Translation Briefs – deciding how to do your translation


There are many different ways of producing a good translation. A translation brief is a place to record the decisions we make as a team so we can agree together how we are going to translate and ensure consistency for our audience. Lines with a star* don’t need to be answered immediately, but should be addressed early on with input from a consultant. Nor is this list exhaustive. Whenever the team encounters an issue that will affect the whole project, the team’s decision should be recorded here for future reference. Consultants should help the team remain faithful to their brief.


This translation brief can be placed within the OTH (Other Material) book in a team’s back translation Paratext project. Locating it here will ensure that the latest version is always easily accessible, keep it clear from project-wide Paratext checks, and allow consultants to edit it.

Where did this outline come from?

Over several workshops over several years at NBTT the issue of translation briefs was discussed. Several consultants noted times when teams went ’round in circles’ over particular issues because every translator brought a different assumption to their work. So in May 2016, Ben Kuwitzky, Pat Rosendall, David Rowbory and Jonathan Barnhoorn produced the following outline as a basis for Nigerian Bible translation teams developing translation briefs. The outline is not a brief, but it is a series of topics or questions that a team must discuss before they make much progress in translating the Bible.

If you develop a translation brief from this outline that you would like to share with others, please send it to us, or make a comment below.

A common ‘translation brief’ outline for Nigeria

Translation Philosophy (What are we doing?)

  • Definition (what is distinctive about the project? Who is involved?)
  • Goal (primary and secondary audience, function)
  • Type of translation (formal/informal, foreign/domestic, etc.)
  • Medium of delivery (primary and secondary)

Text and Exegesis (What meaning do we translate?)

  • Base text (canon, order, textual variants)
  • Source texts: (May relate to paragraphing, quotation marks, section headings, etc.)
  • How to settle interpretive problems? (follow a certain translation, ambiguity)
  • Exegetical resources

Translation Principles (How do we express the meaning?)

  • Weights, measures, currencies: how to translate?*
  • Policy on adding explanation in quoted speech*
  • Policies on how to achieve consistency in repeated terms, phrases, parallel passages, etc.*

Language (How do we use the language?)

  • Use of borrowed words
  • Use of traditional religious language
  • Dialectal issues
  • Spelling of names
  • Orthographical issues (hyphenation, etc. – not exhaustive, but supplementary to the reading/writing book)*
  • Punctuation (colons, semicolons, brackets, commas, etc.)*

Formatting/Extra Material (How do we present it?)

  • Book introductions (purpose, content, format, source)*
  • Section headings: capitalization, tense, grammar, etc.?
  • Cross-references*
  • Footnotes: OT quotations, textual issues, background information*
  • Endnotes*
  • Book names (long, short, abbreviations)*
  • Glossary (what terms to include, how to produce definitions, etc)*
  • Type of Index*
  • Poetical format*
  • Quotations (continuers, quotes within quotes, etc.)
  • Textual issues (footnotes, missing verses, textual variants, etc.)*
    • -include templates for introducing them
  • Illustrations and maps*