Lost in Translation: Common Clinical Trial Translation Mistakes

Clinical Trials Translation

Nowadays, clinical trials are spread across multiple countries, sometimes continents, introducing the challenge of collaborating with individuals who speak different languages. While this global approach offers numerous advantages, including tapping into a wider spectrum of expertise and promoting international collaboration and innovation, it can also result in miscommunications and things getting lost in translation.

As we bid farewell to another year, we decided to take a look through some of the most prevalent translation errors we’ve seen in clinical trials over the past twelve months.

1. Terminology Mishaps

Among the most common pitfalls in clinical trial translations is the improper use of terminology. This error arises when complex and nuanced medical terminology is inappropriately applied in specific contexts, domains, or for particular audiences.

For example, the term ‘stroke’ can have various interpretations and translations across languages, sometimes referring to a cerebrovascular accident, a heart attack, or even a unit of measurement.

It is not confined to medical terminology alone. Even a word as simple as ‘sex’ when used to indicate gender can be confusing, as individuals may interpret it in unintended ways, sometimes leading to amusing responses. Surprisingly, these language slip-ups happen more often than anticipated.

2. Syntax and Grammar Slip-Ups

Another recurring hiccup in clinical trial translation revolves around syntax and grammar. These errors can significantly impact the meaning, clarity, and credibility of the text. Syntax and grammar mistakes include issues such as improper word order, punctuation, verb tense, agreement, or spelling errors.

We see a lot of mistakes with regard to label translation and measurements. For example, inaccuracies in translating dosage instructions or measurement units can lead to dosage errors that affect the safety and efficacy of the clinical trial. Precision in these areas is essential to maintain the trial’s credibility, ethical standards, and participant well-being.

3. Cultural and Linguistic Sensitivity

A third common mistake in clinical trial translation involves overlooking or disregarding the cultural and linguistic norms and expectations of the target audience.

Achieving cultural and linguistic sensitivity means adapting the text’s tone, style, and content to align with the preferences and values of the readers. For instance, different cultures may favor direct or indirect communication, formal or informal language, more or less detailed information, or distinct approaches to addressing patients and healthcare providers.

A good example is when translating patient consent forms for a clinical trial. In some cultures, a warm and empathetic tone, coupled with a focus on community and family values, may resonate with potential participants. In other cultures, a more clinical and fact-based approach emphasizing individual autonomy and medical expertise may be more effective.

4. Formatting and Layout Blunders

Turning to another category of translation challenges, we frequently encounter formatting and layout errors that can significantly affect the document’s appearance, organization, and accessibility.

These issues may include something as simple as incorrect font size, style, or color choices, misalignment of text or images, the presence of extraneous spaces, or the occurrence of broken links or codes. Imagine the confusion when a formatting or layout glitch distorts a table, chart, or diagram or renders a hyperlink or code block inactive or erroneous


5. Neglecting Quality Assurance and Feedback

Last but certainly not least, we need to highlight the importance of not overlooking quality assurance and feedback. This process involves carefully reviewing, testing, and evaluating the text to make sure it’s accurate, clear, consistent, and appropriate. It also means seeking and incorporating feedback from clients, colleagues, or subject experts.

Quality assurance and feedback are not optional steps in the translation process but are integral components that ensure the integrity and effectiveness of clinical trial materials in a global setting.


Although some of these translation mistakes might appear minor, their combined effects can potentially lead to revisions and costly delays. Therefore, it is crucial to work with clinical trial translators who have a strong grasp of the field and acknowledge the importance of precise translation to support the success of global clinical research projects.

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10 Tips For Your Next Translation Project (Video)

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