Common mistakes in life sciences localization and how to avoid them

Life sciences are one of the most complex and challenging localization niches anyone could take on — and because of this, there are many common mistakes LSPs and translators make regarding the localization of material from the life sciences sector. MultiLingual‘s new issue on life sciences, which just went live today, addresses more of these challenges.

Translator mistakes

Translators sometimes misunderstand what localization actually is, and what follows after their work is completed. They are so focused on getting their life sciences terminology right, they forget about formatting and other aspects of localization. They may believe that the translation process is all they need to take care of, and forget about the quality assurance and other processes. However, translation is only one step of an in-depth localization process.

Another mistake is a lack of, or only a vague understanding of, what life sciences are. Therefore, translators accept a translation project they should turn down. Some translators pretend to be experts in life sciences when they are not.

For example, many translators and LSPs believe that biology is the foundation of life sciences. They might be in expert in biology, but there are other subjects that they are not experts in. Lack of knowledge of what life sciences are and what they include lead to translation mistakes and wrong use of resources.

But what is the solution? Turning down life sciences projects seems to be a waste. My recommendation would be to know what resources to use.

  1. The Ultimate Glossary of Life Science Terms and Acronyms

The life sciences sector is extensive and complex. We see more terms, acronyms and phrases being used than we ever have before. This is going to continue to be the case. With new technology and new therapeutics being developed all the time, attempting to put a name on pharma terms can become overwhelming.

This glossary comprises life science terms, terminology, acronyms and abbreviations. If you are a translator, you might know some, but you definitely won’t know all of them. This resource contains 450 terms that will make your life sciences project a lot less complicated.

  1. Northwestern Glossary

Every translator knows you cannot translate what you do not understand. Thus, monolingual dictionaries and glossaries are crucial. This glossary provided by Northwestern University is a reliable source for researching terminology. The glossary is structured in alphabetical order, which facilitates quick and easy research.

  1. Oxford Reference

Oxford Reference is my favorite resource. Every life sciences LSP and translator needs to use it. With more than 72,000 entries and 15 highly reliable and high-quality books to choose from, Oxford Reference provides all the information you need.

The most amazing aspect about Oxford Reference is that it covers a wide range of different subjects.

LSP mistakes

When LSPs are approached by potential clients from the life sciences sector, there are common and similar mistakes that I see being made. A critical mistake LSPs make when choosing their life sciences translators is that they do not sufficiently test. Another is that they lack technical knowledge of life sciences.

Is the translator truly an expert? Here are some of the questions an LSP should ask when selecting a translator: does the translator have translation experience in the life sciences field? How many words have they (approximately) translated for that particular subject? Have they worked for a life sciences company before? Is someone proofreading the translation? Is the linguist translating the translation themselves? What tools does the translator use for quality assurance? Is there a level of consistency among the life sciences terminology? Extensive testing is critical.

The life sciences industry comprises a wide range of subjects. When selecting a translator, you want to make sure that they have worked with that particular subject matter before.

Another common mistake that LSPs make is that they do not know about regulations. The life sciences industry is one of the most strictly regulated industries in the world. For translators, those regulations can make life complicated. Translation agencies have to know that their translators are aware of those regulations.

There are many important regulations, but here are a couple.

ISO 17100

ISO 17100:2015 provides requirements for the core processes, resources, and other aspects necessary for the delivery of a quality translation service that meets applicable specifications. Since life sciences localization is complex, ISO 17100 is critical.

Any serious LSP should aim to get ISO certified. It is important to be able to provide the highest possible quality. ISO 17100 ensures this by applicable industry codes, best-practice guides and legislation. Applicable specifications can include those of the client, of the TSP itself, and of any relevant industry codes, best-practice guides, or legislation.

Additionally, the use of the raw output from machine translation plus post-editing is outside the scope of ISO 17100.


Acts like HIPAA are in place to protect patient confidentiality and protected health information, and translation agencies are legally required to follow it.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule establishes national standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information and applies to health plans, health care clearinghouses, and those health care providers that conduct certain health care transactions electronically.

The Rule requires appropriate safeguards to protect the privacy of personal health information and sets limits and conditions on the uses and disclosures that may be made of such information without patient authorization. The Rule also gives patients rights over their health information, including rights to examine and obtain a copy of their health records, and to request corrections.

Reputable LSPs should also work in accordance with ISO 9001, ISO 27001 or ISO 17100 regulations, which cover translation quality standards and information security. There are also European and national regulatory bodies that have specific translation terminology that needs to be kept to.

Client mistakes

Life sciences companies should avoid ordering translation with providers that are not certified. According to Deloitte, the life sciences sector is at an inflexion point.

To prepare for the future and remain relevant in the ever-changing business landscape, biopharma, and medtech companies will be looking at new ways to create value by expanding into a new market.

Businesses in the life sciences industry invest money into growing their companies, especially when they start business operations in a new market. This expansion would not be feasible without localization.

Another mistake companies from the life sciences sector make is that they pick the wrong LSP. There are plenty of translation companies and LSPs out there. But how do you know which one is right for your life sciences translations?

Different documents require different styles. Discuss what kind of style you are looking for with your LSP. Is it formal or informal? They should be able to recommend which style is right for you.

Next, make sure they know the right terminology. A good LSP will be able to give you a list of resources, termbases and so on. Ask for blind CVs of the linguists who translate your documents. Most translation agencies keep CVs on record. By looking at their CV, you can make sure that their linguists are life science experts. If you are not convinced, ask for references.

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David Beckett
David is a German to English translator at He also opened his translation agency in Vancouver last year. His agency specializes in eCommerce, marketing, legal and financial translations.


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