2 posts categorized "Research participants"

July 16, 2018

How to Quote Research Participants in Translation

Chelsea blog 2 by Chelsea Lee

Dear Style Expert,

How do I format quotations from research participants who I interviewed as part of my work when those quotations are in a foreign language? Do I have to present the quotation in both the original language and in translation, or do I present only the original or only a translation? How do I cite these quotes? Help me, please!


Dear reader,

Before we dig into the foreign-language aspects of this question, read the blog post on how to discuss research participant data in general, including how to present participant quotations that do not require translation and how to assign pseudonyms to participants. That post also explains the rationale for why research participant quotations do not have typical APA Style citations and reference list entries.

Now, presenting a research participant quotation that was originally in a foreign language is largely the same as presenting a quotation that does not require translation. You have the option of presenting just a translation of the quotation or of presenting both the original and the translation. You might choose to present both languages if you want to draw attention to how something was said in the foreign language (e.g., if you are conducting a linguistic analysis or a qualitative study), especially if your readers are multilingual. Otherwise, presenting just the translation is fine. We do not recommend presenting the original without a translation, as your readers might not understand it!

Presenting Quotations in Two Languages

If you want to present a research participant’s quotation in both a foreign language and in translation, the method of doing so is largely the same as for foreign-language quotations from published sources: Place quotations of less than 40 words in quotation marks, and place quotations of 40 words or more in a block quotation. After the foreign-language quotation, place an English translation of the quotation in square brackets. However, there is no citation per se, for two reasons: because it is unethical to report personally identifying information about participants and because you do not need to cite your own research in the paper in which you are first reporting it.

Rather than cite the participant’s quotation, you should attribute the quotation to a pseudonym in the text; there is no reference list entry. Here are two examples:

Short quotation in translation:

Participant M said, “Estoy muy satisfecho con mi vida ahora que tengo hijos” [“I am very satisfied with my life now that I have children”].

Long quotation in translation:

Participant M continued,

Convertirse en madre me hizo sentir como un adulto, más que graduarme de la universidad, conseguir un trabajo, o vivir solo. Ahora entiendo mi propósito mejor. Estoy más centrado y motivado. Al mismo tiempo, entiendo que mi elección no es para todos. [Becoming a mother made me feel like an adult, even more than graduating from college, getting a job, or living by myself. Now I understand my purpose better. I am more focused and motivated. At the same time, I understand that my choice is not for everyone.]

Presenting Quotations Only in Translation

If you want to present a participant’s quotation only in translation, follow the method shown in the post on discussing research participant data: Present quotations of fewer than 40 words in quotation marks and quotations of 40 words or more in a block quotation, and attribute the quotation to a pseudonym.  

Although the quotation is technically a paraphrase because it is a translation, retain the quotation marks/block quotation format because the quotation represents speech. Then, indicate that the quotation is a translation. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. If your paper contains only a few translated participant quotations, note the translation in square brackets after each quotation. If your paper contains many translated participant quotations, state only once that you have translated all such quotations. You can explain this in the regular text or via a footnote. You can use any wording you like to indicate that you have done the translation yourself.

One translation noted in square brackets:

Participant B remarked, “My physical therapist helped me to regain my strength in not only my muscles but in my heart” [my translation from German].

All translations explained at once in the narrative: 

In this paper, I have translated all quotations from French into English. Participant A said, “My social anxiety made it difficult for me to function in the university environment.”

Other Questions?

If your quotation is from a published source rather than a research participant, please see our posts on that topic:

Do you have other foreign-language quotation questions? Leave a comment below.

six stick figure people say "hello" in various languages

August 22, 2013

Let’s Talk About Research Participants

Chelsea blog 2  Jeff blogby Chelsea Lee and Jeff Hume-Pratuch

In this post you will learn how to present data gathered during surveys or interviews with research participants that you conducted as part of your research. You may be surprised to learn that although you can discuss your interview and survey data in a paper, you should not cite them. Here’s why.

Retrievability Versus Confidentiality

Three hands

In APA Style, all sources must provide retrievable data. Because one purpose of references is to lead the reader to the source, both the reference entry and the in-text citation begin with the name of the author. But rules for the ethical reporting of human research data prohibit researchers from revealing “confidential, personally identifiable information concerning their patients, . . . research participants, or other recipients of their services” (APA Publication Manual [PM]; 6th ed., § 1.11, p. 16; APA Ethics Code, Standard 4.07). In other words, you must prevent the reader from identifying the source of information.

In this clash of principles, which one should triumph? The value of protecting participants’ confidentiality must always win out. “Subject privacy . . . should never be sacrificed for clinical or scientific accuracy” (PM § 1.11)—not even for APA Style.

Strategies for the Discussion of Research Participant Data

Although you don’t cite data you gathered from research participants, you can discuss them, provided that you preserve the confidentiality you guaranteed the participants when they consented to participate in your study (see PM § 1.11). In practical terms, this means that “neither the subject nor third parties (e.g., family members, employers) are identifiable” (PM, p. 17) from the information presented.

Strategies for the ethical use of data from research participants include the following:

  • referring to participants by identifiers other than their names, such as
    • their roles (e.g., participant, doctor, patient),
    • pseudonyms or nicknames,
    • initials,
    • descriptive phrases,
    • case numbers, or
    • letters of the alphabet;
  • altering certain participant characteristics in your discussion of the participants (e.g., make the characteristics more general, such as saying “European” instead of “French”);
  • leaving out unimportant identifying details about the participant;
  • adding extraneous material to obscure case details; and
  • combining the statements of several participants into a “composite” participant.

Choose the strategy that makes sense given the degree of confidentiality of information you must maintain and what details are important to relate to the reader. Keep in mind that in employing these strategies it is essential that you not “change variables that would lead the reader to draw false conclusions related to the phenomena being described” (PM, p. 17). 

Examples of How to Discuss Research Participant Data

Here are a few examples of how participant data might be presented in the text. The most appropriate presentation will depend on context.

  • One respondent stated she had never experienced a level of destruction similar to that caused by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
  • “Madge,” a 45-year-old Red Cross social worker, was in Sichuan province when the earthquake struck. “It was unlike anything else I have experienced,” she said.
  • MJ, a European social worker, said the earthquake was “unlike anything else I have experienced.”
  • A non-Chinese social worker said the 2008 Sichuan earthquake “exceeded levels of devastation I have ever seen before.”
  • Case 24 was injured in the earthquake.
  • Participant M said she had never experienced anything like the earthquake or its level of devastation.
  • Several employees of a humanitarian aid organization said that they were emotionally distressed by the devastation the earthquake left behind.

Data can also be presented in a table or figure provided these same standards are abided by. 

Going on the Record

If the research participant is willing to go "on the record," or include his or her name in the paper, use a personal communication citation (see PM § 6.20). In that case, you should write up the material you intend to use, present it to the participant, and get his or her written permission before including it (see PM § 1.11). In your paper, the information might be presented as follows:

  • M. Johnson (personal communication, May 16, 2008), a Red Cross social worker who assisted in the Sichuan earthquake recovery efforts, stated that “the earthquake exceeded levels of devastation I have ever seen before.”

Further Reading

The issues surrounding participant privacy in research reporting are complex and exceed what can be presented in this post. For further reading, consult the APA Publication Manual (6th ed., § 1.11) as well as the APA Ethics Code

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