METM21 Online presentation 

Revising clinical titles so they don’t sound “off” – a report on doing evidence-based translation and editing of these small-but-key texts

Mary Ellen Kerans, Barcelona, Spain

Packing content into clinical research titles – which seem to get longer and more complex by the year – occupies my thoughts almost daily. Whether I’m drafting and revising my own translations, revising colleagues’, editing authors’ titles or teaching authors about what makes a title fit for purpose on MEDLINE, I have doubts even after years of experience: I ruminate on experts’ opinions, my client’s preferences, and what is really known about titling in general.

Knowledge of target-language patterns in titles comes to us through both observation and formal research. “Observation” in this talk refers to both my own experience and the on-the-fly research that wise translators, editors and authors do regularly to resolve doubts. But how much of such research is enough? When can we be sure of what’s fit for purpose? Formal research that two MET colleagues and I did recently helped us answer that question and identify some stable patterns.

This session will briefly review principles from Fernando Navarro’s 1990s observations of problematic translated titles that provided guidance for many medical translators in Spain; I’ll suggest an update to his advice on patient gender. Applications of our own recent findings will then be illustrated with evidence-based revisions of recent translations and authors’ English working titles. Our findings affect length, content and density, information ordering, punctuation and more. I will also mention the influence of reporting guidelines and recommend a Hungarian researcher’s useful research on uses of “the” in titles across eight disciplines. In a sense, this talk will be a case report within the framework of “translational research” – that is, on “translating” research into practice in real conditions. Although most examples come from Spanish settings, I suspect they will resonate with anyone working in another Mediterranean setting, as the emphasis is on target-language patterns. I’ll address those who are already experienced with clinical texts as well as those who shift between different academic areas – whether in nonclinical biomedicine or in “softer” sciences.
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About the presenter

Mary Ellen Kerans has been an authors' editor and translator since the late 1980s, mainly but not exclusively in clinical medicine. She has taught English, English for specific purposes, and writing in a variety of university and non-university settings in Barcelona and the US. Her MA from Teachers College Columbia University is in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages).