Questionnaire Translation in Cross-National Survey Research: A Classification of Translation Annotations

Dorothée Behr, Evi Scholz


Good questionnaire design and high quality questionnaire translations are vital for data comparability in cross-national survey research. With the aim to ensure comparability and prevent unintended deviations, major academically-driven studies such as the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) or the European Social Survey (ESS) annotate the source questionnaire specifically for translation, thus providing guidance on what needs to be considered in translation. This paper studies these translation annotations, a topic having received scant attention in research so far. The goal of this paper is to raise awareness on this special support structure in comparative research as well as on potential pitfalls in questionnaire translation. To this end, first, translation annotations, mainly from the ESS and the ISSP, are analyzed with a view to setting up a classification of translation annotations. Second, examples of annotation types are presented together with what they meant for translation. Third, merits of annotations and potential criticism are discussed. Fourth, guidelines are ventured for writing translation annotations as well as for working with them. Fifth, research fields are listed in order to further explore the issue of translation annotations and its impact on translation and comparability.

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