It may be copyrighted, but it still needs help: Improving research questionnaires by means of intralingual translation

Susan Lotz


Clear research questionnaires ultimately help to ensure the reliability and comparability of the data that they gather (Fowler 1992; Lenzner 2012; Moroney and Cameron 2016). This paper explores the intersection of best practices in the fields of questionnaire design and intralingual translation as a means to ensure clarity and comprehensibility in research questionnaires. The questionnaire design perspective on comprehensibility (as represented by the 2010, 2011 and 2012 studies by Lenzner and colleagues, and work done by Knäuper et al. (1997) and Krosnik (1991)) essentially requires intralingual translation for questionnaires that do not meet the clarity requirement. To illustrate how intralingual translation in the form of plain language practice can operationalise comprehensibility (Nisbeth Jensen 2015), a short case study is presented. It chronicles a case of interlingual translation that has evolved into an intralingual translation endeavour. A client had a copyrighted medical research questionnaire, originally in American English, translated into Afrikaans and isiXhosa. Initially, the language service provider was not allowed any interventions in the source text. Testing of this questionnaire and its translations then revealed that the questionnaires were incomprehensible to their respondents. In this paper, the intralingual interventions required to improve comprehensibility of the questionnaire are classified in terms of the four parameters that Zethsen (2009) has identified in this regard, namely knowledge, time, culture and space. In addition, a fourfold text assessment checklist for ensuring clarity in questionnaires is proposed. This checklist may prove valuable for highlighting areas in questionnaires that need intralingual translation – whether used as motivation for a client or as a starting point for an intralingual intervention itself.


comprehensibility, intralingual translation, plain language, questionnaire design, questionnaires

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ISSN 2224-3380 (online); 1726-541X (print)

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