Lost in translation: Assessing effectiveness of focus group questioning techniques to develop improved translation of terminology used in HIV prevention clinical trials

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Introduction: Achieving participant comprehension has proven to be one of the most difficult, practical, and ethical challenges of HIV prevention clinical trials. It becomes even more challenging when local languages do not have equivalent scientific and technical vocabularies, rendering communication of scientific concepts in translated documents extremely difficult. Even when bilingual lexicons are developed, there is no guarantee that participants understand the terminology as translated. Methods: We conducted twelve focus groups with women of reproductive age in Mwanza, Tanzania to explore the effectiveness of four questioning techniques for: (1) assessing participants’ familiarity with existing technical terms and concepts, (2) generating a list of acceptable technical and non-technical terms, (3) testing our definitions of technical terms, and (4) verifying participants’ preferences for terms. Focus groups were transcribed, translated, and qualitatively analyzed. Results and Discussion: A translation process that uses all four questioning techniques in a step-wise approach is an effective way to establish a baseline understanding of participants’ familiarity with research terms, to develop and test translatable definitions, and to identify participants’ preferred terminology for international HIV clinical research. This may help to ensure that important concepts are not “lost in translation.” The results emphasize the importance of using a variety of techniques depending on the level of participant familiarity with research concepts, the existence of colloquial or technical terms in the target language, and the inherent complexity of the terms.