Posts in The sorcerer’s apprentice

You can quote me on this one (4/4)

febrero 13th, 2012 Posted by blog, citation styles, electronic sources, The sorcerer's apprentice No Comment yet

This one got me electrified
In the first post of the series on referencing in scientific works we saw what to cite, in general. In the second one, we focused on how to cite title identifiers and how to apply the author-date system. In the third one, we offered some info about major world naming systems. This fourth and last post rounds off the series with a short overview on how to handle references to electronic sources.

Web sites, e-mails, DVDs, journal articles (on the web) are all electronic sources, to name but a few. As a rule of thumb, when it comes to reference electronic sources, they are to be handled with the same criteria as printed media.

For in-text citations, Harvard suggests naming the author, the year of publication, and the page number(s) when available; for detailed information on the Harvard style, see the second post of this series.

The thing gets a little more complicated when listing the references at the end of your work, as it is not always that easy to know, what to include in your reference and where to find this information. Basically, you should give as much data as possible on the authorship, source location and availability. Remember that, when some data are missing, there are appropriate abbreviations to indicate so, such as [s. n.], for sine nomine (i.e. no name of publisher), [s. d.], for sine datum (no date of publication) and [s. l.], for sine loco (no place of publication).

As we already learned in the second and third post of the series, citing styles are all quite alike but they tend to differ to some extent from each other. When no guidelines are provided, being consistent is even more important than the style you choose; that’s still valid for referencing of electronic sources: While Harvard, for example, recommends giving additional information on the electronic access, location (such as URL or a data base) and on access data (that is, when the source was viewed or downloaded), APA proposes citing the latter extra information only in case of a web site which frequently moves to another (virtual) place. To put some order in this chaos, a numbering system to identify electronic documents has been established that is becoming increasingly popular. Here you will find some information of the Digital Object Identifier system.

Check the four main styles addressed in the other posts of the series, APA; Chicago; Harvard; and MLA. In any case, the location and availability of the document are additional pieces of information which should be provided, perhaps also their DOI number when available. The date of consultation is also important, for many documents disappear after a while, specially after website updates. If you ever look for a reference in an article and it turns out it already disappeared, do not forget to check Internet archives such as the WayBack Machine, in case they have kept the earlier version there.

The world of citing

The four posts of this series are supposed to be some kind of a map of referencing; whatever route you may choose on your journey through the world of citing, at the end of the day the most important thing is to have traveled it entirely.

Bon voyage!


by P. Klimant

You can quote me on this one (3/4)

enero 13th, 2012 Posted by arabic, authors’ names, blog, chinese, citation style, portuguese, spanish, The sorcerer's apprentice No Comment yet

What was the name again?

Of course, citing your references shall not fail just because you don’t know how to put the author’s name right. This is not so difficult when there is just one first name and one surname but, what if there is more than one name at either end of it? What about name affixes as Spanish de? What about names originally written in Chinese? This third post of the series on how to quote provides you with some answers to the above questions. Let’s have a look at some of the differences in some major world naming systems.


The bad news is that there are no universal guidelines on how to cite a Spanish name; the good news is that, for our purposes, it is quite simple: In general, Hispanics have two surnames which are used especially in official documents, while in most situations of life only the first surname is used. You may think that the second last name is somewhat akin to Anglo-Saxon middle names but they are not, because in Spanish and Portuguese usually each last name refers to either the father or the mother.

Now, I am sure you have already guessed that in the case of referencing a Spanish author’s name you should always cite both surnames as well, as in López Vegas, Carmen. That’s fine for the bibliography. However, in the continuous text of your scientific work you should only mention the first surname, as in López (2011), unless you quote two authors with the same first surname and the same year of publication. Then, the second one may be used to disambiguate, as in López Vegas (2011), López Carrillo (2011). Please don’t hyphenate both surnames anywhere. It’s just a matter of respect.

Married women never drop their surname to take their husbands’ instead, although sometimes you might still find a married woman’s first surname followed by the preposition de and then her husband’s first surname (e.g. Carmen López de Bolívar). This is a social use that is never adhered to in scientific literature. Sometimes you will find the Spanish preposition “de” (“of”) between the two surnames for other reasons; in this case, you may follow, for example, the MLA style and always add the preposition to the given name, like in Algeciras, Ramón de. Other style convention systems, however, place the preposition with the surname. Finally, the Hispanic system of surnames is a little more complex than what I have explained here. There are regional and national, even continental differences; you can find further information on it here; if you find a problem identifying the elements of a Hispanic name, just have a look here.


