12 tips for translating surveys

This article was originally posted on our old blog in July 2012

This is part 2 about creating and managing online surveys in multiple languages. Part 1 looked at how to set up a survey in another language efficiently (to save time and effort), but the implementation is only part of the equation.

So here are our tips and recommendations for planning, designing and managing surveys in multiple languages.

  1. The first requirement is to have a good translator who understands the wider project, rather than just being asked “can you translate this please“.
  2. While the translator is being asked to provide translations in a spreadsheet (see post – a smarter way to create translated surveys – left hand side = English / right hand side = translation), they should have access to the original questionnaire and ideally the online survey version too for context.
  3. Have someone act as co-ordinator for all survey translations (if running more than 2 languages) because they will be familiar with the questionnaire and can manage any feedback/questions raised from one country that may have an impact on the other countries.
  4. If you are outsourcing to a freelance translator, check he/she understands or recognises terminology in your industry (although be wary of using jargon in your survey).
  5. Consider and plan for regional differences where questions or answer options may not be applicable. This includes questions about salary/household income!
  6. If your questionnaire has ‘clever’ features like [mail-merge the product name from demographic-data] or [display previous answer selection in a later question] you may want to make the text more generic to save your sanity! (Just because we can append a word to the end of the sentence in English doesn’t mean the same rule applies in other languages.)
  7. If more than one translator is working on the questionnaire, make sure they are consistent in the language/phrases they use.
  8. The translator must review the online survey version after the translations have been applied too. Even when preparing a survey in English (only), seeing the questionnaire online for the first time helps see the content afresh (and spot wording issues or typo’s).
  9. If a different translator is reviewing the online survey version, make sure they are not critiquing the translation and applying their personal preference on wording (a pet hate of ours!).
  10. Different countries have different privacy laws (even within the EU) which may affect some questions you can ask, or being able to link results back to demographic data already held.
  11. Make sure the privacy statement and unsubscribe pages are also translated, and if emailing invitations – this message (and any planned reminder) also need to be included.
  12. Don’t forget comments received to a survey will need translating too.

While I’m talking about translating comments received – have you tested that comments received in a non-European language are captured ok?

Finally, while not technically translation, prepare the mailing list and confirm that English contacts will receive their invite to the survey in English, French participants in French … etc. Providing a button or link to access the survey in another language doesn’t hurt, but most recipients will delete an email they cannot read!

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