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I have found an interesting paper which is very relevant to my research. After reading the abstract in English, I would like to continue to read through the methodology and its discussions. However, only the abstract is available in English, and the content is in another language which I don't know.

I really want to read through the content as some of the figures are very interesting to me. I have tried to translate it using Google Translate, but it is very difficult to understand.

Is it appropriate to send a polite email to the author, asking for a translation of your paper in English? Does the author have the obligation to do so?

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I guess what you can also do is to ask if the author has published in English another paper related to the one you have found. –  PatW May 27 at 8:23

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As far as I'm aware there is no obligation to provide a translation of a published paper from one language to another.

I think it would be rude to ask for a translation of a paper. However, it would generally be fine to enquire as to whether such a translation exists, or whether similar work has been published in English.

More broadly, it may be in the author's interests to provide an English translation in order to increase the impact of his or her work. If the work is really important to you, you could always pay for a translation. At the extreme end, perhaps where there are a large number of important works in a particular language, you may even want to learn the language.

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+1. If the author had a good command of English, he would probably have published in English in the first place. Therefore he probably doesn't speak English very well, and translating an entire article would be a nontrivial amount of work, perhaps a full working day or more. –  Stephan Kolassa May 27 at 6:21
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Im not sure how common it is, but around me the level of english has very little to do with publishing in english or not. It is usually a lower quality journal or conference with less chance of a connection to existing work being found. –  user1938107 May 27 at 6:25
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The reason for the language may be also related to the field and the funding body. For example, a comparative research in law enforcement across countries founded by a Spanish agency is more likely to be written in Spanish because they want it to be useful for their staff. –  Davidmh May 27 at 11:14
    
+1 for the 'pay for translation' suggestion, though there is a potential problem: if the paper is very technically-challenging, it may be very expensive to translate. For example, element/compound names between English/French (chemistry) may be difficult to translate, thus increasing the cost. –  Chris Cirefice May 27 at 17:00
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@ChrisCirefice: not to mention the challenge of actually finding someone that is both linguistically and technically competent enough to perform an accurate translation. In some cases the translator needs to actually understand the subject matter in its specific context - knowledge of the terminology in the wider domain is not enough. Being from Greece, I've often had a problem with technical books being mistranslated in subtle, yet important ways... Which is why, when possible, I avoid translated works completely... –  thkala May 28 at 9:31

Is it appropriate to send a polite email to the author, asking for a translation of your paper in English?

The answer to almost any question that starts with "Is it appropriate to send a polite email" is yes. You are of course allowed to ask.

That being said, if there is no English translation of the paper already available, to which the author can just point you, I am pretty certain that the answer will be "no". It seems very unlikely that the author translates an entire paper on your request into your language, basically so that you don't have to.

Does the author have the obligation to do so?

Of course not (and I strongly suggest not indicating anything along that line in the polite mail you are writing).

Let's assume for a second the paper is actually written in English, but you are a native speaker of a not very common language (Swedish, for instance). Assume further that your English is not very good and you cannot understand the paper well. You wouldn't feel entitled to having the author produce a Swedish version of the paper for you, would you?

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It is in an author's interest for his/her work to be read and cited; this is the reason most authors will be happy to hear from someone who is interested in their work (it is, after all, a potential citation-in-waiting…).

With a bit of luck, one of two things happens:

  1. She already has a translation of the work (or something close to it) which she happily shares
  2. She is willing to work with you on coming up with a good translation. This will involve some work on your part - she provides a "poor English" version which is sufficient for you (who are an expert in this field) to grasp; and in return for her help, you edit the document into a "good English" paper which you send her to say thanks for the help (so the next person gets option 1). You might even collaborate on improving the work and turn it into a joint publication in an English language journal.

An outcome such as the above would be a win-win. The only way to find out is to send a polite email.

There is NO OBLIGATION on the part of the author to respond or provide a translation - but assuming that she takes her role as an academic seriously, she ought to be happy to help you come to an understanding of her work.

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