Methodological challenges in cross-language qualitative research: A research review

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Cross-language qualitative research occurs when a language barrier is present between researchers and participants. The language barrier is frequently mediated through the use of a translator or interpreter. The purpose of this analysis of cross-language qualitative research was threefold: (1) review the methods literature addressing cross-language research; (2) synthesize the methodological recommendations from the literature into a list of criteria that could evaluate how researchers methodologically managed translators and interpreters in their qualitative studies; (3) test these criteria on published cross-language qualitative studies. Data sources: A group of 40 purposively selected cross-language qualitative studies found in nursing and health sciences journals. Review methods: The synthesis of the cross-language methods literature produced 14 criteria to evaluate how qualitative researchers managed the language barrier between themselves and their study participants. To test the criteria, the researcher conducted a summative content analysis framed by discourse analysis techniques of the 40 cross-language studies. Results: The evaluation showed that only 6 out of 40 studies met all the criteria recommended by the cross-language methods literature for the production of trustworthy results in cross-language qualitative studies. Multiple inconsistencies, reflecting disadvantageous methodological choices by cross-language researchers, appeared in the remaining 33 studies. To name a few, these included rendering the translator or interpreter as an invisible part of the research process, failure to pilot test interview questions in the participant's language, no description of translator or interpreter credentials, failure to acknowledge translation as a limitation of the study, and inappropriate methodological frameworks for cross-language research. Conclusions: The finding about researchers making the role of the translator or interpreter invisible during the research process supports studies completed by other authors examining this issue. The analysis demonstrated that the criteria produced by this study may provide useful guidelines for evaluating cross-language research and for novice cross-language researchers designing their first studies. Finally, the study also indicates that researchers attempting cross-language studies need to address the methodological issues surrounding language barriers between researchers and participants more systematically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-287
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • International research
  • Interpreters
  • Qualitative research
  • Research methods
  • Translation
  • Translators

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing


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