Portuguese names are similar to Hispanic names, but there are some differences. They are both compound but, traditionally, the order is reversed. That is, in Portuguese the mother’s first surname comes first, followed by the father’s first surname. There is no universal rule on how to quote an author with a Portuguese name, but dropping the mother’s name and keeping only the second one (the father’s surname) is quite usual. When Portuguese names are very long, they are usually indexed by the father’s surname, anyway. If you need to know more about it (for example, on where to put the Portuguese equivalent to Junior (which is Filho), just click here.


Most Chinese family names consist of a single syllable, some have two (read more about it here). Family names are written first, and not only when referencing someone’s work. For example, Mao Zedong’s family name was Mao, and his given name was Zedong. In your references, you should give the surname first, followed by the given name. Chinese children normally get their father’s surname. Married women usually stick to their maiden name; sometimes they add their husband’s name to it, but their own is rarely dropped completely. When referencing Chinese names, Harvard suggests that the Hanyu Pinyin transliteration system be applied in cases where the name has not been transferred yet into the Latin alphabet.


Arabic names traditionally have five parts (sometimes even more), namely the given name, the honorific name (which normally ist not printed), the father’s family name, a religious or descriptive epithet, and a last name, which is either the true family name or describes the occupation, a geographical location, or a tribe. In Arabic-speaking countries under Western influence, these names are more and more simplified Women keep their maiden names. The MLA style manual suggests you should write the anmes of Arabic authors the way they appear in the cited work, that is, you would write the author’s name in Arabic, followed by the transliteration between square brackets. Please note that transliteration establishes bridges between two languages and therefore there are English, French, Spanish versions of Arabic names that do not totally coincide. You should make sure that all names you quote follow the same rules, those of the language your text is written in.

So now, what?

You may wonder now which way to go in this labyrinth of referencing styles. I think there is mainly one thing you should consider: No matter which way you choose to cite the authors’ names, it is essential to apply just one style and not to mix them.


by K. Klimant

Can we teach “culture” in Translation and Interpreting Studies? (2/2)

diciembre 6th, 2011 Posted by blog, culture, The sorcerer's apprentice, training No Comment yet

In my previous post I wrote about my first experience in teaching 'US culture' and the possibility of focusing course sessions on what Agar (1992:231) called rich pointsand/or what Seelye (1993:74-75) labeled culture capsules. This option, however interesting and widely used in ELF teaching, could pose some problems that I will address at the end of this post. Now I would like to focus on the second option I sketched in my first post on the issue:

(b) Focusing sessions on trying to reach a “right” definition of 'US culture'

I strongly believe that contributions to translation should start by defining the concepts they use. The word culture in itself is one of the little family secrets in the field of Translation & Interpreting studies: we all use it, we overuse it, and yet no one seems to know quite exactly what it means. We are often referred to definitions by the founding fathers of American anthropology such as Tylor (1871) and Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952), to name but a few – a strategy that guarantees loads of philosophical nightmares because of their intricate analyses.

So, how could we define 'US culture'? This tiny noun, with no clarifying adjective, is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language. This may be due to its historical development through different world regions, but perhaps mainly because it is normally used in several different disciplines and in several distinct systems of thought. For instance, definitions used in cultural anthropology do not necessarily matcht the views held and/or needed in cognitive translatology.

So, in order to get things right in our teaching methods, let's consider that culture is asemiotic concept (Geertz 1973:27). According to this Geertz, culture should be understood as interacting systems with interpretable signs (symbols). They are not tangible, indivisible entities to which social events, conduct patterns, institutions or social processes can be attributed. They are much more than that: they are contextswhere all these phenomena may be described in an intelligible way.

This should have been good enough to plan my lessons – I could have started with something such as 'Folks, 'US culture' in itself does not exist any longer. It is not about talking about stereotypes, foreign policies or different ways of conceiving reality. Of course, it has something to do with all these topics, but it is just a label for the context where that people live, act, and assume (or not) the consequences of their actions'.That might have been a beautiful philosophical starter, of course. But still I didn't find it good enough.

The idea of culture as a frame may not be useful when trying to make operationalize it for our research purposes in cognitive translatology. The reason is that we are still considering it as something that is "out there". The container metaphor survives, although it is now more flexible and open. For this reason, I'd rather try to depart from the notion of scaffolding (Martín 2005:147) as an alternative. Cultural scaffoldings are not containers of people and/or their cognitive capacities, but models established socially to support action and cooperation. Culture is thus envisioned as an inner process, a mental activity aimed at creating meanings and make their interaction possible for all people involved in the communicative process.

Consequently, there are no cultural frontiers or cultural barriers. Social groups are not closed entities and culture is no longer a Pandora's box where everything can be dropped. Cultural models are built thanks to traces and signs that are constantly re-elaborated while we live and interact with each other. This active role in the creation of meaning changes and gets corrected nearly on its own, thanks to our experience.

