All academics and university lecturers, the world over, need to keep up to date with the latest research in their own discipline, whether this be in the field of science, medicine, the arts or social sciences. They do this by undertaking research individually or in teams and publishing the results in academic journals which are read by other academics and professionals to keep them abreast of new knowledge in relation to their discipline. There are many hundreds of specialist journals which publish academic research covering every sphere of learning. Originally they were published only as printed monthly or quarterly journals and universities and libraries subscribed to receive them by post and made them available for reference, but now most are also available (some exclusively) as online publications.
The journal editorial teams publish very clear guidelines about the content, format and style of research paper they are prepared to publish. When they receive articles for consideration they submit them to other academics who specialise in the subject for critical evaluation to ensure the papers meet the criteria and that the research methods, the data obtained and the analysis are all sound. This system is called “peer review” and is used to ensure that all research papers published can stand up to rigorous scrutiny from other experts in the same field.
Although there are many academic journals across the globe some are more influential than others and there is much competition from academics to have their papers published in the most prestigious journals. The status of a research paper and of the author(s) can be significantly enhanced by being published in the most respected journals. The status of a journal or a research paper is often determined by the frequency with which it is quoted by other academic researchers in their publications and this phenomenon is referred to as “impact”. In the UK, funding for large research projects or university research departments is partially dependent on the overall “impact” of the papers or books published each year by their professors and other academics.
In recent decades research in all fields has become more international as research outputs from every country have become available online and accessible through sophisticated databases and search engines. Researchers can therefore refer to data and analysis from across the globe to develop their own theories and support their arguments as long, of course, as they can understand the language. So, the demand for translating research papers is large and expanding. In some cases the papers may be written by one of the research team in their own mother tongue in the language in which it is to be published. However, it is often the case that the article needs to be written in a specific language for publication in a high-impact journal and if none of the researchers dominate that language it must be translated. Furthermore, if it is published in a language that another researcher does not understand they will need it translating before they can access it. Almost inevitably the majority of academic journals with the highest status are currently published in English but this dominance is decreasing and so there will be greater opportunities for translating them into other major languages.
In my experience of translating academic texts focusing on issues of pedagogy and education from Spanish to English, as well as writing research articles myself in English, they tend to follow a highly formalised structure and be expressed using jargon and specific terminology. As with many other types of texts therefore a translator of academic research papers will need to have an excellent knowledge of the subject matter and terminology in both languages. Another phenomenon is that a specific research project may generate a new theory or concept and a new word or phrase is invented, which will need to be translated. Finally, the translator must also be aware of the criteria established for the journal where the finished paper will be submitted for consideration.
The particular nature and requirements of translating academic articles for publication mean that the role of translator can also encompass that of consultant and there needs to be a high level of mutual trust and transparent communication between the author(s) and the translator. Furthermore, even if the initial translation is excellent, there is very often a requirement to rewrite sections as the journal academic reviewers rarely agree to publish any text without some amendments. This requirement for translating amendments prior to publication must be taken into account when accepting a commission of this type.
Overall this can be very rewarding work, especially when you see texts you have translated published in highly renowned journals, but it is rarely straightforward. In my work the key is the close working relationship I have with the researchers who write the papers and the fact that I was a university lecturer for over twenty years. Any translator seeking this type of work should ideally already have experience of writing research papers for publication in their mother tongue and then identify university research departments in subject areas where they have expertise to offer their services.