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Review of  Research Methodologies in Translation Studies

Reviewer: Monica Vasileanu
Book Title: Research Methodologies in Translation Studies
Book Author: Gabriela Saldanha Sharon O'Brien
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Translation
Issue Number: 27.1502

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“Research Methodologies in Translation Studies” by Gabriela Saldanha and Sharon O’Brien discusses the methodologies currently used in the research domain of translation studies (hence TS). It is primarily aimed at university students from undergraduate level to PhD, but may be of use to more experienced researchers as well, since it puts together various perspectives originating from different disciplines: psychology, communication theory, anthropology, philosophy, cultural studies, social theory and even computer science. The authors, chose to focus on empirical research in TS; however, since empirical and conceptual research cannot be completely separated, the book also discusses theories and concepts. Furthermore, the book focuses on synchronic TS, while historical TS are left aside.

The book is divided into seven chapters: an introduction (Chapter 1), a preliminary section on principles and ethics in research (Chapter 2), four chapters discussing research methodologies (Chapters 3-6) and conclusions (Chapter 7), followed by a comprehensive bibliography and a useful index.

The “Introduction” presents the motivation, scope and structure of the volume. First, the authors mention their forerunners, Jenny Williams and Andrew Chesterman (“The Map: A Beginner’s Guide to Doing Research in Translation Studies”, 2002) and state the reasons why a new textbook on TS research was necessary. Since 2002, technological progress, as well as the growing tendency for interdisciplinarity, has created new methods in translation research. The structure of the books mirrors the authors’ model of research in TS. The choice of a specific methodology depends on the object of study undertaken by a researcher; therefore, research methodologies can be grouped into four categories: product-oriented, process-oriented, participant-oriented, and context-oriented. This new model differs from those currently in use when discussing research in TS, for instance, from the ones formulated by Chesterman and by Marco.

Chapter 2, “Principles and ethics in research”, is a reflection on problems of research in general, such as ontology, epistemology, terminology, and ethics. The choice for a specific methodology depends on the researcher’s view of both the world and social phenomena. A researcher should ask himself/herself whether the phenomena that s/he is studying have an existence of their own or are they mere constructs of the social actors involved, or maybe both? The authors define key-terms used in research such as ‘model’, ‘framework’, ‘concept’, ‘theory’, ‘typology’, ‘methodology’ and ‘method’ that are still used ambiguously in many works. Then, the authors discuss the types of research that may be undertaken (conceptual or empirical, with different subdivisions) and describe the first preliminary steps: identifying relevant research questions and formulating hypotheses. Other steps that need attention are the literature review – not only a summary of the other researchers’ findings, but also a critical perspective on these findings – and data collection. The authors recommend carrying out a pilot small-scale study prior to the full-scale data collection, for this enables the researcher to test the selected methods and assess the quantity of data needed. After choosing the best method, an operationalization of research is needed: defining the main concepts used, establishing the units of data, the units of the analysis, isolating the target variable. The quality of research work is then discussed from various perspectives. The authors give an overview of the main factors that threaten research validity. Lastly, the authors state that reliability, generalizability, credibility, and warrantability are constant concerns for researchers, as well as research ethics.

Chapter 3, “Product-oriented research”, comprises the methodological approaches by which translated texts are investigated, either with a descriptive or evaluative purpose. Translated texts are the result of translation or interpreting process: thus, their investigations may shed some light on the process as well. Two approaches are analysed in detail: critical discourse analysis (CDA) and corpus linguistics (CL). CDA seeks to unveil the social practices hidden in the discourse. The weaknesses of CDA – non-replicability, the risk of circularity, of partiality and privileged knowledge – may be overcome by CL, an approach that relies on the use of a great number of texts. A mixed approach of the two (CDA and CL) is thus preferred. However, the tools that are currently available in CL are suitable for analysis of units below the sentence level; therefore, the utility of CL in TS remains limited. The authors give practical advice for designing studies in CDA and CL with tips and tricks for each step: formulating a research hypothesis, choosing the specific method of investigation, choosing the texts, building corpora, annotating the texts, and aligning the parallel corpora. A brief outline of the main ideas and concepts put forward by Fairclough and other CDA theorists precedes the suggestions for the analysis proper. A corpus-based analysis relies on the use of a certain software, depending on the researcher’s aim and the size of the corpus. For small corpora, a so-called ‘concordancer’ (such as Wordsmith) would be enough, while for larger corpora, an application for annotated corpus resources (such as XAIRA) is needed. The software provides word indexes, frequency lists, keywords, lexical density, collocations, and other information about the lexical items.

Another product-oriented approach is quality assessment (QA) of translations. CDA and CL are mainly descriptive approaches, whereas quality assessment is an evaluative task with implications in translation practice and teaching. The key for a successful QA research is measurement validity; the criteria need to be clearly explained and the variables to be measured should be clearly isolated. Usually, QA is presented as a series of mismatches or errors or as a ranking of several translated texts compared to the original.. There has been some progress towards the elimination of subjective judgements in QA – e.g. using a large number of persons to annotate a corpus – but there is still much work to be done in order to establish evaluative criteria that can be verified in large-scale studies.