Some readers might feel that I am walking around the bush, that I'm doing exactly what I was not supposed to do. So, let's go to the main point: How can we reach to a "right" definition of 'US culture'? I am afraid that this question has no answer. As I wrote above, “US culture” does not exist as an entity, in the same way than there is not a 'Spanish culture' or a 'Polish culture'. A culture is not a state with neat borders – rather, it has to do with individuals and the way they construct meanings.

When planning “culture” lessons, we may implicitly mean cultural literacy, that is, a complete set of encyclopedic knowledge that is considered a property of a certain country. Any manual included in the reference section of any course syllabus on similar subjects may be taken as an evidence of this claim. In fact, one of the most successful bestsellers of last century in US is Cultural Literacy: What every American needs to know (Hirsch JR. 1988). This book includes some 5,000 "essential" names, phrases, dates, and concepts from 'American diversity' to 'Romanticism'. Both are used to teachculture – but ironically enough, culture is nothing that can be learnt in a formal educative context. Paraphrasing to Lakoff & Johnson (1980): culture is what we live by.

So... what did I do at the end? And what is my proposal about?

After thoroughly considering both options, I chose an eclectic approach. Students did not expect brow raising dissertations about the concept of culture in Translation & Interpreting Studies and their interests were far removed from this option. Basically, everybody expected the traditional teacher-centred methodology, i.e., I was expected to sit down in front of the class and start reading my notes about George Washington, Lincoln, etc.

But the two options helped me a lot at designing a sketch of a successful methodology that I hope to improve in the near future.

Option (a) was problematic because of a single reason: Who decides what is culturaland what is not? The teacher may select some traditional stereotypes (for example, 'Americans are very practical' or 'Americans believe that effort can make your dreams come true') but conclusions might be a bit risky. We all have a picture of the US, and making over-generalizations is as easy as it is dangerous. We are paddling through the troubled waters of very relative terms, and that may sink our boat in the lake of Manichaeism. Realities cannot be compared, only our impressions can be contrasted in a discussion. I believe this kind of activities can be carried out successfully when teaching foreign languages, where the main purpose is to practice oral skills in an active discussion. But that is another story discussed here.

Option (b) is obviously "optimal". Leading the students by the hand into different discussions about the concept of culture to show them that there is not a single 'US culture' seems the perfect option to me. But the contents of the subject are different and I had to summarize this as much as possible to make just this point: talking about a specific culture is useless, for there are as many cultures as individuals. And that was my point of departure.

In my view, teaching culture to would-be translators and interpreters needs to adapt to professional demands. By the end of their programmes, graduates are expected to know how to make business with their customers. So, perhaps a brief approach to the status of money and work in the US should be part of the syllabus. For example, I enjoyed an excellent session about attitudes towards work. For Americans, work is said to be a social concept –it is mainly what you are, the basis of your identity. For Spaniards, though, work is important but it is counter-balanced with other aspects that have the same or even higher relevance. From this "cultural difference" (option a), we can teach students how finances are being handled in the US (encyclopedic knowledge) and, most importantly, we can present them with relevant communication strategies for dealing with US customers. This would also lead us to the study of translation and revision markets there and to the possibility of getting a job there, as translator or interpreter of Spanish/English.

Other circumstances that are not worth mentioning here just led me to work with (b) first as an introductory session and with option (a) later, with some professional-orientation. But, at least, I was happy to see that most students seemed to think it made sense.

I know, rather than providing answers, my arguments in these couple of posts raise more questions. I am pretty sure that there are much more intelligent and pedagogic options out there. I reckon that mine was a partial success ant that the course on 'US culture' could have been far better. At the end of the day, everything seems to depend precisely on the arbitrary choices of the teacher.

But, if we are training future professionals... why don't we just professionalize our teaching programmes?


Agar, M. 1994. The intercultural frame @ International Journal of Intercultural Relations 18, 2: 221- 237.

Geertz, Clifford. 1973. La interpretación de las culturas. Barcelona: Gedisa Editorial.

Hirsch, JR., E.D. 1988. Cultural Literacy: What every American needs to know. New York: Vintage Books.

Martín de León, Celia. 2005. Contenedores, recorridos y metas. Metáforas en la traductología funcionalista. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

Seelye, H. Ned. 1993. Teaching Culture. Strategies for Intercultural Communication. Lincolnwood: National Textbook Company Publishing book.


by J.J. Amigo

Can we teach “culture” in Translation and Interpreting Studies? (1/2)

noviembre 21st, 2011 Posted by blog, culture, The sorcerer's apprentice, training No Comment yet


A few months ago, I was required to teach a subject called “Culture and History of English-speaking countries”, a sophomore seminar from the current BA in Translation and Interpreting at the University of Córdoba, Spain. As I am quite new in teaching, I was entrusted with the “United States’ side” of the subject, i.e., I was expected to teach the whole culture and history of the USA in around thirty hours. No more, no less.

