Good, fast, and cheap — are you chasing a unicorn?
Updated: Sep 27
The Life Sciences industry is heavily regulated and constantly under time pressure — which means that you can’t compromise quality, you can’t miss deadlines, and you can’t risk additional costs because you went with the wrong translation vendor. I’ll show you how you can get the best outcome in your translation project, as long as you stop looking for a mythical creature.
If you’re planning a medical translation project, you’re probably feeling the pressure to weigh the opposing forces of quality, speed, and cost against each other.
Let me introduce you to the Project Management Triangle (also known as Triple Constraint, Iron Triangle, or Project Triangle).
There are three key points in this triangle: good, fast, and cheap. You have a hard choice to make: you can have two, but never all three. There’s always a tradeoff:
Cheap and fast will result in lower quality work
Fast and good will be (significantly) expensive
Good and cheap will take a lot of time to happen
The question is: Is it true?
Well, I have good news and bad news.
The bad news: You really can’t have all three. Like unicorns, cheap, fast, and good translations do not exist.
The good news: When you have clearly defined priorities and work with the right translator in a genuinely collaborative spirit, you’ll get top-quality, on time, and at a reasonable price – which is way better than a cheap solution.
The cheapest translation may ultimately cost you more if you end up facing delays in your project and are forced to pay extra to have your existing translations re-worked.
So, if you replace “cheap” with “reasonable price,” you’re no longer chasing a unicorn. You’re on your way to achieve the best outcome — an error-free translation within your budget and ready by the time you need it.
Let’s see how you can make it happen:
A good translation must meet several criteria to be considered “good.” It has to be accurate — mistranslations and missing words or sentences can have devastating consequences. It has to be clear — the translation has to be easily comprehensible and well written. It has to be culturally and linguistically appropriate — the translation needs to be adapted to the target audience. Finally, it has to comply with international and local regulations.
What can you do to help ensure that you get a quality translation?
Work with a reliable, experienced translator. You’ll see that you’re halfway there just by choosing the right partner for your project.
Create consistency tools, such as a glossary and style guide, and share them with the translator.
Ensure that your source content is thoroughly reviewed, in the context of all your documentation, before translation. Don’t make constant changes to the source content.
Provide clear instructions to your translator, i.e. your target audience, the purpose of the translation, how to deal with specific industry terms and acronyms, etc.
Maintain an open communication channel with your translator. You’ll be able to address any question you or the translator might have before, during, and after the translation.
You have a tight deadline and need your translation as soon as possible. First of all, know your absolute deadline and work to ensure that you don’t create a false sense of urgency.
In other words, if you need your translation within two weeks, don’t ask for same-day delivery.
If your translation is indeed time-sensitive, there are steps that you can take to help the process:
Give your translator a heads-up as soon as possible. At this point, you can also request a budgetary quote — even if you don’t have the final version yet. Then block off the time needed and make sure that your content is ready by then.
Provide your translator all the reference material necessary to minimize time spent on research and queries.
Work with a translator who has the necessary tools to optimize the translation process, namely translation, terminology management, and quality assurance software (known as Computer-Assisted Translation [CAT] tools).
Make yourself available to respond to any queries that the translator might have during the translation.
Although cost and quality are often believed to be in opposition, there are ways to guarantee a quality translation while avoiding unnecessary expenses (e.g., rush fees, additional hourly fees to perform linguistic and formatting checks, etc.).
Use your translation budget wisely by:
Planning as far ahead as you can and scheduling the translation step as early as possible.
Keeping your content and team organized by doing as much up-front work as possible. This includes ensuring that all your graphics are editable and providing the translator with the files in their native format whenever possible.
Remaining consistent across projects. CAT tools are designed to enable the use of past translations. If you can leverage your content, you’ll save time – and money.
Now, you and I both know that projects may get sidetracked. There will be times when you truly need a translation that was “due yesterday.”
A good translator will do his or her best to help you, and if you have these steps in mind, you’ll get exactly what you need — a good, fast, and reasonably priced translation.
Ana Sofia is an English to Portuguese medical translator and writer working with Life Sciences companies, Contract Research Organizations, and Medical Communication agencies. She has experience translating and writing content for clinical trials, medical devices, regulatory submissions, education and marketing campaigns, and scientific publications.