Calling Clients for Clarification???
Thread poster: Dr. Jason Faulkner

Dr. Jason Faulkner  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:51
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
Sep 29, 2006

Here's another newbie question.

Often times in medical texts physicians use abbreviations that are less than standard, leaving the meaning ambiguous. In many instances, they invent words that they learned over the course of their career that do not exist in ANY medical text and won't get you a single Google hit (in Northern Mexico there is a commonly used triad of symptoms know as "latido, congojo, y pujo." Try finding that in the Merck Manual!) Since all my clients until now have been collegues here is Tijuana, I could just pick up the phone and ask for clarification. Now that I am "going global" I imagine there will be one if not several people between me and the author of the source text.

So my questions are:

Is there a mechanism for contacting a client if the meaning of something (especially abbreviations) is impossible to determine? Do the agencies do this on your behalf? What do you do when there simply is no way to determine the intended meaning of medical text?



Nicole Martin
Local time: 22:51
German to English
Contact the person or agency who gave you the project Sep 29, 2006

When I worked at a translation agency, our policy was to have the translators contact us if they needed clarification. Then we could contact the company who gave us the project.

If you think about it, the contact person who sent the work to the agency in the first place would be the best person to ask questions. They will either know the content themselves or at least, hopefully, know where to get answers. But a freelance translator probably wouldn't know who that contact person is. They may know what company the project came from in general, but it could be from one employee out of dozens, hundreds, even thousands. You would probably have to contact customer service and it could take a very long time to track down someone who could help you. But if you ask the agency, they can contact the right person directly and get the information. Or, they might even know themselves.

Maybe other agencies work differently and would prefer translators to contact the original company directly, but the only way to find out is to ask.

My advice: ask the agency or person who gave you the work directly, and see if they know the answer, if they will find it out for you, or if they will ask you to contact someone else.


Elke Fehling  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:51
Member (2005)
English to German
+ ...
Calling Clients... Sep 29, 2006

If you work for an agency, call the agency, don't ever call the client himself. Contacting the client and leaving out the agency might be confused with calling the agency and offering your service for a lower price... Don't do it!

Some translation agencies have special query forms for questions that might arise during translation. It's important that you try to collect your questions and don't call the agency every single time you aren't sure about a term or a phrase. If the agency doesn't provide a form, create it yourself. List the term in question, a possible solution and your comment.

Sometimes, however, there are so many uncertainties that I find it to be too much work to list every single question. In this case I try to inform the client/agency in time about my doubts. Sometimes they can arrange for the client to deliver a solution, sometimes I even talked to the agency's client and solved my problems in this manner. Sometimes I just mark the "doubtful" terms in my translation and inform my client about it.


[Bearbeitet am 2006-09-29 17:46]


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:51
English to Spanish
+ ...
Going Global Sep 29, 2006

If you're "going global" then you have to expect communication to become much more difficult and in many cases impossible when there are third party intermediaries involved.

You either have to be willing to deal with a lot of non-responsiveness or not "go global".


Paul Merriam  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:51
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Contact your client. Sep 30, 2006

The comment about contact the person who gave you the project is extremely important. Just because XYZ wrote the document does not mean that XYZ wants the document translated. (Maybe XYZ doesn't even know that your client has it.) Your client is the agency or person who is paying you to translate the document, not necessarily the author.

After you contact your client, don't hold back on delivery waiting for a reply. Your client may not know and may be unable to find out. In addition, particularly if your client is an agency, they may prefer to rework your product while waiting for the reply. (They may be reworking your product anyway.) If you have any questions you haven't received replies on, I'd recommend putting in your cover message something along the lines of "I sent questions and still don't have replies on the following items: ..." Often, I get messages saying "I have the following questions ..." (I work for an agency.)

Your clients may give you permission to talk to their clients. If they do, I recommend that when you call, you say something along the lines of "Good morning, Mr. A. I am B and am currently translating a document on behalf of Agency C for you. Ms. D there told me she didn't know the answers to certain questions and suggested I talk to you. ..." And I'd recommend you let your client bring up the issue of contacting their client instead of bringing it up yourself.


Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:51
Finnish to English
A lot of time and trouble Sep 30, 2006


I do quite a number of medical translations (patient reports, etc) and I am forever coming up against obscure abbreviations that no one on earth seems to understand - and I sometimes wonder if the person writing the report would. You could spend the rest of your life trying to discover the meaning of some of them, and it must be clear to end clients by now that this is a needless waste of time and energy.
Have a chat with the agent if there are such obscure markings and try to agree that they should best be ignored.
It does not sound very professional, perhaps, but you cannot do the impossible - although, as translators, that is often precisely what we do do.


Claire Titchmarsh (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:51
Italian to English
+ ...
Tell the agency as soon as possible Oct 1, 2006

You can't just ignore abbreviations or unfathomable terminology. They were put there for a reason, however obscure, and in legal or medical translations they might be essential. As soon as you come across something like that, well before the delivery date, if you're not dealing with a direct client, e-mail or phone the agency and ask them for clarification.

I find that 99 times out of 100 they reply saying "we have no idea and neither does the client, just leave it out", but at least you have done what you could.


Jesús Marín Mateos  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:51
English to Spanish
+ ...
Do your best..... Oct 2, 2006

I used to ask for clarification quite often and always got a bad feeling from the agencies I work for or no answer at all....I thought it would be wise not to bother any more and do my best.....I would add a comment in the email when I send the work if something is not clear....most of the time I never get any feedback re my question/comment.
No complains so far.......


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