Of course, it was a huge challenge. I was at odds about how to face it, but there was one issue I was extremely sure of: I did not want to follow the “traditional” approach. I did not want forty students to learn by heart thousands of facts and dates and then make them spit as much as they could onto some white pages in an infernal exam.That would have been awful for everyone.

However, I did not not know how to unbiasedly talk about “US culture”. First of all, the word culture was included in the name of the subject, but there was not mention whatsoever about this concept in the course syllabus. I felt I had become one of those beautiful still-life paintings that grandmas have in their living rooms: yeap, they are there, we all are used to them, but everybody ignores them. In view of these pitfalls, I found myself hesitating in between two options: (a) involve students in the study of cultural differences between USA and Spain and (b) help them to look for a “right” definition of “US culture”. This post is focused on the first issue and sets the basis for the second one.

(a) Involve students in the study of rich points (USA and Spain)

This seems a good choice, I concluded. The fact that the seminar was not a hands-on “translation subject” does not mean it is useless for future practitioners. Besides, it is not very time-consuming: I could just pick-up some rich points (Agar 1994:231) from the States and then organize class discussions and debates. Rich points carry an intricate web of associations and connotations, webs that have no corresponding echoes in our own language, I learned. This notion implies viewing a culture as acontainer full of different items of knowledge, behaviors, customs, traditions and the like (see, for example, Göhring 1978). Then, as if we were analysts of the impossible, we could empty two different containers and start playing to find differences among every object, one by one. When you find a notion with no exact equivalent, then, right there, a rich point is born. In brief, although linguistic differences were out of the scope of this seminar, I could apply the idea of rich point by expanding the specific point to issues beyond language (society, economy, traditions, etc.).

By following this line of reasoning, we could speak about the possession of guns in the USA, watch scenes from Bowling for Columbine and ask for opinions. Then, we could compare our conclusions with the guns’ regulations in Spain (where all guns are strictly forbidden). Or we could organize a session around the apple pie—is there anything more typical from the States than an apple pie cooling off on a kitchen’s windowsill? Well, my next question was, which Spanish typical product could apple pies be compared to? What conclusions would we reach? That Spaniards love turrónand people in the States love apple pies? Now, is this relevant for the learning of a future translator or interpreter?

What I am trying to suggest here is that, although it may seem logical and convenient, it is not proven (nor clear) that splitting cultures into levels, culture bumps or culturemes is effective. In the field of intercultural communication, the notion of culture capsules has been proposed which basically consist of abstractions from reality where students select a specific ‘cross-cultural’ difference:

Briefly, a culture capsule consists of a paragraph or so of explanation of one minimal difference between American and a target custom, along with several illustrative photos or relevant realia […] in culture capsules the explanation of the cross-cultural difference is presented to the student in both the textual description and in the accompanying multimedia razzle-dizzle.

(Seelye 1993:74-75)

But this just seems a remake of the old movie I described above. The only difference is that with culture capsules the active role of choosing rich points is the students’ responsibility. They are the ones who have to talk about any difference related to the behaviour of people in two countries. This gives the teacher a great number of tools to assess their performance: selection of the topic, organization of the speech, etc.

But… will students use all this in their future careers? Who decides what a rich pointis? Are we talking about realities that can be objectively compared?

All these questions (and some more) will hopefully be answered in my next post. Please don’t change the channel…


Agar, M. 1994. The intercultural frame @ International Journal of Intercultural Relations 18, 2: 221- 237.

Göhring, Heinz. 1978. Interkulturelle Kommunkation: Die Überwindung der Trennung von Fremd- sprachen- und Landeskundeunterricht durch einen integrierten Fremdverhaltensunterricht. @ Matthias HARTIG & Henning WODE, eds. Kongressberichte der 8. Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft für Angewandte Linguistik GAL e. V. Mainz 1977, Vol. 4: Soziolinguistik, Psycholinguistik. Stuttgart: Hochschulverlag.

Seelye, H. Ned. 1993. Teaching Culture. Strategies for Intercultural Communication. Lincolnwood: National Textbook Company Publishing Book.


by J.J. Amigo

You can quote me on this one (2/4)

octubre 19th, 2011 Posted by author-date style, blog, citation, identification code, reference list, The sorcerer's apprentice No Comment yet

Would be so nice if you’d ibidem-ize my work

Now that you know how to quote the right way (not yet? Check the first post of this series), here you will learn the most important points on title identifiers such as ISBN, ISSN and DOI, which you should always quote as far as possible at the end of your bibliographical entry, to give your reader several options to locate each reference. If you don’t know what those acronyms are all about yet, don’t worry, you will after reading this post. I will also introduce you to the author-date system, the referencing style used by academics all over the world. Let’s start with the identification codes, i.e. with codes to identify sources such as books, serial and digital publications.

