;   Medical Translation Insight: Talk about "usability", not "quality" - ForeignExchange Translations

Talk about "usability", not "quality"

Usability is the new quality - medical translationAs regular readers know, we are pretty opinionated when it comes to translation quality.

Everybody in our industry talks about quality most suppliers struggle with the basic - how to define and implement a robust quality-assurance process. The talk usually falls into two categories:

  1. proclamations of an absolute (and, of course, incredibly high) quality standard
  2. using a flurry of numbers and metrics to supposedly "prove" quality
Most of the talk is nothing more than smoke and mirrors though.

Slogan's like "zero defects" are good at rallying the troops but ineffective at bringing about quality. This kind of across-the-board quality level misses what drug and device companies are looking for and is statistically impossible as well as cost prohibitive.

Partially as a way to obfuscate the fact that zero defects aren't possible, some suppliers throw out around all kinds of quality "statistics" and metrics. Now, at ForeignExchange we happen to believe quality metrics are important - not in and of themselves but if they are part of a robust quality measurement and improvement system.

Summing it all up as "Quality" doesn't do the trick, the Translate This! blog makes a terrific argument for replacing the term "quality" with "usability":
If we forget about "quality" and instead talk about "usability" or "utility" of a translation, we have a metric that should make sense to the client since it affects areas that cost money: higher pay with longer working hours if it takes their technicians longer to understand the text; repairs and liability issues if there are errors in the repair manual; higher demand on the call center if the user abandons the text in favor of calling; loss of revenue if the product becomes known as difficult to install/operate due to sub-standard documentation.

While it is hard to argue with a client who doesn't want Nobel Prize prose, it is easy to argue with a client (should it be necessary to argue at all) who doesn't want top usability.
Now we're talking!

ForeignExchange Translations provides specialized medical translation services to the world's leading pharmaceutical and medical device companies.


  1. Barbara Thomas said...
    I have an amusing anecdote regarding the theoretical usability of translations. The European Union is a vast, regulated and pretty well organized translation marketplace ... companies are required to translate product documentation, including instruction manuals, into the language of the countries where their products are authorized for marketing.

    However, it has been my experience in hospital laboratories in Spain that lab personnel systematically use the original instruction manuals in English for lab equipment. When asked why, they answer that they don't understand or trust the translated manual.

    What does this tell us about the usability of translations? Usability may have better defined metrics, but I suspect that it may be more difficult to produce a usable translation of an instrument manual than a linguistically accurate translation.
    Barbara Thomas said...
    Another anecdote ... after years of translation practice I have no doubt whatsoever that a translation is only as good as the error(s) it contains. Even if it's only a single error in a million-word, otherwise well translated project, errors weigh heavily.

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