I noted from a previous paper I worked on, that when it was published an abstract was included in Spanish as well as English (https://bjssjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/bjs.11422 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31976560). The article itself was in English.

I have had another article accepted with a different journal and publisher. I asked the editorial team if they would like abstract translations and they stated that they don't really publish abstract translations alongside the English abstract. I had the impression they had perhaps not thought of it before.

  1. Is there benefit, such as for the article to be found in foreign language search results and potentially reach more readers, to providing translations of the abstract (even if the paper itself is in English)? I have lots of co-workers who are fluent in several languages and could provide abstracts in different languages fairly easily and for free.

  2. If a publishing journal does not do this, is there benefit to putting up translated abstracts on ResearchGate or some other website with a link to the online version of the published article at the journal website?

EDIT 04/05/2020: I recently submitted a different article to different medical journal (a BMJ subsidiary journal) and they had a specific section in the submission process which was for uploading of foreign language abstracts. So I think it is something forward-thinking journals are starting to do but not all journals are doing it yet.

  • If there was benefit then all would do it... Also, who would “rate” the translation - or are you expecting all reviewers to be working in two or more languages? It is often difficult to find a reviewer as it is. – Solar Mike Apr 19 at 7:24
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    @SolarMike Someone paid by the journal? – Federico Poloni Apr 19 at 8:15
  • @FedericoPoloni do journals pay reviewers? If not, why would they pay anyone else? – Solar Mike Apr 19 at 8:28
  • I had assumed the abstract wouldn't need to be rated/peer reviewed, it would just be a translation. Perhaps this is rarely done at the moment due to convention. The key question is, when people search for words which might let them find your paper in another language, e.g. on Google or some other online search, will your paper be found by that person if you have an abstract translation in their language? If you list your abstract on your ResearchGate in 10 languages with links to the published English version, will more people be directed to your paper? Or does it simply not work like that? – croc7415 Apr 22 at 9:16

I am Spanish, so I think I can argue why it would make sense to publish abstracts in two languages, in some fields, based on the Spanish context.

Most people in Spain are not fluent in English, and many have a lot of trouble understanding even the basics. This is more true when you consider older people, some of whom studied French as a second language, rather than English, which is currently the overwhelming choice.

Most people actively carrying out STEM research (I will leave out humanities since I don't know much about the situation there) will be able to read and write technical documents in English, however some papers are intended to be used also by people who are not actively engaged in research. Obvious cases are most engineers and those medics who do mostly only clinical work. Even many clinical research studies carried out in Spain are published in Spanish, because 1) many medics who can benefit from the information would not be able/willing to read it in English, 2) the authors are not able/willing to write in English, or a combination thereof. The paper you link is in a field of medicine, so it does not surprise me at all that the abstract is also in Spanish.

That said, I do not believe that in my particular field, physics, where the overwhelming majority of people interested in reading a research article are themselves actively engaged in research (and therefore routinely exposed to technical English), we would benefit from bilingual abstracts.

So, in summary, it makes sense in some fields but not in others.

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In my experience, most journals that publish bilingual abstracts do that for historical reasons: the journal of the Sikinian (invented country) mathematical society used to publish articles in Sikinian, then in Sikinian or English, then Sikinian was slowly phased out but bilingual abstracts remained. I don't think abstract translations have a significant impact today, at least in the sciences; they are just a vestigial thing.

It might be different in humanities; as far as I understand in some fields of classical studies people write in their own language, and everyone is supposed to being able to read articles (and listen to talks) in 3-4 different languages.

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I would like to add another reason to have an abstract in another language. In some fields, the subject of the research is not in a country where English is the main language. So it is very useful for the people of that country to at least be able to read the abstract.

For example, a research on health issues in Brazil published by researchers from another country. I have seen more and more of these example in countries such as Spanish-speaking, Africa with French, or south-east Asia with the local languages.

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