Medical writers have to adhere to numerous guidelines and regulations surrounding what can or cannot be said about a medical or a pharmaceutical product. Marketing language is even trickier, as copywriters have to transmit a message that captures the advantages of a product, at the same time staying within regulatory language constraints.
By the time medical and pharmaceutical promotional materials reach the stage of transcreation, a number of reviews have taken place in the source language. These reviews include compliance reviews and content audits, all of which fundamentally ensure that the promotional information matches exactly what the approved product does.
The first step in medical transcreation is, thus, ensuring the target version matches the exact meaning and intent of the original so as not to create compliance issues. At the same time, a good transcreator must be able to render impactful target language that carries the message of the original. Here are a few tips for linguists.
Understand the source. Medical marketing language, like any transcreated language, must transfer a message and its intended effect, not just words. Deliberate plays on words can sometimes obscure the real meaning. When in doubt, do not assume. Ask, so that you can fully understand the intended effect.
Preserve the reading level. The majority of transcreated content is meant for patients. A vastly accepted standard is to use simple language in these types of materials. Keep it that way.
Pay attention to conditional language. If the source uses conditional language like “might,” “may” and “could,” it is not an absolute statement. It means there is a possibility for something to occur. Keep it conditional.
Convert verbal forms into nominal statements (when appropriate). This is acceptable when an adaptation is needed in order to follow your target language rules. For example, many sentences in English start with gerund, like “Controlling your blood sugar level.” A literal translation could result in awkward or incorrect target language, so a nominal form that conveys the meaning (“Control of your blood sugar level”) is more desirable.
More importantly, never translate the English gerund as “How to.” In the language of compliance, only a “How to” is a “How to,” that is, a set of instructions, and the source language will clearly state it as such.
Flag any necessary cultural adaptations. For example, in English, it is customary to precede calls to action for patients with “please.” It is not the case in many other languages, so remove it as needed and make a note of it for the project manager/client.
Report any localization issues. If the text provides a customer support website or a phone number, but the website is not localized or the number does not offer a language choice, alert the project manager/client that a localization compliance issue exists, and a disclaimer should be added (e.g., “available only in English”).
Understand typesetting processes. Packaging is very important for medical products. If the target language expands, you need to be careful to render a transcreation that closely matches the number of characters and spaces in the source. Otherwise, you will be creating unnecessary work for everyone involved, including yourself, if the text does not fit.
Watch for proximity issues. Never under or over translate. Go over your rendition in the target language comparing carefully to the source, and ask yourself if the message and its impact will be exactly the same, while still being linguistically and culturally correct.
Lastly, be prepared for your transcreation to be challenged. Target language reviewers on the medical client side might question how certain things are said, or outright ask for changes based on compliance concerns, preferences, or lack of linguistic knowledge.