Best Practices for Preparing Your Academic Book for Translation

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Translating an academic text enables your research to reach a wider audience. We are well aware that translating our text requires us to render it a different language. However, we may not always keep in mind that the culture, mindset, and knowledge of the new target audience might be different as well.

Therefore, there are some important details that you should be aware of when preparing your book for academic translation. It is crucial to preserve the meaning, tone, and key points of your work so that the translated text effectively informs your audience and no part of your work is lost. On the other hand, a text that is overly literal or makes reference to concepts or ideas that are unfamiliar to the readers may alienate readers and make it hard to find a publisher.

The following is a pre-translation checklist that can help you ensure a high-quality rendering of your book by an academic translator or book editor.

1. Revise cultural/idiomatic references

One of the major issues faced by an academic translator, especially when working with a source language as rich as English, is accurately translating idiomatic expressions and culturally specific references. English phrasal verbs (e.g. "ended up with" instead of "had") may not have accurate analogues in the target language, which can result in translation issues or mistranslation. To prevent this, use simple verbs rather than ambiguous phrases or complex constructions.

Also keep in mind that cultural references prevalent in your region, which might be easily understood by readers of the source text, are likely to be misunderstood by the target audience. If your text makes frequent use of locally relevant references, for instance, regionally popular books, media, holidays, or events, you risk alienating the target audience who might quickly lose interest in your book simply because they cannot easily grasp its content.

In such cases, work with your translator to revise these references, in order to create a version that your target demographic can understand and relate to. If this is not possible, you may need to rewrite those parts to include an explanation or provide the background required to understand the references.

2. Improve your text

Preparing your book for translation is an excellent opportunity to critically examine your work and make improvements to it. Perhaps one of your reviewers or readers pointed out an error after the original publication, or you thought of a better and more convincing way of formulating some arguments. This is your chance to go through your book and spend time correcting, revising, and improving the text. This also gives you the chance to review the language and phrasing of your book to make it more concise.

While reviewing your book, it is also a good idea to include additional supporting literature that was unavailable when your book was originally published. This can greatly improve the relevance and validity of your book. Even better would be to include more literature written by scholars in the target language, which will certainly be relevant to your audience. By doing this, you increase the appeal and interest of your book while pointing your readers to excellent references written in their own language.

3. Review from the target audience's perspective

In order for your book to be relevant to the target audience, it is important to review its content to determine whether any modifications are required. By referring to published papers as well as analyzing research trends, you can identify key areas of interest, learn how your book will be received and understand the changes you need to make in order to increase its appeal with the target demographic. There may be different standards regarding the length of an academic manuscript or how it is presented graphically.

It is reasonable to assume that your readers have limited time to read through works of research, so including relevant topics and content will increase the chances of someone reading it. You can review and modify the keywords and abstract to highlight the local relevance of your book, increasing its visibility among the target audience.

4. Make formatting corrections for the target publisher

Publishing and formatting guidelines vary among publishers. What is customary or required by one publisher might be optional for another. For example, some style sheets require you to include the publisher location in the reference section while others don’t. It is important to compare the style sheets of your source and target publishers to identify key areas of difference and revise accordingly.

Not doing this will result in wasted time later on when the publisher invariably asks you to modify your text to adhere to their guidelines. This type of back and forth could delay the publication of your book.

5. Give your translator the tools to succeed

Unlike literary works, academic manuscripts have highly specific terms and phrases that have similarly specific translations in different languages. To ensure the best possible translation, fill in any key terminology that you know is used in the target language. Making a list of keywords for your translator will greatly benefit the final result.

Additionally, some academic terms are universal, and it might be standard practice in your field to avoid translating them. Inform your translator of such terms and, using existing translations for reference, discuss how best to translate them. It may also be a good idea to create a separate glossary with key terms that repeat themselves often.

6. Use the best possible editions for primary sources

If your text uses quotes translated from text in the target language, it is obviously better to replace it with the quote from the original text. Similarly, if your original text quotes translations from a third language, it is better to find and use a direct translation into the target language as opposed to translating a translation. This is also a good opportunity to review any other translated quotes and determine if their wording could be improved.

7. Start working on your index

If you plan on including a terms list at the end of your book, the pre-translation phase is an excellent time to start creating it. Start with the specific terms you've already identified for your translator, and read through your text to identify additional key terms and points of interest. If your translator starts with this list, they will be able to quickly determine accurate translations for the most important terms and phrases in the text, expediting the process and increasing the quality of the final text.

Wrapping it Up

While oftentimes the last thing scholars want to do is revisit a manuscript they have already published, proper preparation for translation can help scholars save valuable time and money and improve the quality of their final text. Completing the appropriate revisions and adaptations will demonstrate to publishers that you know your audience and your message will be clear and coherent.  

Still not sure if your manuscript is ready for publication? Check out our pre-submission checklist.


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