Chapter 4, “Process-oriented research”, presents a series of recent methods and methodologies. The topics addressed by the process-oriented research are metacognition (i.e. what translators know about their translation processes), translation competence, working memory, cognitive rhythm, units of translation, and others that deal with processing tasks in a bilingual brain. There is no method that gives direct access to the cognitive processes; however, several methods may give some insight into those processes. The first methods applied were introspective methods such as think-aloud protocols, i.e. verbal reports produced either concurrently or retrospectively by the translator about the translating process. The main problems regarding this method regard the coding of those verbal reports, an observed inconsistency between the translator’s report and his/her actual practice, and cultural bias. Think-aloud protocols are currently used in mix-method research, along with other automatic tools such as keystroke logging, i.e. a software that records all the keys pressed and all the movements of the mouse, as well as the pauses between them. This method indicates the total time of a task, as well as the time spent in orientation, drafting, and revision, but is most useful as a path to inferring cognitive effort and the delimitation of translation units. Another new tool is an eye-tracking device that is able to record at the level of a millisecond the eye movements and the dilation/constriction of the pupil, indicating which parts of the screen were most intensely looked at and for how long. The results of eye tracking experiments are interpreted in terms of attention, cognitive effort, and information processing. Some threats to the success of the research and tips to overcome them are also presented. It comes as a natural conclusion that the best results are obtained in a cross-method approach that combines findings from think-aloud protocols, keystroke logging, and eye-tracking. Complementary methods such as contextual inquiry, personality profiling, and physiological measurements may compensate for the weak points of the mainstream methods.

In Chapter 5, “Participant-oriented research”, another new domain of translation studies is presented, one that puts together several frameworks originating from sociology aimed at explaining the interaction between the human agents, translated texts, and their contexts of production and reception. The assumption underlying these approaches is that meaning is constructed by the research participants. The methods are oriented towards the participants, be they translators, trainers, teachers, students, or even researchers in TS. Three methods are discussed in detail: questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups. The strengths and weaknesses of each method are listed as well as factors for successful research.The authors demonstrate how to narrow down an abstract research question into a set of complex questions and then list simple questions that may be asked in an interview, with each concrete question pointing to a single variable.

Apart from other approaches, these sociology-based methods require special care in selecting participants and training researchers; tact and good time-management are two prerequisites. The qualitative analysis has to take into account risks such as the confirmation bias, elite bias, or going native (i.e. the researcher gets too close to the participants, to the point where s/he cannot think independently). Also, the researcher must establish a clear coding of the data collected. A quantitative analysis has to deal with other types of challenges including: inappropriate questions, small samples, incomplete data, and inconsistent or conflicting data. These risks may be prevented through pilot testing, after which the researcher may notice the flaws of his/her experiment and redesign it. A mix-methods approach, with quantitative data supporting qualitative analysis, is desirable.

Chapter 6, “Context-oriented research”, brings forth culturalist and sociological models that aim to reveal the social, cultural, political, and ideological forces that shape translation practice, thus closely related to ethnography, cultural studies and sociology. Case studies are discussed as specific research methods applicable in both synchronic and historical research and characterized by the clear delimitation of the unit of analysis (‘the case’). The case should be a real-life phenomenon, not a concept or a hypothesis, but it may lead to theoretical conclusions. The object of analysis may be a text, an individual, a group of translators, an organization etc., as long as it is set in clearly defined temporal, social, and spatial boundaries. The case needs to be solidly documented. Several types of sources are discussed, from classical ones (written sources, verbal reports), to unconventional ones, such as personal observation and physical artifacts. The authors give practical suggestions for successful case studies, most of them pertaining to organizing the research activities. In fact, case studies are not a free-form research, as they are often seen, but a form of in-depth analysis that cannot be performed without rigorous preparation.

Chapter 7, “Conclusions: the research report”, concerns the dissemination of results, mostly in written form. The authors first discuss the so-called IMRAD model (introduction, methods, results, and discussion), a classic model of scientific papers. Although it allows a quick retrieval of information, the IMRAD model misrepresents the dynamic of thought and discovery. Alternative models of structuring a report may be used; however, introduction, literature review, and conclusions should be presented regardless of the model adopted. Then, each type of research (product-, process-, participant- or context-oriented) has its specific requirements: a report should contain concrete information on the methods and resources used, with specific details for each method (e.g. software type, version model of the equipment) and the boundaries of the study. Although details are necessary, ethical considerations about the participants should be respected, e.g. making sure that the individual participants will not be identified. Writing a research report requires a certain detachment from one’s work and the ability to put oneself in the reader’s shoes.


The book is an overview of the methods currently used in empirical TS. Although it is a dense book, presenting methods originating from various disciplines and defining new concepts on almost every page, the reading is smooth and entertaining. The volume relies on the authors’ practical experience; therefore, concrete and relevant problems are chosen for discussion. This is obvious in many sections, especially in Chapter 5, where the authors present their own experience and difficulties. The book is not a dull theoretical dissertation on methodologies but a practical guide for designing experiments with many ‘tips and tricks’. From this point of view, the book surpasses its primary scope since the guidelines may be applied to other experimental works.

Each of the four substantial chapters dedicated to methodologies contains an overview of the research type under discussion, a presentation of each method – with its strong and weak points –, some guidelines to design an experiment, and conclusions, usually suggesting how a mixed-method approach could solve difficulties. All steps of an experiment, from the first idea until the interpretation of results, are presented; for each step, warnings are issued about the risks and solutions are suggested.

The volume has a clear and accessible style that makes it reader-friendly. All concepts are clearly defined, in simple words, so that no special knowledge is required to understand them. Therefore, the book accomplishes its main purpose of representing a starting point for beginners in TS research, regardless of their academic background or degree. The volume presents a wide range of methods and thus enables researchers to choose the approach best-suited for their goals.
Monica Vasileanu is a researcher at the 'Iorgu Iordan - Al. Rosetti' Institute of Linguistics in Bucharest, Romania. She is currently involved in projects such as 'Dicţionarul limbii române' (the comprehensive dictionary of Romanian) and 'Dicţionarul etimologic al limbii române' (the etymological dictionary of Romanian). She defendend her PhD dissertation in 2012. Her main interests are in the fields of historical linguistics and of scholarly editing. She also teaches Romanian language to non-native speakers at the University of Bucharest.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781909485006
Pages: 292
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