Cultural Issues in Academic Translation
Getting academic articles published is a challenging and time-consuming endeavor. From the initial writing to the final printing, the process involves a great deal of correspondence between the writer and the authoritative bodies who determine whether a manuscript will be published. Conceptual arguments may require clarification, literature reviews may need to be elongated or shortened, and data analyses may require revision or further explanation.
This can be especially complicated when it is happening across linguistic and/or cultural boundaries. There are many reasons for this: different cultures may have different ways of constructing arguments, different ideas of how data is used and presented, and have different writing styles, and more.
Such problems raise the question of how a writer and academic editor can alleviate some of these difficulties. This post identifies potential ways authors and editors can lessen the challenges of cross-cultural publishing to promote a more global academic environment.
The Role of the Academic Scholar
Writers face the bulk of the challenges when trying to get their work published in a different language or in an academic culture different from their own. It’s their job to convince the gatekeepers to allow their manuscript to be published. To help their cause, prospective authors should consider the following:
Language and cultural norms: Authors must understand how to construct and present arguments in the language in which they are writing, which is complicated by the fact that writing styles are not uniform across cultures. As much as possible, authors should understand how the culture of their prospective journal (not necessarily a geographically-bound culture) reads academic papers and constructs arguments. For example, many English manuscripts follow a similar format: Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Data, Analysis, Conclusion.
Understand the specific journal’s scope: Authors should be familiar with the particular outlet to which they are submitting their work. In terms of journal editing, as a paper editor, I am often solicited by scholars outside the U.S. and Europe to see if journals I work with would be interested in publishing their work. I always read what they send, but many times their papers are beyond the scope of the journal. While this advice applies to anyone trying to get published, it is especially true for scholars submitting work to a journal that is published in a different country or culture. Understanding the prospective journal’s scope will ensure that the work is sent to the most appropriate journal.
Relatedly, different journals place emphasis on different parts of papers, depending on their theoretical focus. A highly theoretical sociology paper will spend more time engaging with abstract theories in the literature review and analysis sections, while a more empirical paper will spend more time on methods and data. A journal’s description and guidelines will tell authors what it focuses on.
Norms for content and references: It is important that authors understand the content norms of their prospective journal and culture. I once received a well-written article on a very interesting topic, but the works that this author referenced were incredibly dated, somewhat dubious, impossible to locate, and were mostly in a foreign language. There were no references to contemporary theories. In fact, there was only one citation from the past decade!
While this kind of style might be acceptable for some outlets, they are not for others, especially journals that deal with contemporary theories. It is very important to be familiar with the type of papers that different outlets publish and to understand how one’s work fits in with the journal’s focus.
The Role of the Journal Article Editing
A journal editor, too, can help ease the burden for scholars from different cultures.
Understand the challenges. Editors should recognize the unique challenges these authors face and sympathize. This can help editors have a more holistic approach when reading and evaluating these works.
Consider the writing on the basis of its merits, not only on the way it reads. If an author makes an important conceptual argument based on interesting data but has problems articulating it, this may be a problem of language. Here, I find it is best to provide encouraging feedback but also to emphasize the need for revisions. If necessary, encourage the author to have it copyedited by a native English speaker or professional.
Provide feedback on the author’s use of language. Although this can go beyond the scope of a journal editor’s normal duties, I don’t mind spending a bit of time helping an author sound more natural if their work will make an interesting contribution. In these cases, I work with the authors personally, providing feedback that will help them articulate their argument better to ensure their work is publication worthy.
Don’t take away the author’s voice. There needs to be a balance between revising and completely removing the author’s agency. While making suggested revisions, try to allow the author to keep as much of their own voice as possible, fixing only grammar and content that reads unnaturally. Try to allow the authors to keep as much of their own voice as possible.
If both parties understand the unique challenges this process entails, as well as the unique barriers of publishing cross-culturally, the process may be more smoothly facilitated, and we may truly create a more globalized academic world.Let us help you get published!