What do these acronyms stand for?


The most common title identifier stands for International Standard Book Number; you will find it in each published book. By the ISBN number, book handling becomes easier for everybody implied in book sales: the publishing houses, the bookshops, the libraries and… for you as a reader, an author, and a scientific bibliographer.


The e stands for electronic (you guessed it, yes) and it is used for the digital version of a book; if a book was launched only in digital format, the ISBN automatically is the eISBN—it’s the same number. If it was first published as a print version, you may have to look for an extra eISBN number for the digital copy.

The International Standard Serial Number is used for serial resources such as magazines, newspapers or yearbooks.


It works like the eISBN but it is not for books but for periodicals. Yes, you guessed it again.

The Digital Object Identifier is a code for electronic objects. Now you may want to argue that an ISBN is a digital object identifier as well. And you are right, but while ISBN identifies any monography (remember?) in any media, DOI only identifies online publications, no matter their extent, that is, with a DOI you can identify parts of the whole, such as chapters, graphs, or tables. This object identification is necessary because a URL does not mark the object itself but its location in the web. A DOI is unchangeable and is not linked to a determined storage place; it is a permanent URL which means it does not only serve the purpose of object identification but also takes you to its location as well. What’s really interesting about DOI is its address function, and also the online identification for publications.

The author-date system

Now that you are familiar to the most common identification codes for publications, let us focus on the author-date system, also known as Harvard style. If you want to become a part on the international scientific community, you just need it because it is commonly accepted as the citation style of choice. Harvard (as it is also called by insiders J) covers both referencing within the text (including the author and year of publication) and organizing your bibliographical data, usually at the end of your work. As we have dealt with the reference list in further detail in the first post of this series, we will just concentrate on the ways of referencing in the text at this point. There are basically two types of referencing in your text:

  1. Citation

When you think that the author’s statement is really what you want to say, you can take the original and copy it down word by word. This citation could look like this:

“Through increasingly accurate description and negotiation of observations from different sources of data, we can get closer, perhaps not to an ‘objective’ result, but to shared replicable experiences and results” (Hansen 2003: 40).

Or like this:

Hansen (2003:40) states that “through increasingly accurate description and negotiation of observations from different sources of data, we can get closer, perhaps not to an ‘objective’ result, but to shared replicable experiences and results.”

In most cases, however, you should apply the way described in 2 below.

  1. Paraphrase or summary

If you want to express something another person said in your own words, you could summarize or paraphrase it, for example like this:

Hansen (2003:40) states that by triangulating different methods it could be possible to gain some intersubjective insights.

Of course, you have to offer the complete data for this reference in the bibliography, at the end of your text.

You can take PETRA’s style sheet as an example for a reference list style, which includes some advice on the handling of the identification codes introduced above as well.


First post of this series (2011). You can quote me on this one – please do.

Monash University Library (2006). Harvard (author-date) style examples.

PETRA’s style sheet (2011)

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Libraries (2009). ISBN, ISSN, DOI and URN:NBN.

Williams College Libraries (2009). Chicago Manual of Style.


by P. Klimant

You can quote me on this one (1/4)

agosto 5th, 2011 Posted by bibliographical data, blog, citation, plagiarism, reference management software, The sorcerer's apprentice No Comment yet

Please do

About six months ago Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the German Defense Minister at that time, was on everyone’s lips. The Internet platform Wikiplag established proof that zu Guttenberg had cheated in his dissertation, five years ago. He had copied more than half of “his” work without indicating any references. The whole story becomes even more remarkable when you consider the slogan under which zu Guttenberg is still promoting his website: “responsibility is a commitment”. So let’s commit ourselves to responsibility and go the right way of citing the references in our scientific works to avoid plagiarism, which is in no way acceptable—not only in scientific work, but in any area of life.

There are, of course, some rules to follow in order to make clear which ideas in your paper are your own and which ones originally belonged to someone else. There is absolutely nothing wrong with copying and pasting as long as you indicate the source you got it from. In fact, referenced verbatim quoting is considered good scholarship, and only translation scholars do now and then change this to introduce a translation in the body of the text and (always!) the original in a footnote, to keep with both the scholarly norm and the translators’ commitment of making reading reasonably easy.

Rule #1 Give the reference(s) of any idea you are using in your work that is not your own.

