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Featured Article from The ATA Chronicle (May 2014)

Assisting Researchers in the Translation and Submission of a Manuscript for Publication
By Sergio Lozano

In the sciences, competition has become part of the globalization process, and universities worldwide are increasing the number and quality of the research studies they perform. Research organizations are also spending more, publishing more, and training more researchers. The U.S., Western Europe (including the U.K., Germany, and France), and Japan are leaders in scientific publication.1 However, emerging economies such as China, India, and Brazil have also increased their expenditure on research and development, and China has become the world’s second highest producer of research papers.2 Other emerging countries not well known for producing research, such as Iran, Tunisia, and Turkey, have increased their participation as well, together with countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and other regions.3

English is the lingua franca of scientific publication, so many researchers feel it is essential to publish in English. Therefore, translators with background knowledge in science and the publication process for scientific papers are necessary for non-native English scientific writers.

Initially, I was asked to participate as a medical translator because of my background in medicine and native English proficiency. When I began this task, I was mostly involved in translating manuscripts from Spanish into English. I knew very little of the publication process, although my background as an internal medicine specialist was an advantage. I hope the following will help translators who are interested in entering this field avoid some of the problems I faced. Familiarity with the writing and publication process will definitely make their work easier and more efficient. I will be discussing mostly material related to the biomedical sciences, since this is my main area of translation.

Translating Research Papers
Translating a research paper can be simple or difficult depending on the translator’s ability to get the idea across, and on the researcher’s ability to draft a research paper that conveys very clearly the ideas he or she wishes to share with the scientific community. Many people argue that a translator (or medical writer) needs to have a scientific degree or background as a minimum requirement to work on research papers, but this is not necessarily true. What is true is that one must be able to “tell the story” in a clear and concise manner. Another requirement is a thorough knowledge of the technical aspects of the area of research covered in the text.

Some important tools and skills that are necessary to carry out a precise and high-quality translation are: a computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool, a good general and specialized dictionary, familiarity with how a scientific paper is structured, an ability to manage citations and references, and knowledge of how to locate reliable sources online for necessary background information and data verification, including searching scientific databases. Knowledge of statistics might also be useful on occasion.

The CAT tool I use is Wordfast Classic, although I have experience with Wordfast Pro, MemoQ, and Trados. I use Wordfast Classic because some of the researchers with whom I work use reference management software with features that create issues for certain CAT tools, making it difficult to translate text.

General and specialized dictionaries can be accessed through the web. I find WordWeb ( useful because it integrates with any program with which I am working, and you do not need to access the web to use it. Mac users have a dictionary integrated into the Mac operating system that works well.

It would be a good idea for translators in this area to familiarize themselves with reference management software. This software is often used by researchers to record, organize, and download bibliographic citations (references) from other literature. Once a citation has been entered in the software, it can be used repeatedly to generate bibliographies, such as reference lists in research documents. This type of software allows researchers to keep a database of references and provide the citations and references in the proper format for the target journal.

Main Publication Steps

The steps involved in preparing a scientific paper for submission are:

1) Selecting a target biomedical journal with similar objectives and research scope.

2) Reviewing the author instructions for biomedical journals.

3) Drafting the research manuscript using the IMRAD (Introduction, Methods, Research, and Discussion) format.

4) Preparing the manuscript and supporting documents (including title page, abstract, text, acknowledgments, references, tables, figures, and legends) for submission to an English-language journal.

5) Preparing a cover letter.

Translators can be involved in one or all of these steps depending on the researcher’s knowledge and experience with publishing papers. As a translator in an academic institution, I have been involved in all of these steps precisely because I work with both novice and experienced researchers.

Choosing a Journal
Sometimes researchers choose journals after they draft a paper, but this is a mistake. Having to rewrite a large number of references or even the entire paper because the initial submission did not comply with the publication standards of a particular journal hinders the submission process considerably. 

A journal should always be chosen before the writing process begins. This is done by searching for journals publishing similar work, considering journals cited in the manuscript, and reviewing the instructions to authors on the journal’s website. Many researchers consider the impact factor of a journal to be the most important characteristic when selecting a publication for their manuscript. However, other factors can be more important, such as the audience, type of access, and time from review to acceptance. The translator should ask the researcher what journal is being considered for submission so that the translated manuscript can be adjusted to meet the journal’s requirements.

Structure of Papers
Papers are written using the traditional IMRAD format. The introduction presents the background and hypothesis (the research question). The methods section details how the research was carried out. The results section presents the findings, and the discussion reviews the conclusions reached and compares the research with the results of other published studies.

Another important part of the manuscript is the abstract, which can be structured (with specific headings) or unstructured (written as a continuous text). When writing an abstract, it is important to review the instructions to authors to ensure that it follows the structure required by the journal.

If you receive a manuscript for translation where the target journal has not already been chosen, it could be convenient to adjust the structure to conform to the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals ( These guidelines were developed by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) in 1978 to establish a standard for the format and preparation of manuscripts. They have been updated several times and are currently used by many biomedical journals.

Preparing a Cover Letter
Many inexperienced researchers do not know that they need to provide a cover letter with the submission. Cover letters summarize the study for the editor, identifying its significance and relevance to the journal’s audience. The cover letter is also an appropriate place to point out important considerations for publication, such as the journal section for which the manuscript is intended. Some of the points that should be included in the cover letter are:

  • The full title of the manuscript you are submitting for publication.
  • A statement that the manuscript is not being submitted to another journal. (A manuscript should not be submitted to more than one journal at the same time.)
  • A statement that all authors approved the manuscript and its submission to the journal.
  • A statement summarizing the contributions made by each author.
  • A statement that all authors allow the corresponding author to serve as the primary correspondent with the editorial office and to review and approve the final proofs prior to publication.
  • A brief statement summarizing the significance of the work and how this is relevant to the mission of the journal.

