Translation Project


The next graded assignment in ENGL 208 asks you to translate a short document written for experts (in a specialized or technical style) so that a nonexpert can understand it. This project challenges you to think about AUDIENCE (see Chapter 2 in Reep). Specifically, it asks you to think about the different backgrounds, needs, and expectations that expert and nonexpert readers bring to their reading of a document.

The final version of the translation will be about 3-5 pages long, single-spaced. Use white space and other typographic devices (see Chapter 4) to create an effective, easy-to-read document.

As I mentioned in an earlier message,DEFINITION (see Chapter 6) will probably play a key role in your translation project. With that in mind, let me offer a *formal sentence definition* (see pp. 156-59):

A technical translation explains specialized terms, concepts, and procedures in simpler and more familiar terms than the original document for a reader who does not possess expert knowledge about a subject but who is nonetheless interested.

The word "translate" is worth considering as one way of understanding this assignment. It has its origin in the Latin word,translatus, which means (roughly) "carried across." So what does it mean to translate or "carry across" a document? Well, you want to carry the meaning, but where? across to what or to whom?

Let's say you were trying to convey the meaning of the phrase "to diss someone" across language and culture to a friend in Madrid, Spain. To convey the meaning across both language and culture, you'd first need to clarify the term (e.g., it's origin in the word "disrespect") and then give some context such as when it's used, how it's used, by whom and to whom. Translation usually requires more than a simple substitution of one term for another. Sure, you could say that "to diss someone" means "falta de respeto," but that's a little too simple--and not quite accurate. You haven't conveyed anything about the level of formality or use--crucial aspects of slang.

If you are translating a technical or specialized document for a nonexpert reader, the process is similar: you want to convey the main ideas without losing or transforming the meaning. You may well need to give a little background information so that the nonexpert can understand the idea or term in context. For instance, in explaining the translation assignment, I've drawn on the *etymology* of the word "translate," given an example, and drawn a comparison. These are all strategies that your textbook discusses (among others) on pages 159-164.


Just in case one or two of you are wondering why on earth we ask you to translate a specialized document for a nonexpert reader, I thought a few examples from real life might provide some context.

You see successful translations everyday. You just may not be aware of them.

A good lecture in one of your classes probably relies on some degree of translation.

The "Dear Nerd" column in the _Dominion Post_ guides novice computer users through the basics--largely by translating technical terms and concepts into simpler terms and by using lots of analogies and examples. In addition to the _Dominion Post_, the column appears in the _Charleston Gazette_ (WV), and the _Arizona Daily Star_ (Tuscon, AZ). Check out some past "Dear Nerd" columns on author Chris Stout's website.

One of the most obvious examples of translation is the "For Dummies" series of books. These books started out as guides to various computer programs, but the series has now expanded to include _Bridge for Dummies_, _Wine for Dummies_, _Accounting for Dummies_, Investments for Dummies_, _Bach for Dummies_, etc. In other words, the publisher (IDG Books) has discovered a huge audience.


If you are already familiar with the specialized academic journals in your field, go browse recent volumes for an article that interests you. You want an average length article (about 9+ pages). Something longer is fine.

If you are not yet familiar with the specialized academic journals in your field, you have three options:

  1. Ask one of the professors in your major to recommend the most specialized and prestigious scholarly journals. Then go browse current or back issues of those journals at the library and find an article that interests you.

  2. Simply go to the current periodicals section of the library and browse. (Evansdale for engineering, computer science, nutrition, exercise physiology, and ag/forestry topics; Wise for Communications, Humanities, and Social Sciences; Health Sciences Library for Pharmacy, Dentistry, Medicine, and Nursing; Physical Sciences Library for chemistry, physics, geology, and astronomy). You may want to concentrate on titles that begin "JOURNAL OF" since these are almost always scholarly publications for a specialized audience.

  3. OR you can use a computerized periodical index in your field. An index is a guide or a pointer. A periodical index is a guide to the journals and magazines that are published on a regular basis (say, once a month or once a quarter). By using an index within your field of study, you are more likely to find articles written for an expert audience. FirstSearch, available through the WVU Libraries, lets you choose a general field (say, the Social Sciences or Engineering and Technology) and then gives you access to several computerized indexes, such as INSPEC, that help you find articles on specific topics within that field. Go to one of the libraries to use this tool, or access it from the WVU Libraries' web page


I don't encourage you to use web-based articles for this assignment, largely because it is sometimes tough to evaluate the status of web publications, but I won't rule them out entirely. A web-based article is acceptable, IF (1) it has been written for an expert audience, (2) it's recognized in your field as a credible source, and (3) you are certain that the article is current (within the last three months). If you do choose a web-based article, please make sure you have the web address (URL), the full title, an author, and the date it was written. If you can't document the last two points, the source is probably not fully credible and, thus, a poor choice for this assignment.