Anything that has not been referenced at all will be understood as your own ideas. That is why you should consider it an ethical commitment and a scientific obligation to spell out the references wherever you have taken in some way some other people’s thoughts. Quite difficult to get the feeling for it, right? But believe me, you will get used to it quite fast. The sooner you start quoting correctly (here comes the best part of it all), the earlier you will start feeling real good about your work. Not only because you “come clean” and show your colleagues you have nothing to hide, but also because you realize your work becomes part of a net.

Rule #2: Any reference should at least comprise the standard bibliographical data.

These data are basically the author’s/authors’ name(s), the year, the title, the city, and the publishing house. Of course, they have to be expanded where necessary. You should give all the bibliographical data available on each reference. Reference management software like Citavi, Endnote and Mendeley (see also here) is easy to handle and saves you a lot of work once you know how to use them. Just try them out.

So, let me put it this way: your piece of work is an atom from a molecule, or one more brick in the enormous building of knowledge. If you don’t link it to the body of knowledge upon which it stands, O Lord, the winds of oblivion will just sweep your paper away from the surface of Earth. You have been warned. In my next post I will give you some additional hints.

Further reading

Allen, Timothy T. Comp. 2000. Citing References in Scientific Research Papers.

Holland Jones, James. 2010. A Style Guide for Scientific Research Papers. StanfordUniversity. 2007. Dissertation Reference & Thesis Citation Help
for Doctoral & Graduate Students


by P. Klimant

When you think you got it

junio 24th, 2011 Posted by blog, data analysis, empirical research, empirical-inductive approach, The sorcerer's apprentice, theoretical-deductive approach No Comment yet

So you have been preparing the pilot study for your translation process research project with passion: You have been weighing the pros and cons of every single method and tool of data collection—you just want the best one, of course. You have been choosing the source texts meticulously, screening them from many different angles. You have been defining your experimental subjects and recruiting people, some of whom you finally managed to convince to participate in the test.

Then came the D-day: You carried out the experiment, or, properly speaking, you let your subjects carry it out—the subjects patiently translated with Translog (; they also filled out some questionnaires. And, afterwards, evaluators had a look at their translations.

This is the moment when you start feeling that you made it, that the first big step is done, your first tentative data collected; and it’s true, but it’s also true that there is a much steeper step awaiting you now:

The analysis of data

(“Night on Bald Mountain” might do as a soundtrack effect here).

You may feel some kind of dizziness or trepidation in the face of the amount of data you have collected. So, now what? What’s next?

First of all: Stay calm and don’t despair!

There are two ways out of this trial:


  1. You could have a look at the materials you collected, those based on a theory you have been working out before. The theory offers you one or various perspectives onto your data (theoretical-deductive approach).

Or else

  1. You could let your data speak first and let the facts emerge and grow, and adapt your interpretation and your theory to the outcome (empirical-inductive approach).

If you were looking for something well defined, if it was an experimental setting, if you just wanted to (dis)prove some theory or theoretical point, if you —or your dissertation director— are not willing (!!) to modify the theory, then option 1 seems to better fit your needs. If you are doing descriptive research, if everything is foggy and you don’t trust the rosy & complex notions you have been using, then option 2 might get you further down the way.

The problem is, your research project may fall somehow in between, and anyway data collected are simply overwhelmingly rich. So, before choosing one way or the other, you may want to ask yourself the following questions (if you haven’t done so already):

What was I looking for?

Which elements in the data are useful for my purpose? Which are not?

How could I check what I wanted to see/know/measure?

When you have found the answers, start selecting your material. Focus on the data you really need for your study aim(s) and leave those aside you don’t need for this project; maybe later you can use them in another project, so don’t think they are worthless. Do NOT dispose of anything. Umberto Eco said that one of the main problems in writing a dissertation is chopping off side branches, I mean, mmm, reducing the scope of your goals to a size that can be managed in a few years. The times are over when a PhD research project was the crown of a whole career, welcome are now dissertations that let you prove you can do high quality research.

In any case, in translation process research you nearly must resort to triangulation, to cross-referencing qualitative and quantitative data, both to improve intersubjective agreement within your scientific community and to avoid the distortion effects of each single method.

So just take a deep breath now and keep going. Just do not go into the light. Research weather is always foggy.


