An exploratory study examining the influence of translation on the validity and reliability of qualitative data in nursing research

J Adv Nurs. 1997 Aug;26(2):418-23. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.1997.1997026418.x.


Although the complexity of undertaking qualitative research with non-English speaking informants has become increasingly recognized, few empirical studies exist which explore the influence of translation on the findings of the study. The aim of this exploratory study was therefore to examine the influence of translation on the reliability and validity of the findings of a qualitative research study. In-depth interviews were undertaken in Cantonese with a convenience sample of six women to explore their perceptions of factors influencing their uptake of Pap smears. Data analysis involved three stages. The first stage involved the translation and transcription of all the interviews into English independently by two translators as well as transcription into Chinese by a third researcher. The second stage involved content analysis of the three data sets to develop categories and themes and the third stage involved a comparison of the categories and themes generated from the Chinese and English data sets. Despite no significant differences in the major categories generated from the Chinese and English data, some minor differences were identified in the themes generated from the data. More significantly the results of the study demonstrated some important issues to consider when using translation in qualitative research, in particular the complexity of managing data when no equivalent word exists in the target language and the influence of the grammatical style on the analysis. In addition the findings raise questions about the significance of the conceptual framework of the research design and sampling to the validity of the study. The importance of using only one translator to maximize the reliability of the study was also demonstrated. In addition the author suggests the findings demonstrate particular problems in using translation in phenomenological research designs.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • China
  • Communication Barriers*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Nursing Methodology Research / standards*
  • Papanicolaou Test*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design / standards*
  • Translating*
  • United Kingdom
  • Vaginal Smears / psychology*