Textbooks are not acceptable. Textbooks are not written to an expert audience. They are written to a novice audience in a given field.


I don't encourage you to use chapters--even if the book is written for an expert audience--because you would then need to consider the context of the WHOLE book.

I recommend that you limit the scope of your reading by concentrating on a single, current article from a specialized journal.


When you meet with your conference professor for fifteen minutes to discuss your choice of article for the translation project and to decide what specific passage you will translate for a nonexpert reader, please be prepared.

  1. Bring a photocopy or print-out of the article you've chosen.
  2. In a brief, informal note that you will leave with your professor,


Here's the agenda for your fifteen-minute meeting:

  1. Your professor will approve the article (or, if necessary, assign an alternative).

  2. You and your professor will decide on an appropriate segment of the article which you will then translate for a lay reader. (The segment will be anywhere from 1-3 pages of the original article, depending on the density of the material, the format, etc.)

  3. You can ask your professor specific questions about the assignment.


After you meet with your conference professor and you know what specific passage of your article you will be translating for a nonexpert audience, the next step is to plan your translation.

As you translate your passage, you may find that you need to re-organize the information in the original. You will almost certainly need to condense or omit the extremely technical in favor of simpler explanations, and you will definitely have to ADD definitions, descriptions, and explanations.

Translating for a nonexpert requires you to step back from the article. What's the MAIN POINT of the article? of your passage?


Here's one strategy for preparing to write the translation.

In one sentence, try to summarize in your own words the main point of each paragraph or table in the passage you are translating. Then, put the article aside and look at your sentence summaries. What does your reader need to know to get these main ideas? Will you need to supply a little background information? or draw from some information from other parts of the article? or reorganize material so a nonexpert doesn't get overwhelmed or lost?


An outline of the translation assignment might look like this:

  1. APA citation of the article
  2. A GENERAL SUMMARY of the whole article for a lay reader (like an abstract, but for a general readership). Take a look at the TITLE of the article. That's the writer's attempt to capture the main point of the article, so it's often a good starting point for a summary. Other places to look: the opening and closing paragraphs or sections.
  3. Identification of KEY TERMS/CONCEPTS from the passage you are translating. What does a nonexpert absolutely have to know to understand the passage? These terms cue your readers to let them know what they will be learning about.
    Try to list no more than FIVE terms. (You may include more in the actual translation, but this list covers the most crucial terms you want them to understand.)
  4. The TRANSLATION. You'll probably want to use a heading that identifies the content of the specific passage you're translating. Make sure that your heading uses language that a nonexpert will understand. (Go back to Chpt. 4 to review headings/format features.)
  5. Reference List



Each assignment in ENGL 208 will build upon previous assignments. In this second assignment, for instance, you will need to use the audience awareness, organization principles, and document design skills that you learned in the first assignment to help you present your translation in an effective, easy-to-read format, well-suited to your readers' needs.

Each new assignment will, however, also ask you demonstrate new skills.

When we evaluate the translation project that is due on or before noon on Thursday, Sept. 18, we will be looking for evidence that you:

  1. Show an awareness of nonexpert READERS' NEEDS when translating material written for an expert audience (Chapter 2)
  2. Understand and apply the basic principles of global and fine-tuning REVISION (Chapter 5)--especially as it applies to translating for a nonexpert reader.
  3. Understand and apply the basic principles of DEFINITION (Chapter 6).
  4. DEVELOP your explanations and definitions in sufficient detail.
  5. Present material in a well-ORGANIZED and well-FORMATTED manner that uses headings, spacing, and typographic devices to create an effective, easy-to-read document (Chapters 3 & 4)
  6. Accurately use APA CITATION style to list the article that you are translating (Chapter 9).

We also refer you to the basic criteria for an A, B, C, D, or F outlined in the syllabus.

Questions? Contact your conference professor.

Return to ENGL 208 Main Page