Writing clinical trial content for translation: How to hit a home run

by William McEwen
Writing Materials for Translation

Oh wait, the title of this blog would not translate easily. A translator once told me that baseball idioms, used frequently in the United States, are difficult to translate. While baseball is popular in the U.S., experience with the sport and associated expressions vary globally. Idioms such as, “pinch hit,” “batting a thousand” and “grand slam” make little sense in other countries and are therefore challenging for translators to deal with. A translator can find a similar idiom used in their language or rewrite the statement to convey what the idiom expresses. However, this takes additional time, and the materials can lose consistency when translated into multiple languages. Following the below tips will improve your English text when writing clinical trial content for translation, which will optimize your international text:


  • Clear, straightforward language
    • Use standard English word order (subject, verb, object with associated modifiers) and keep subjects and objects close to their verbs
  • Simple verbs with one meaning; pick strong specific verbs
    • “Change” means to make something different, convert, exchange, give or get an equivalent amount of money, etc.; more specifically, “amend” means to alter, improve, or correct faults and is a better choice
  • Short sentences
    • If the sentences are too long, picking out the verbs is troublesome for the translator
  • Consistent terminology
    • Pick one term, such as brochure, pamphlet, leaflet, booklet
  • Words that have a single meaning
    • Use “correct” instead of “right”
  • Nouns instead of pronouns where possible
    • “The appointment is scheduled” is more specific and understandable than, “It is scheduled”
  • International date and measure formats (write out the units of measure)
    • Examples include: 29 July 2018 and 5 centimeters
  • Active voice and second person
    • Words like “by” and “was”’ may indicate the passive voice


  • Phrasal verbs
    • Examples include: run into, check-in, or carry out
  • Long noun strings
    • Eliminate descriptive words that are not essential; clarify the relationships among the words
  • Idioms, slang, and colloquial phrases
    • Terms that are well-known in one language may be meaningless in other languages
  • Contractions, abbreviations, and acronyms
    • For translators, contractions hide letters and mask tenses, also abbreviations and acronyms can cause confusion for the translator and be difficult to translate into other languages

Using these tips when writing clinical trial content for translation will make sure the source text is unambiguous and easy to read. Improved English text also makes it easier to translate. This will save time and money, avoid errors, and improve the readability of materials used for an international audience.

Imperial specializes in writing clinical trial content for translation, formatting, and translating clinical research and life science materials. Visit www.imperialcrs.com for more information.

Updated: 14 August 2022

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