The Publishing Process
Once the translation is finished and all of the files are ready, the manuscript should follow this order:

1. Title page

2. Abstract with key words

3. Text (following the IMRAD format)

4. Acknowledgments

5. References

6. Tables

7. Figure legends

In some cases, an abbreviations section (e.g., a table listing and explaining any terms or symbols used in the text) is included after the title page. In most journals, figures are not included in the text, but are submitted as individual files.

Submission of a manuscript is done electronically by e-mail or through the use of submission software. Many journals use software where you create an account and then make a new submission. After entering your username and password, you are usually taken to a main menu to begin the submission process. The submission is usually done in steps where you are asked to provide the required information and files. Finally, the documents related to the submission (manuscript, figures, supplementary material, etc.) are uploaded. Usually a PDF file is created and, after reviewing and approving the file, the submission is completed.

The editor then receives the submission and evaluates it. If he or she thinks it is a good fit, the submission gets sent to two or three peer reviewers. The reviewers later return the submission file with suggested revisions and comments.

At this stage, the submission can be accepted without changes (rarely), accepted with revisions, or rejected. Working through the peer review process is the main challenge for research writers during the publication process. They will usually provide a concise, point-by-point response to the suggestions from the journal editor and reviewers. It is important for the researcher to conduct an appropriate revision of the manuscript. This is also a crucial stage for translators, as a non-native English writer will require their services to provide a suitable revision and response to the reviewers and editor.

Revisions should be carried out using the original Word file sent with the submission. Using the Track Changes feature in Word is ideal, as this will avoid a lot of work highlighting changed text, which is a task that is unnecessary in many cases. A point-by-point response is provided with the revised text in which the researcher will agree or refute the suggested changes. Lastly, the files are again uploaded or mailed to the editorial office of the journal to await acceptance or rejection.

Problems in Translating Research
As I mentioned before, translating a research paper can be simple or difficult. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the issues you might encounter when working with researchers. Here are some that I have come across in my experience.
Be ready to deal with a researcher’s poor writing skills. Not all writers are created equal. Some have received formal training in research writing while many have not. This can make translation difficult not only because of the language and terms used, but also because of grammatical and spelling errors that can confuse you when translating.

Make sure you understand the topic and research methods. Many people think that because I am a doctor I can understand everything scientific, but this is not the case, as some topics and research areas are very complicated or little known. It is important to maintain contact with the researcher to resolve any questions regarding the material. Use them as a source to make sure your knowledge of the area in question is current. An excellent way of keeping up to date with what is going on in the scientific community is to read medical or other scientific newsletters and to browse the table of contents of various journals.

Alert the researcher if you encounter software or program issues that hinder translation. Sometimes researchers may draft something that a CAT tool cannot process or that interferes with the codes of the CAT tool. Documents might come embedded with graphs, tables, or figures from other programs that translation tools cannot read. Alert the researcher immediately if something in the document causes it to format incorrectly. One of the benefits of working with researchers is that they are usually willing to help you solve a problem (e.g., resaving the document in a different format).

Check for errors in reference transcription or when working with reference management software. In my experience, the reference section is the place where more mistakes tend to be made, usually because researchers cut and paste references from the web. When they cut and paste something into a document directly from the web, it could still retain an embedded hyperlink that could go undetected until the translator tries to use a CAT tool and has difficulty processing the file. So, always check the reference section. To catch unwanted hyperlinks, hover over each reference with the cursor to make sure there is nothing hidden underneath. Also, get to know how to use reference management software in case changes are needed.

Check everything that is referenced in a text. It is important to perform web searches to understand concepts, procedures, compounds, etc., while translating. You can search Google scholar, PubMed, Medscape, the web-sites of academic centers, journals, and government organizations, and even Wikipedia to find the necessary information. Always assess carefully where the information comes from to avoid errors. Remember that bad translations usually result from an insufficient understanding of the research presented in the manuscript.

Confirm data. This should be simple to do, but many researchers forget to read the box or equipment labels, or they speculate on the correct name of a reagent, product, or piece of equipment. Other important data include the names of organizations, companies, and cities. The translator should make sure that the terminology used is correct.

Have basic scientific texts available for details you might not know or understand. Books on taking a medical history, details of physical examinations, medical names of anatomic structures, or physical findings are useful, as are books or documents detailing diagnostic methods or research techniques.

Helping Science Advance
Translators have an important responsibility in terms of helping researchers deliver their messages to the scientific community. Successful translations are important not only for the researcher, but also for scientific advancement in the author’s homeland, as well as worldwide. Being familiar with the writing and publication process will benefit the translator, since this will give him or her the opportunity to offer additional services besides translation. Research translators can participate by helping determine a target journal, correctly drafting and editing a manuscript, preparing citations and references, and responding to the editorial office and reviewers, or reviewing galley proofs. They can also, with knowledge and training, provide continuing education in these areas.


1. “Report: How Do the Large Research Nations Compare?”   

2. SCImago Journal & Country Rank,  

3. “Asia Drives Growth in 2013 Global Research and Development,” R&D Magazine,  

4. Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals,