Skip to Main Content
Problem: Questionnaires are a popular method used by global companies to gain understanding or assess various aspects of their businesses. However, using a questionnaire across cultures requires extra effort in translating it into the target language(s) and culture(s) because a good questionnaire developed in one language/culture may not necessarily “travel well” across cultures due to differences in meaning and interpretation. This tutorial synthesizes the extant research on cross-cultural communication and surveys, and provides guidance in preparing cross-cultural questionnaires. Concepts: Translation affects the design and development of questionnaires to be used across cultures in these ways: (1) It affects the theoretical concepts to be studied: indicators-questions about concrete elements that can be measured and constructs-a series of questions about abstract elements that cannot be measured directly and essentially represent an underlying concept. Constructs must be adapted into a specific cultural context to achieve accuracy in measurements. (2) Differences in the contexts-the overall cross-cultural research context (the setting and the purpose) and the cultural context (the participants and their cultural background) of the study-affect translation because concepts in the source culture might be applied differently or not exist in the target cultures. (3) Translation might unintentionally introduce bias by inadvertently changing the perceived meanings of terms and questions-creating bias in constructs, on individual items on the questionnaire, and in its administration. (4) Translation might affect equivalence of terms in the source and translated versions, including linguistic equivalence (that is, wording of items), semantics (meaning of a phrase or concept), and grammar and syntax. Suggestions: Given these concepts, consider the following items when translating questionnaires: (1) accurately adapt or adopt questions from existing instrum- - ents, (2) make sure that you adapt the language to suit the situation, (3) hire translators who understand research processes, (4) use the decentering approach (a process in which translators move back and forth amongst the languages, checking for cultural and linguistic accuracy) when preparing the actual translation, and (5) assess your overall translated questionnaire. The questionnaire assessment model is a resource for guiding the assessment.
Date of Publication: Dec. 2011