Corpus-guided editing and translation of specialist texts

Translators/editors often feel constrained by their lack of specialist knowledge of the fields in which they work, whether it happens to be medicine, engineering, finance, etc. Yet there is increasing demand for specialist translators and editors—who invariably command higher rates. Although the WWW can be a valuable source of field knowledge, undisciplined/uninformed research can lead to register violations, patchy style, real error, or simply translationese.

An alternative approach is to collect samples of appropriate field-specific language and mine it in a way that is both meaningful and efficient for the busy translator. This can be done by creating and analysing a corpus (or corpora)—texts selected to represent a specific target knowledge domain and analysed using tools that help resolve doubts and overcome pitfalls.

This workshop will raise awareness of issues of relevance to specialist (potential specialist) translators/editors, describes the corpus-guided approach, and informs you about free or inexpensive tools that will ultimately enhance the quality of your work. You’ll get hands-on practice with tools in a computer lab, receive several specialist corpora to take home, and learn how to create your own.

Developers/facilitators: Ailish Maher,
Mary Ellen Kerans,
Stephen Waller,

Purpose: To raise awareness of language-choice issues of relevance to specialist (and potential specialist) translators/editors. To describe the corpus-guided approach to translation/editing. To give hands-on experience of tools that will enhance the quality of your work. To show how to create your own specialist corpus efficiently.

To familiarize participants with the purpose, interpretation and reporting of regression analysis (linear regression analysis and logistic regression analysis).

Description: Our workshop has a minimal but necessary theoretical content—but you’ll soon be working through practical examples with the tools on your own computer. Discussion of your experience of the tools will be part of your learning. Our examples are based on real translation/editing problems arising in the medicine, engineering, rock mechanics, finance and legal-institutional fields.


  • The concept of meaning-in-use (i.e. the notion of context) underlying the corpus-guided approach and some basic corpus analysis principles and techniques.
  • Source language interference and register problems that affect translation/editing output.
  • Creating a corpus that faithfully reflects our target text or target knowledge field.
  • Different approaches to mining the corpus meaningfully and effectively, each tailored to differing translation needs but ultimately aimed at improving output.
  • Aids and resources for corpus-guided translation/editing.

Who should attend? Anyone doing or planning to eventually do serious specialty translation or editing who is interested in honing research and field-knowledge acquisition skills. This workshop is also useful for teachers of English for special or academic purposes who need to keep abreast of knowledge in their specialism.

Outcome skills: On the basis of practical examples, hands-on experience and discussion, participants will:

  • Develop greater awareness of the traps and limitations of WWW research.
  • Learn about ways and means for making their research more focused.
  • Learn how to resolve translation/editing doubts, avoid pitfalls and improve output using corpus analysis tools.
  • Obtain insights into how to take control of their acquisition of specialist language knowledge by designing the right corpus.

Pre-meeting information:

What the corpus-guided approach can do for you

Look at this example of informal “quick research questions.” A translator was able to answer quickly by using a simple “KWIC”—key word in context—output from the AntConc program, which you’ll use in the workshop.

This conference poster by Mary Ellen Kerans and Ailish Maher shows examples of applying the “corpus-guided” approach applied to editing problems.

See how an instructor in English for Academic Purposes can use corpus linguistics tools to talk about word usage to advanced language students—such as our author/clients often are. Go to Tim Johns’ home page:

Try exploring a corpus yourself

To get a foretaste of this approach, experiment with this site:

Use the default values for all fields EXCEPT the field “in corpus” for which you should choose BNC Written. Now enter the word “physician” in the “keyword” field and click on the “get concordance” field (yellow). Have a look at the output (copy and save into a Word doc if you wish). Now scroll back and follow the same procedure for “doctor”.

Can you come to any conclusions about USAGE? For example, think about which you think you might prefer to use if talking to your partner, if translating a medical article, or if writing a novel set in the last century.

How does this approach differ from others?

Read an article that contrasts the corpus-guided approach with traditional language problem-solving. It also describes roughly how a corpus is built up: Kerans ME. Grammarians or linguists? On using language corpus data to guide usage. The Write Stuff. 2006; 15(3); 89-92.

The Write Stuff is the journal of the European Medical Writers Association.

Further reading

Read our recently published article on the corpus approach. Available online at