How to deal with translating pharmaceutical abbreviations (PT>EN)
Thread poster: G Gray

G Gray
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:00
Member (2018)
Spanish to English
Jan 12

Hello everyone,

I'm translating a report on an inspection of a pharmaceuticals company (Brazilian Portuguese to English) and I'm a bit confused about what to do with some abbreviations. There is a list of products in the following format:

PRODUCT NAME 30MG/G + 20MG/G CREM VAG CT TB AL X 35G

It's the part in bold that I'm struggling with. I've found Anvisa's list of abbrevations so I know that CT = cartuche and TB AL = Tubo de alumínio. But I am not sure how to translate these. I can't find equivalent abbreviations in English. I assume they are abbreviated for a reason, so writing out the words in full doesn't seem like an option. And leaving them as they are seems to be likely to cause confusion.

Has anyone had to deal with something like this before?


 

Kaspars Melkis  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:00
Member (2005)
English to Latvian
+ ...
you can't go wrong by spelling them out Jan 12

It depends what is the purpose of your translation. (This is another issue that translation agencies often do not tell their translators about the purpose or target audience.) But normally these things are not abbreviated in English or at least not in the way it happens in other languages. Specialist writing have a lot of abbreviations but mostly because it is faster and easier to type abbreviations. It would not be wrong to spell out them fully unless there are specific requirements such as limited space on packaging etc. Spelling them out in the report is fine, it reduces ambiguity and improves readability.

Teresa Borges
 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:00
Spanish to English
+ ...
My approach Jan 13

As I provide good service at reasonable rates, and in my opinion the people who use abbreviations should define them, I avoid this type of dilemma by having something like this in my terms and conditions:
"Clients should note that we cannot guarantee the translation of abbreviations and/or acronyms that have not been defined in the original text, except those most commonly used."


Teresa Borges
 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 06:00
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
@Georgia Jan 13

Is this the one? http://docplayer.com.br/52045512-Tiotrax-ems-s-a-creme-vaginal-150mg-5g-100mg-5g.html
Curiously enough the words "cartucho", 'tubo" and "alumínio" are never mentioned...


 

Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 07:00
Member
Italian to English
Refrain from posting unless you have field-specific knowledge Jan 13

Kaspars and neilmac, you are both missing the point entirely.

Kaspars Melkis wrote:

It would not be wrong to spell out them fully unless there are specific requirements such as limited space on packaging etc.


But that is the whole point of the asker's question - she is asking if there are specific requirements in this case.

neilmac wrote:

in my opinion the people who use abbreviations should define them


You're not serious, surely? Abbreviations are part and parcel of medical and pharmaceutical work, and translators working in these fields need to learn how to deal with the issue, rather than passing the buck and saying it's someone else's problem. That's not how it works.

Giorgia, while I've never come across this particular issue, my feeling is that they need to be left as abbreviations. I found this document which has some useful appendices at the end.

https://www.gnb.ca/0212/pdf/NBPDP_Formulary-e.pdf


writeaway
 

Kaspars Melkis  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:00
Member (2005)
English to Latvian
+ ...
the requirements depend on intended purpose Jan 13

Fiona Grace Peterson wrote:
But that is the whole point of the asker's question - she is asking if there are specific requirements in this case.


How could we possibly know if we are not even told who is the recipient or user of the report?

As far as language or pharmacy regulations go, there definitely no requirement to use abbreviations in the report. Product listings of pharmaceuticals have a lot of abbreviations because it is just practicality, keeps item names short and easy to reference.

I would like to defend neilmac as well. Good technical writing indeed requires that all abbreviations are defined. Most likely this report is only a part of a bigger package of related documents. If the translator was able to contact the author of the report directly, he or she would receive either the appropriate reference or explanation what these acronyms mean with an apology. However, in practice very often translation agencies are an obstacle between such communication and translators are left on their own to figure out and do extra work unnecessarily. This is an example where agencies cause negative value. All things considered, the extra work causes extra expenses but for agency it might be ok because they get higher margins as well.


 

Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 07:00
Member
Italian to English
@Kaspars Jan 13

In certain types of documents, certain acronyms are perfectly understandable to those familiar with the jargon.

Kaspars Melkis wrote:

Good technical writing indeed requires that all abbreviations are defined.


No, it doesn't, at least not always. In a medical report it is perfectly acceptable to write a whole sleuth of acronyms (MRI, ECG, EEG, PET) without having to explain these or write them out in full; indeed it might look somewhat odd if you did.


Kaspars Melkis
Michele Fauble
 

G Gray
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:00
Member (2018)
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
I think I will have to contact the client Jan 13

Thanks to everyone for their input.

In general, I deal with abbreviations on a case-by-case basis. Often there are abbreviations that I as the translator could not possibly translate, because they refer to the company's own departments, procedures, etc. In these cases I usually leave them as they are and hand in the work with a note about these abbreviations and update them if the client can clarify their meaning.

In this case, I do know the meaning of the abbreviation so I think it would be wrong to simply leave it. The main thing I would like to clarify is whether there do exist equivalent abbreviations in English, which appears not to be the case. Then it is a judgement call about whether or not the abbreviation is really necessary in this particular case (it appears to be information taken from the packaging, but as this is a report and not the packaging itself, perhaps it can be expanded).

The issue is often that when work comes through agencies, there is not enough time to ask questions and wait for answers, especially when it is assumed that the bulk of the work will be done over the weekend when there is no-one to respond to queries. In this case I will contact the agency because there doesn't appear to be an obvious solution. Thanks again!


 

Kaspars Melkis  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:00
Member (2005)
English to Latvian
+ ...
good publishing style Jan 15

Fiona Grace Peterson wrote:

No, it doesn't, at least not always. In a medical report it is perfectly acceptable to write a whole sleuth of acronyms (MRI, ECG, EEG, PET) without having to explain these or write them out in full; indeed it might look somewhat odd if you did.


They should be defined in any serious publication or report. If we are talking about doctors notes and records, then it is understandable that they will not be defined most of the time due to lack of time, overworked doctors and nurses, limited circle of readers who all are familiar with jargon and would actually prefer shorter messages anyway. But it would not be strange to see them written in full, especially if a document is intended to be read by patients.

As soon as you enlarge your audience or when the same medical records need to be translated for outside audience (courts, insurance, regulators, patient's relatives etc.), the proper style is to define them all, except for the most obvious like kg, °C, chemical formulas etc.

A case in point, the British Drug Formulary, now available as a free app on smartphone (only in the UK), has a section called Abbreviations and Symbols which includes all abbreviations used in the publication, including ECG.


 


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