Further reading

Shuttleworth, M. (2009). What is the scientific method? URL:
Wang, J. & Khosravi Sereshki, H. (2010). How to implement ITIL successfully? Jönköping. Chapter 2.2. URL:

Three good reasons for carrying out a pilot study

junio 3rd, 2011 Posted by blog, empirical research, functionality check, pilot study, preliminary results, reliability, The sorcerer's apprentice No Comment yet

Both in experimental and in descriptive research, a pilot study is a small-scale version or trial run of the main study. A pilot study has to be carried out under the same conditions of the main study. Otherwise carrying out a pilot study would not make much sense, since the main goal is to trace possible sources of error to avoid those in your main study. There are at least three good reasons for carrying out a pilot study before you carry out the full-scale experiment:


    1. Functionality check of the study design by testing


a) research tools and methods regarding adequacy

When choosing tools and methods for data collection, you should always consider your study aim(s): What do you really want to measure in your study? By which means can you achieve these aims? With a pilot study, you can check whether your methods and tools are optimal for your purposes.

b) study feasibility

A pilot study will show you if your study design works the way you planned. Maybe you will have to introduce some modifications, for example, regarding the experimental setting.

    1. Collecting preliminary results

A pilot study will give you some first tentative results which may show at least the potential trends in the future outcome of the main study. This will let you read more about the possible ways to interpret these results.

  1. Increasing research reliability

By doing a pilot study, the reliability of your research project will increase. Other researchers and (maybe even funding) institutions maybecome more interested in your project.

Take your time for a pilot study. It is one of the best investments of time and effort in order to make an excellent main study trial.

Further reading

Altman, D., Burton, N., Cuthill, I., Festing, M., Hutton, J. & L. Playle (2006). Why do a pilot study. National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research. URL:

Gilbert, N. (2001). The importance of pilot studies. Social Research Update, 35, URL:

Neunzig, W. (2002). Estudios empíricos en traducción: apuntes metodológicos. In F. Alves (Hrsg.): O proceso de traducão. Cadernos de Traducão, 10, 75-96.


by P. Klimant

Writing an exposé

abril 26th, 2011 Posted by aims, blog, exposé, hypotheses, methods, PhD project, state of the art, The sorcerer's apprentice No Comment yet

Once you have found your doctoral advisor, you can start writing the exposé, i.e., a summary of your first thoughts on the PhD project. Depending on the country or even the university you are in, you may need to present it and have it approved by a committee, or else you may want to send it to some important scholar to convince her to become your supervisor. In any case, it will

be very useful to you, to clarify your ideas. You should always bear in mind that what you are going to put down in your exposé are just preliminary notions. Also, before you get into this jungle, there is something you should be aware of:
There is no explicit model for an exposé
[sudden drum banging in the dark]
Of course, that does not mean there is no structure at all. There is simply considerable variation, depending on the norms, traditions, etc., of the place you are in. In Europe, you may ask your advisor or university department for detailed information, but do not expect there will be something like the great Writing Lab at Purdue. At least, not in every university (but see Toronto’s and Victoria’s, though). Do not give up hope if you are given no information or just a couple of vague hints on this topic. Take it as your first quest for the holy grail.
Although there are no black-on-white rules on the contents and structure of an exposé, at least there seems to be some kind of consensus regarding the need to include at least the following sections:
project topic
state of the art
Other points, such as a sketch of the dissertation structure, work plan, and so on, is usually optional, or a specific requirement of your institution. Let us have a closer look on these points.

Project topic
You need a concise working title for your project. If somewhat obscure, you may explain the meaning of the title in your introduction. To avoid extra work, it is always a good idea to draft the introduction at the end, so you already know which information you need to summarize.

State of the art
Here you should concentrate on the following questions:
Which related topics have been investigated until now?
Which points or aspects have not been researched (enough) and are therefore desiderata?

Aim(s) - The question is… Why?
In this section you will spell out your project aims, the reasons to embark on such a project, what you expect from it. Generally, scientific aims tend to focus on verifying or falsifying hypotheses or they attempt to find some answers to clearly stated problems. You could consider other possible aims regarding your project (e.g., practical or didactic ones).

Hypotheses/Problems – The question is… What?
Since you are aiming to find answers to your stated hypothesis or problems, you need to make them clear from the beginning by explaining what you have found out on the topic and what led you to your conclusions.

Method(s) – The question is… How?
Your aims and objects of study define the methods applied. There are mainly two scientific methods of which one would be applied to your project:

You conclude general theoretical rules on the basis of empirical observations. For example, translation experiment results show that there are differences in problem-solving between professional and non-professional translators; now you would have to establish some rules, theories or hypotheses on these observations.

You would propose a theory or hypothesis first and then investigate it empirically, e.g., you would state that there are differences in problem-solving between professional and non-professional translators and then verify or falsify this statement based on the results of an empirical experiment.
If you want to do empirical research, you should specify your materials. In cognitive translatology, this would concern, for example, subjects, source text(s), experimental environment, data collection tools and methods (e.g. key logging, questionnaires, eye-tracking, to name a few).

