I recently returned from Montreal, where I was attending the 23rd annual conference of the Canadian Association for Translation Studies. Because this year’s theme was methodology, Daniel Gile and Andrew Chesterman were the keynote speakers. In their presentations, they reminded us of the methodological problems that can arise in academic research and offered some solutions for preventing these kinds of problems. I won’t go over everything they said, but I will highlight a few points that were most relevant to me. In a few days, I’ll write another post about a presentation I really enjoyed on incorporating blogs into a terminology class.
Daniel Gile’s presentation focused on how to make research more rigorous. As Gile pointed out, one of the problems with doing research in translation studies is that the field is very interdisciplinary. Translation scholars often need to adopt research methods from other fields (literary studies, history, philosophy, sociology, etc.) but are not necessarily trained in these methods. He argued that translation researchers should therefore either work closely with researchers in other fields or specialize in one or two of these methods themselves. They also need to make sure that they have a basic understanding of other research methods so that they understand the advantages and disadvantages of the methods in which they’ve chosen to specialize.
Andrew Chesterman focused on a more specific aspect of research methodology, namely how to formulate an effective hypothesis. He emphasized that a good descriptive hypothesis needs to be testable (in various ways), have theoretical implications (i.e. it should counter or support other existing hypotheses), be applicable (i.e. relevant to practical or social problems), have surprise value (i.e. it should support criteria that are not generally accepted), and have explanatory power (i.e. it should explain causes, make sense of other data, help develops laws, provide context to specific cases, etc.). His presentation reminded me once again of how important it is to considerbefore you actually get started on a research projectwhether the results you’re likely to get will be useful. It’s one of the reasons I focus so much on applied research… I’m able to see the practical implications much more easily than I can with theoretical research. That’s not to say that theoretical research can’t be practical… It’s just that I can more easily draw links between practical problems translators face, such as how to decide what kinds of decisions are professionally ethical, and applied research like studying professional codes of ethics to see where gaps exist.
What these and other presentations underscored for me the need to collaborate with researchers from other fields when translation scholars are conducting research. The only catch that I could see was that the research would have to be of enough interest to the statistician or the sociologist for them to invest any time collaborating with the translation studies researcher. After all, if the sociologist is going to help design a survey or help analyze translator behaviour using social network analysis, the results would need to be valuable enough that co-authoring a paper with the translation studies researcher would benefit both parties. My resolution for next year’s conference is to make a point of attending presentations by academics working in other fields on projects that are similar to my own research interests (translation blogs, translator networks, translator motivations, crowdsourcing) so that I can see whether I can find someone else to collaborate with. Usually, when I attend these congresses, I’m so focused on attending the CATS presentations that I don’t have time to check out the other associations, but I’ve really seen the value in making contacts outside my field. After all, I can always swap translation services for some help mapping the networking behaviour of translators who blog. Any takers?