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6 Steps to Choosing your Survey Translation Vendor

Benjamin Apel May 29, 2014 0 Comments

Providing a survey in the preferred language of your respondents is a sure-fire way to improve your response rates, but translating an entire survey can be a daunting task. 

Fortunately, there are many vendors out there who can help you.

This article helps outline the key steps to finding a translation vendor that can help you get accurate, localized surveys, polls, and questionnaires to your global audience.

Why You Need A Translation Vendor for Your Surveys

Surveys, like emails (and often delivered in email form), can be sent on a whim, around the world, instantly. That’s helpful, considering achieving a representative sample sometimes requires targeting respondents in multiple cities, regions, countries, and continents.

But what happens when you have a survey written in English and you need it translated for the seventy-five Arabic-speaking respondents you’re seeking vital feedback from?

You could call up your uncle who visited Yemen once to see if he has any old friends that could help.

And honestly, that might just work.

Now imagine you have a thirty page, 200-question survey, written in Spanish by your research associate in the Madrid office, that needs to be translated to English, German, French, Portuguese, Indonesian, Mauritian, and Slovakian?

Also, the survey needs to go live in a week.

Well, unless you have a slew of well-traveled uncles, and you immediately recognized that Mauritian is not an actual language, you’re going to need a backup plan.

Fortunately, there are people you can pay who are better at this than you.

The 6 Steps to Choosing your Survey Translation Vendor

Translation and localization services are aplenty. And just like anything, some companies and individuals are more skilled than others, prices vary, and the specialization of knowledge with regards to industry (tech, finance, medical, etc.) may change how you choose your vendor.

So without further ado, let’s get into the six most important steps in deciding who to trust with your survey translation and localization needs.

1)   Read this Article

I’d like to think this is the starting point for anyone looking to self-educate on how to choose a translation vendor for their surveys. So, step #1 - check. (You’re off to a good start).

2)   Define the Goal

Consider putting together an informal request for proposal; not only is it a great way to organize all the parameters for your project when you do touch base with various translation companies, but it will help you understand the breadth of your project and the steps you’ll need to take.

Things to consider:

  • The language of origin: what language do the materials exist in currently?
  • The target language(s): what language(s) do the materials need to be translated into?
  • The subject matter of your survey: certain translation companies specialize in one or multiple industries, so be sure to align your needs with the company’s abilities.
  • The audience: like any written work created for public consumption, considering the audience is key. Are these attorneys, doctors, engineers, children, or laymen that will be responding to your survey? Make sure the audience is clearly defined long before contacting any translation company, as specific demographics may change both price and turnaround time.
  • Budget: if in fact this is a 200-question survey and you need multiple translations, you’ll need to secure budgeted funds (think thousands). If you’ve been given a spending limit for the whole project, be sure to build in translation cost when you also consider panels (if necessary), incentives, and any other associated expense beyond you and your team’s time.

guide to great survey design


3)   Research the Vendors

Local versus an out of town firm, small versus large, and what are the credentials to look for? These are all important questions. Obviously the benefit of choosing a local translation company is the ability to meet and discuss project details face-to-face. For some people, not being able to do this is a deal breaker.

While large firms may be more costly, they’re likely to have several linguists and editors available for whatever industry-specific content you may have. They’ll also have clearly defined terms and conditions for their services and project managers to help the process move along efficiently.

The American Translators Association has a great directory that can help you find translation companies based on target language, distance, and topic. While this is a valuable tool, there’s also no replacement for google’s highest ranked results and spending time on at least four different vendor websites and on the phone with representatives.

4)   Follow up in Detail

Once you’ve narrowed down your options to one or two translation companies, it’s time to drill into what your needs are, as well as ask about their processes to ensure quality, turnaround time, and price.

And this is where a translation company really shows its value over hiring an individual or freelance translator.

Consider the following analogy: a freelance translator is to a translation company as a freelance graphic designer is to an advertising agency. Meaning, a translation company is able to manage the process for you, proposal to delivery.

The quality will be higher, and they’ll have the ability to draw on the experience of having worked with hundreds (perhaps thousands) of clients. You won’t have to check in for updates, provide direction, or micro-manage. They may as well call it the ‘no-headache premium’.

5)   Decide on Payment

Some companies charge by the word, others by the hour, and a few based on the project’s quote in its entirety. Agreeing on a price is tantamount to setting a fare before stepping foot in a Peruvian taxi.

Asking for the bill only after you’ve reached your destination just isn’t a good idea.

That isn’t to say translation companies act like shiesty taxi drivers. But knowing the price of your project will help you keep the project under budget as well as get budget approval on future projects. 

6)   Provide Time to Implement

This isn’t so much a step in choosing your translation vendor, but it is one often misjudged when working on a survey project that needs translation. Sticking with the 200-question survey hypothetical, make sure to avoid getting translated content back on a Friday if the survey needs to go out that Saturday.

You aren’t building each survey from scratch, but copying and replacing text for every question and possible response for each language needed takes more time than you’ll anticipate. So do yourself a favor, and get the translated content back early enough to avoid blowing your deadline.

Looking for feedback on the process or where to go for your specific research project? Leave a note in the comments and I’ll be happy to help. Now go forth and survey, in many different languages.


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