Editor’s note: Daniel Stächelin is editor and writer, client insights at translation firm Language Intelligence, Rochester, N.Y. 

Understanding complex global markets is challenging, especially when you’re unfamiliar with a culture or language. By familiarizing yourself with your respondents’ cultures before designing your surveys, and following steps to ensure quality translation, you’ll be more likely to gather reliable data.

As a translator, I know this firsthand. Translation can be an expensive, rigorous process. There isn’t always a direct equivalent across languages for certain words, and when I translate I often have to adapt text so that it is appropriate for my target audience.

Let’s look at an example: German uses the passive voice much more frequently than English. Although I often adapt sentences to use the active voice in English, I have to be judicious in how much license I give myself in making such adaptations. That’s because, as Steven Pinker points out in his book The Sense of Style:

“The reader’s attention usually starts out on the entity named by the subject of the sentence. Actives and passives differ in which character gets to be the subject, and hence which starts out in the reader’s mental spotlight. An active construction trains the reader’s gaze on someone who is doing something . . . The passive trains the reader’s gaze on someone who’s having something done to him.”

If translators are not careful, they may unwittingly shift the focus of a sentence, skewing the data.

To provide tips for marketing researchers conducting international research projects, I’ve pulled together examples that focus on three important variables of translation – context, social situation and privacy – in the setting of translating surveys in three different languages. 

As a marketing researcher, you put a lot of time and effort into crafting your questions so that they captu...