Critical success factors in life science translations

Critical success factors in life science translationsEnsuring the highest quality of a translation is particularly important for the Life Sciences industry.  Every component of the translation process needs to be optimized in order to minimize the probability of a mistranslation.

Translation quality depends on four components:

  • Translators and Editors
  • Project manager
  • Technology
  • Process

Translators and Editors

At the core of quality is accuracy.  Not surprisingly, a fully trained native speaker of the target language with near-native knowledge of the source language is critical.  Any deviation from this requirement exposes the translation to major errors caused by lack of training (translating words, rather than meaning, improper use of translation tools, inadequate research skills, lack of reference material).  For highly technical material, advanced academic credentials in a relevant specialization ensure specialized vocabulary is interpreted and translated correctly.

Just as writers are incapable of objectively separating themselves from their work, translators are equally incapable.  For this reason, editors – having roughly equal skill as translators – provide objectivity and fresh perspective.

Finally, more experienced translator and editor pairs are preferred far more than those who have little to no experience.

Project Manager

There are three general components to the role of a project manager (PM): client relations management, file management and resource coordination.

Client relations management is critical to a successful translations project.  This is because clients can define tasks, offer reference materials, guidelines, available translation memory and constant feedback (before, during and after a project).  In fact, language solution providers (LSP) that specifically train their PMs in client relations management better ensure client satisfaction and a successful translations project.

In the Life Sciences, the product lifecycle can be summarized by the following stages and related documentation:


Different types of files are treated differently. In the translation industry there are two important file features: accessibility to text, and layout.  Every file, whether a scanned PDF, Adobe Indesign file or XML file, has its own level of text access and layout considerations; and with them, different requirements and treatment.

Content for translation can vary broadly.  Coordinating content with translators and editors leads to fewer problems, and therefore a lower probability of error, during the translation process.  Resource coordination is knowing which translators and editors to use for which content.


Beyond allowing one to manage the source files, technology allows for the files to be handled quickly and inexpensively.  Specifically, technology such as rapid text extraction tools and translation memory allow for significant time savings and enhanced translation quality.

Rapid text extraction tools allow source text to be extracted and replaced with target language text without impacting anything else in the files (such as font and paragraph characteristics, and object location), saving considerable time.

Translation memory ensures language consistency within and between files by automatically translating identical sentences and terms wherever located to reduce translation time and enhance translation quality.


Alone, translators, editors and technology contribute only fractions of the quality demanded by the industry.  The ensemble of the components, coordinated by a trained and experienced project manager, is what makes up a high quality translation process.


As translators, editors and project managers are humans, this process is highly prone to human error.  Therefore, the ideal translation process needs to be designed specifically to mitigate risk of error.  If designed properly, implementing the ISO 9001:2015 process ensures consistency and continual improvement. Going further, the EN 15038:2006 refines the ISO standard to apply specifically to translation processes. However, even with an ISO/EN process in place, translation errors may still surface. Only after years of constant monitoring and correcting will an ISO/EN process produce highly pure quality translation deliverables with less than .005% errors per project.


The critical success factors of life science translations are specialized translators and editors, experienced project managers, advanced translation technology and a proven ISO/EN process to manage everything.  A quick and comparable measure of quality for the process as a whole is the % errors per project. Choose an LSP that has high ratings on all factors to avoid serious mistranslations.  Last year at BURG, our error rate was .005% per project.


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