At the end of your exposé, you should give complete information on every source you cited in your proposal. More often than not there are strict norms and requisites for the bibliography. You may complain about it, but that is the way it is: hating bibliography norms seems to be part of being a scholar, so you are getting closer!

Further reading
Chesterman, A. (2001). Empirical research methods in Translation Studies. Erikoiskielet ja käännösteoria (VAKKI-symposiumi XX), 27, 9-22.
Jääskeläinen, R. & Tirkkonen-Condit, S. (1991). Automatised processes in professional vs. non-professional translation: A think-aloud protocol study. In S. Tirkkonen-Condit (Ed.): Empirical Research in Translation and Intercultural Studies. Tübingen: Narr, 89-109.
Neunzig, W. (2002). Estudios empíricos en traducción: apuntes metodológicos. In F. Alves (Ed.): O proceso de traducão. Cadernos de Traducão, 10, 75-96.
Nünning, A. & Sommer, R. (Eds.) (2007). Handbuch Promotion – Forschung – Förderung – Finanzen. Stuttgart: Metzler.
Nussbaum, M. A. (2010). How To Write a (Thesis/Dissertation) Proposal. URL:
Pries, L. (2007). Wie schreibe ich ein Exposé? URL:
Research Proposal Guide. URL:

Starting a PhD project on Cognitive Translatology

abril 14th, 2011 Posted by blog, doctoral advisor, exposé, PhD project, The sorcerer's apprentice No Comment yet

As in any project, there is one urgent question to be answered on starting a PhD project as well: Where do I start? This is what I found when planning to do a doctorate, particularly regarding Cognitive Translatology.

Looking for a doctoral advisor

When you set to start a PhD project on

Cognitive Translatology, you should be aware of the fact that, however young the discipline of Translation Studies (as a supercategory of Cognitive Translatology) may seem, there are already quite a few people investigating in this field all over the world. This is not necessarily a disadvantage, because once you have found your advisor and a project to work on, you become a member of this translation researchers’ community. So when it comes to looking for an advisor in this field, you will probably have to expand your search crossing national borders.

So your starting point is, you should start doing some research on who is actually investigating in Cognitive Translatology (e.g., individual researchers or research groups). When you have listed a few names, you can start by contacting them, explaining what you are aiming to do, and asking them for help.

During or after the doctoral advisor search
Once you have started looking for a doctoral advisor (or even if you already found one), you should start limiting and defining the topic you would like to delve into in your PhD project. I know, Cognitive Translatology is still a quite complex field. This is the time for you to do three things mainly:

1. Answer yourself some basic questions regarding your own focus of interest (e.g., if you prefer theory or practice; which specific field(s) you are interested in (e.g., translators’ expertise, problem solving, decision-making, translation quality assessment, error categorization, to name a few)).
2. Read, and nothing but read to familiarize yourself with the topic(s) in question and the state of the art. You get relevant literature searching, for example, your University’s library catalogue and the Internet (additionally, you could also ask your advisor in case you have already found one, but never forget that it is your work and the literature you will be given has to be considered just the basis for further reading). While reading, keep an eye out for possible connections with your own future work, such as any lack of or in theoretical models, desiderata, etc.

3. Outline your first thoughts (on the basis of 1 and 2) concerning at least your work topic, aim(s), hypotheses, method(s) and problems. In Cognitive Translatology you will probably find a lot more empirical work than in other areas of Translation Studies, but this does neither mean there is nothing left to investigate empirically nor that there is nothing interesting to say about translation theory. In any case, you will need both, practice and theory, for your work. At this stage, it would be of some help but it not essential to count on an advisor, to get some advice where necessary.
Writing an exposé
Usually, in most countries the next step to take is writing an exposé, which contains your ideas on the PhD project. The exposé helps you structure and formulate these ideas more clearly. In the beginning, it works as some kind of project guidelines both for you and for your advisor, but it will be modified throughout the process times and again. And that is normal.
After these three steps, there begins the real journey. Good luck!
Further reading
Chesterman, A. (2001). Empirical research methods in Translation Studies. Erikoiskielet ja käännösteoria (VAKKI-symposiumi XX), 27, 9-22.
Davis, D. (2001): PhD Thesis Research: Where Do I Start? URL:
Eco, U. (2001). Experiences in Translation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Nünning, A. & Sommer, R. (Eds.) (2007). Handbuch Promotion – Forschung – Förderung – Finanzen. Stuttgart: Metzler.
Nussbaum, M. A. (2010). How To Write a (Thesis/Dissertation) Proposal. URL: PhD Starter – How to start a PhD. URL:
Pries, L. (2007). Wie schreibe ich ein Exposé? URL: Proposal Guide. URL:

Recent Comments