    Extensive translation experience in one very specialized field may be a drawback for working on survey translations. Someone with years of experience in legal translation may be unused to the everyday language and tone often aimed for in survey translation. But the opposite may also be true – a translator successful in a specialized field may be a competent and versatile translator in general and apt to adapt to the ‘survey speak’ very quickly.

4.2    Experience in producing survey translations should not be taken as proof of suitability, as many survey translations are poor.

4.3    Given the scarcity of training opportunities for survey translation, not many translators will have been trained to translate questionnaires adequately and may not recognize key measurement features. Thus, in many cases, proven translating skills will be more important than survey translation experience. At the interview, assessment should focus on the demonstrated ability to understand the source text and render it fluently in the target language, as well as the ability to identify problems for translation or  adaptation and to ask relevant questions. Translators who have had experience in translating questionnaires but were never actually trained how to handle this kind of text may, indeed, prove difficult to (re-)train. Training on survey measurement features can follow, if a candidate is hired.

4.4    It is important to try to assess whether a candidate seems likely to work successfully as a member of a team. Inform translators at the application stage about the way the work will be organized and make the team discussion component clear. It is not uncommon that translators might be a little wary at first about the idea of discussing/critiquing versions. Take the time to explain that teamwork benefits the end product and that people involved in such teams actually enjoy sharing responsibility and can learn from one another (European Social Survey, 2014).

4.5    It is useful to have a number of applicant translators. Even if you feel you have suitable candidates used in past projects, it is suggested that these people be ‘put to the test’ along with new recruits. In this way, for example, it is easier to decide who might be better suited as reviewer and who as translator or which of two translators is stronger for the task at hand.

4.6    Where several different translated questionnaires are to be produced by one country, for each target language questionnaire, translation begins from the source questionnaire, not from a translated questionnaire (e.g. for a questionnaire with a source language of English and planned translations into both Catalan and Spanish, both the Catalan and Spanish translations should originate from the English version, rather than the Catalan originating from the Spanish translation). Thus, in every case, translators are needed who habitually work from the source language into the target language (this being their ‘strongest’ language or mother tongue) (European Social Survey, 2014).

4.7    The people most likely to be good questionnaire translators are people who are already good translators and who learn/are trained to become questionnaire translators. The procedures suggested for training include procedures which can be used to assess the suitability of applicants. Training materials can readily be developed from available questionnaire translations; old questionnaires can be used for training and practice (European Social Survey, 2014).

4.8    Applicants can be asked to identify problems in question formulations in the target language, to provide translations, with common pitfalls such as a symmetrical source scale that is difficult to match in the target language, or a skewed or difficult target scale, to comment on translations already available (old questionnaires or questionnaires specifically prepared for this purpose), to correct translations, to compare their versions with other versions, to make questions more suitable for a specified target population, to comment on questions that are culturally inappropriate or end up biased in translation, to explain what questions are actually asking, and so forth (European Social Survey, 2014).

4.9    These tasks will raise some issues that relate to the source language and source text and others that relate more to translation. In this way you should gain a sense of their target language proficiency and their skill in translation. You will also gain some impression of their ability to work with the specific materials as well as their ‘ear’ for suitable language for different modes and target audiences. By asking them to translate items and then engaging with them in comparison and discussion of their version against one already available, you can gain a general sense of their commenting skills, an indication of how well they can operate impromptu, and a good first impression of how they react when their translations are discussed – as will happen in the review process. Their flexibility in impromptu generation of versions (alongside the quality of these versions) is a good indicator of likely suitability (European Social Survey, 2014).

4.10 Ideally, team members should both show initiative and be able to recognize and follow good suggestions made by others. Good translators, aware of the constraints, tend to recognize good translation solutions when they see them (European Social Survey, 2014).

4.11 Interviewer training will equally require familiarization with the annotated questionnaire and with the documentation required for the translation–review process (European Social Survey, 2014)

4.12 Even once translators have been appointed, decisions sometimes need to be reversed. The first 10 percent of the first assignment should be delivered – and assessed by a project coordinator or the reviewer – for monitoring as soon as it is completed. It is unlikely that serious deficiencies can be remedied by pointing out or discussing problems. If the translation quality is not already reasonable, it is probably better to start again with a new translator. Reviewing output early also allows you to tell translators about aspects you wish them to treat differently (European Social Survey, 2014).

⇡ Back to top

5. Brief translators on general features of surveys relevant for survey translation, as well as on specific features of the given study.


Briefing translators helps them to read, understand, and translate questionnaires as instruments of measurement. Translators need to be able to recognize the design features and various components of surveys in order to handle them appropriately. For example, survey questions have special vocabulary and syntactical features that may run counter to normal written language; instruments have sections addressed to different audiences (interviewer, respondent, programmer, etc.); and questions and response scales reflect measurement goals that an untrained reader might not perceive for what they are. Translators also need to understand the function of target and source texts to see the best possible translation options. What they produce as a translation depends not only on their ability and training but on the quality of the material they are asked to translate and on the task specifications they receive.

Procedural steps

5.1    Use specially developed materials or real questionnaires in  source  and target  languages to brief translators on the following:

5.1.1   Different components of a questionnaire.

  • Questions, instructions, explanations, response scales, filters, fills, annotations, sections for official use, programmer instructions, formatting conventions, house-style requirements, etc.
  • Vocabulary requirements for the  target population .
  • Level of vocabulary, as well as regional vocabulary considerations (see Translation: Shared Language Harmonization).
  • Segments of the text which are for interviewers and which for respondents and indicate the mode intended for different materials. Countries using computer-assisted applications should explain fills and provide, as appropriate, the hidden CAPI instructions to be translated.

5.1.2   Explain the notion of questionnaire modes and details of the  mode for the project at hand (e.g., oral or written presentation, branching presentation of answer options, web-based response features, etc.).

5.1.3   Response scale designs and their purposes.

5.1.4    Adaptation  and any feedback procedures to be followed. The most common causes of mistranslations in survey research. (See Translation: Overview Appendix C on Causes of Mistranslation for a review of mistranslation causes and examples from past survey research.)

5.1.5   Translation documentation and the procedures to be followed.

5.1.6   The notions of  response styles > and  social desirability , as well as any feedback required from translators in these situations.

5.1.7   The purpose and procedures of any  pretesting  planned.

5.1.8   Any translated components (e.g., instructions, response scales, replicated questions) used in earlier rounds of a survey that are to be repeated in an upcoming round should be clearly marked in what is given to the translators. Giving translators the entire document lets them see the context for which the material to be translated is intended. This is a better idea than deleting bits you do not require to have translated. If appropriate, translators can also harmonize new translations with existing translations, that is, keep new translations consistent with existing translations covering related material (European Social Survey, 2014). (See also Translation: Overview Appendix A on Changing Material in Existing Questionnaires.)

5.2    In the briefing process, translators can be asked to identify problems in question formulations in English or the target language, to provide translations, for instance with a symmetrical source scale that is difficult to match in the target language, or a skewed or difficult target scale, to comment on translations already available (old, prepared questionnaires), to correct translations, to compare their versions with other versions, to make questions more suitable for a specified target population, to comment on questions that are culturally inappropriate or end up biased in translation, to explain what questions are actually asking, and so forth, in order to improve survey instrument translation capacity (European Social Survey, 2014).

Lessons learned

5.1    Careful briefing is important to guide translators' perception of questionnaires and ensure consideration of both respondent needs and questionnaire designers' needs in translations.

5.2    Without briefing, translators will translate according to the text models and text types with which they are already familiar. They should be reminded that survey instruments are a very specific text type intended for specific target populations. (a) to (c) are examples of issues that may be particularly relevant when briefing your translation teams. For obvious reasons, this will always have to be a case-to-case decision:
(a) For instance, unless they are reminded that an instrument is intended for oral presentation, they may produce a translation more suited as a written questionnaire. These guidelines do, in general, assume that questionnaires are administered in an oral way, for instance, in face-to-face or telephone interviews. Written administration, such as in self-completion situations or for web-surveys, sometimes requires a different way of writing. But this is more to be understood as a questionnaire design issue for the source instrument than a proper translation problem.
(b) Questionnaire translators should also be informed that questionnaire elements such as visual presentations may be modified between source and target instruments: for instance, local conventions in terms of vertical vs. horizontal or ladder versus triangular presentations of response scales have to be considered and changed, if necessary. Or right-to left vs. left-to-right response scales in Arabic or Hebrew questionnaires (See Adaptation chapter for more information).
(c) Also regional language use, social class, or accents may be an important point to brief your translating teams in. Should the target instrument be drafted for a specific target population in this regard? The translating teams will need some guidance on how to decide in this regard. (See the example of German used in Switzerland or to
diglossia in Adaptation.)

