Research Methodologies in Translation Studies

This semester, I’m teaching our newly created, MA-level Research Methods in Translation Studies course (more on that in a future post), so Gabriela Saldanha and Sharon O’Brien’s recent book, Research Methodologies in Translation Studies (St. Jerome, 2013/Routledge, 2014), couldn’t have come at a better time.

While I was deciding how to organize the course, I leaned heavily on the structure of the book, which opens with a chapter on principles and definitions, and then delves into product-oriented, process-oriented, participant-oriented, and context-oriented research before ending with a section about how to structure a research paper. With only six chapters (excluding the introduction), it doesn’t align perfectly with a 12-week course, but some of the topics it covers in a single chapter (e.g. product-oriented research) can certainly be split into two or even three class sessions, with students exploring, say, critical discourse analysis one week and corpus linguistics the next.

In terms of content, the chapters offer exactly what I was looking for: comprehensive overviews of the research methods at hand, discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of each, and brief reviews of key publications. The section on process-oriented research, for instance, covers introspection, key-stroke logging and eye-tracking methods. The authors explore the advantages and disadvantages of each, consider the various challenges involved in collecting and analyzing data using these methods, and briefly discuss the research questions that have already been tackled by TS scholars. Particularly helpful were the references to the hardware/software most commonly used to do this kind of research (e.g. keystroke logging software Translog, which I was familiar with, and eye-tracker developer Tobii, which I was not).

When Magdalena Bartlomiejczyka reviewed Research Methodologies in Translation Studies for the Translator and Interpreter Trainer earlier this year, she noted that the book was probably too advanced for BA- or MA-level researchers. I certainly agree that BA students would likely be intimidated by the breadth of research methods covered here; this semester, for example, many of my undergraduate students felt overwhelmed by the quantity of information in the “Quality of Translation” entry from the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, so I imagine that reading through some of the details in this book would have much the same effect on them, given that they haven’t yet been exposed to much translation theory and research.

I do, though, think that MA-level students (and PhDs too, of course) would find this book helpful: in general, it is comprehensive without being overwhelming, and for students who are unsure of the kinds of research they would like to do, the book gives them a good idea of the possibilities available to them, as well as the challenges they will likely face when they actually start their projects. I didn’t assign this book as a required textbook in my MA class this year, because instead I wanted my students to read journal articles as examples of research projects that use the methods in question, but as I’ve been preparing lecture and discussion materials, there is little I’ve needed to simplify for my students, and much that I might have otherwise overlooked.

The book is not primarily intended as a textbook for teaching research methods (or at least the authors do not specifically mention instructors when describing the intended audience), so it does not include related pedagogical exercises for the classroom. I’d have liked these, even if the exercises were offered only in a companion website rather than the book itself. Nonetheless, exercises are easy enough to develop based on the existing content: Saldanha and Brien offer, for instance, many examples of the challenges researchers will face when planning and conducting various kinds of research projects. Instructors can easily look to these examples when designing related problem-solving activities. (E.g. Having students work in groups to brainstorm responses to questions like: “What tools would help you effectively study the working process of translators in a busy, open-plan office?” or “How would you design a corpus to ensure it is representative of a wide range of literary translations?”). In short, I think both instructors and researchers (whether they are novices looking for an overview of existing research methods or more experienced researchers looking to adopt a new methodology) will find the book a helpful introduction to the kinds of Translation Studies research that can be done, the challenges researchers will face when planning and conducting this research, and the ways these challenges can be addressed.

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