Verbatim translation


The Latin term “verbatim” is commonly used in market research to denote the responses given by survey participants to open-ended questions. Although appropriate in this particularly context, meaning “word for word” or “using the same words as the original”, the word is somewhat misleading when it comes to translating the verbatim comments, as translators often have to interpret what the respondent is trying to say, which extends beyond just words.

To put it simply, the aim when translating verbatims is to convey the meaning, sense and mood of the respondent’s answer. A one-word answer can convey a wealth of meaning or nothing at all. Even something as seemingly unimportant as a punctuation mark can change the whole tone of the response. For example, imagine if a question asked was, “What do you most look forward to during the summer months?” The responses might be:

(a) The sunshine!
(b) Sunshine?
(c) Sunshine…

All three responses seem to say different things. The first seems excited at the prospect of sunshine, whereas the second sounds more confused and gives the impression that the respondent might be unsure about what they’re looking forward to (if anything). The third response gives the impression that they’re looking forward to the sunshine but not convinced they’ll get it. This is a probable answer in England judging by the unreliability of our forecasts!

The importance of using a qualified translator for verbatim translation

As in most translation environments, a word-for-word translation is unlikely to achieve the desired response and paraphrasing what a respondent means or expanding on the minimal words used may be much more appropriate. Although you may get the gist of what they are saying, in this instance less is definitely not more.

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Take the following examples of literal translations versus those taking the context into account. The respondents were asked why they didn’t purchase a product from a particular shop:

Source: Es gab das Produkt nicht zu dem Preis

  • Literal translation: There was not the product at the price
  • Contextual translation: I couldn’t get the product I wanted at the price I wanted

Source: Das Angebot von privat kam dem zuvor!

  • Literal translation: The offer came privately before!
  • Contextual translation: We got a private offer [of a product] which pre-empted us having to buy one!

Source: größere Entfernung

  • Literal translation: greater distance
  • Contextual translation: they are further away

In some instances, the literal translation may not be entirely clear but the human translator’s rendition takes into account the context and is much more readily understood. Expanding on the few words used by the respondent makes it clearer what they are trying to say.

When you consider that verbatims, written by participants who may be in a hurry or simply poor typists, often contain typos or half-finished thoughts, such comments don’t benefit from being translated literally or “verbatim”, as these examples show. A human translator on the other hand will take the time to understand what the respondent was getting at and word it in a clearer way in their translation.

There would be no point in carefully translating a survey to convey the same meaning across each market if the verbatims were not translated as carefully or as accurately. At The Language Factory, we use the same calibre of professional translators for translating verbatims as we do for your surveys. Each one understands nuances of the source language and is able to convey that same sense of satisfaction, happiness, dissatisfaction and sometimes even annoyance as the respondent felt when they were answering the question.


Recognising the need for speed at the latter stages of a project, The Language Factory has developed an in-house method for handling verbatim files in a timely way. Our system allows us to process repetitive answers like ‘I don’t know’ quickly and efficiently, saving our clients money and, often more importantly, time.


"Kris did an amazing job, very fast reply with detailed explanation. I received my translation earlier than expected with top quality service. I usually work with a lot of translating agencies but you are becoming my favorite! Thank you!"

Senior Project Manager Market Research Agency

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