5.3    Briefings should include motivating information to encourage  translator commitment and care. Survey translation may call on translators to work repeatedly on the same questions; this iterative process may run counter to their expectations. If they are informed about the high-stakes nature of a survey and the survey costs involved should questions go wrong, they understand repetitive aspects of team procedures better.

5.4    If not given job specifications, translators mentally decide their own, since they cannot translate in a vacuum. Task specifications must thus indicate the intended audience, level of literacy and tone of text (e.g., official or more casual tone), the function of the text (e.g., a questionnaire for fielding or notes to describe the contents of a questionnaire), and the degree of freedom permitted in translation. Translators need to be informed of how close or free the translation is required to be (European Social Survey, 2014).

5.5    Translators should be encouraged to produce questions that do not sound like translations and to use vocabulary that can be understood by less well-educated respondents as well as the better educated. Translators must take into account that questions are intended to be offered (said) once and to require only a normal degree of textual processing (European Social Survey, 2014).

5.6    Translators who are informed about the measurement components of questions and are trained to be sensitive to design requirements as well as target audience requirements are in an optimal position to produce good versions. They are also more likely to be able to point out when a requirement cannot be met and to recognize problems (Hulin, 1987; Hambleton, 1993). It is thus strongly recommended that translators are given support materials, example texts, and the information relevant for their part in producing instruments. For example, the format of an annotated questionnaire and the documentation required are likely to be new to many translators and this should be covered in the briefing session (European Social Survey, 2014)

5.7    Monolingual source language dictionaries listing the different meanings of a word may help finding out what words can mean in various contexts. Sometimes one only thinks of the most typical meaning of a given word and then ignores all others, or one even is not aware of the fact that a word can also have different meanings than those that are usually known. Monolingual dictionaries can help in deciding which meaning of a word is activated and, in addition, they may help in finding the appropriate translation by offering paraphrases and near synonyms which could be used as a basis for translation (European Social Survey, 2014).

⇡ Back to top

6. Identify and engage suitable other personnel required for the translation effort: the senior reviewer —who may also coordinate the project—the adjudicator, and substantive experts. (Translation: Overview  and Translation: Overview, Appendix B


Finding good translators is only one requirement to produce suitable target language  instruments. The other personnel should be chosen with care so as to bring together the skills and knowledge required for the project, as outlined in Translation: Overview.

Procedural steps

6.1    Identify the procedures to be undertaken and the skills required for this as described in Translation: Overview and Translation: Overview, Appendix  B and seek suitable personnel.

6.2    Require these personnel, as appropriate, to demonstrate their abilities for the tasks in which they will be engaged, possibly along the model outlined above for translators.

6.3    Tailor their briefing and training to the contributions they will make. Ensure this includes a general overview of the planned translation project phases, procedures, and responsibilities.

6.4    If there are people with whom, for whatever reasons, the project team is required to work, meet with and evaluate these people to ascertain their skills and possible language expertise.

6.5    Increase the size of the team as necessary to ensure the right mix of skills is available. Not everyone will be required at all times throughout the project (see Translation: Overview ).

Lessons learned

6.1    The senior  reviewer and the translators are likely to be the people most important for translation quality; it makes sense to select the best people available.

6.2    Training and briefing can greatly improve the performance of individuals and the team. Be sure to factor in adequate time for training and briefing when scheduling the translation process.

⇡ Back to top

7. Use documentation as a deliberate quality assurance and control tool to enhance selection, training, and briefing and to record performance.


Selection is partly based on reviewing documentation submitted on team members' performance and experience. It is also partly based on candidates' performance on materials and documents presented at selection and training meetings. Thus selection materials serve multiple functions. First, they allow selection committee members to prepare for the selection process, permit comparisons of candidate experience and performance, and are the basis of benchmarking. Later, selection materials used to test ability and understanding can function as training and briefing documents.

Procedural steps

7.1    Previous guidelines indicated the kinds of material to request of candidates and what to prepare for selection, testing, and briefing.

Lessons learned

7.1    Over time, an array of materials can be assembled. Documents produced for one round of selection and briefing can be used again for other projects. Materials from surveys can be good resources.

7.2    For some translation performance testing or briefing, it may be easier to create examples and tests.