Statistics for translators: some resources and a free online course

If you’re a medical translator, you’ll be used to coping with subject matter that falls outside the medical field itself. You have to speak some legalese for clinical trial agreements and protocol approvals, write creative marketing copy when a product is advertised on a website, and have a good grip on maths when translating statistical analyses in clinical trial reports.

With a basic grounding in applied maths and statistics at “A” level, I have improved my knowledge of statistics by reading up on the subject whenever I need to research a particular concept. Here are some resources that I use for looking up statistical terms in clinical trials:

  1. Wiley Online Library: Glossary of clinical trial and statistical terms. This is a 13-page glossary from “Design, Execution, and Management of Medical Device Clinical Trials” published in 2008 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. It provides down-to-earth explanations of clinical trial and statistical terms used in the book.
  2. ICH Topic E9: Statistical Principles for Clinical Trials. This guideline dates back to 1998 and aims to standardise statistical methodology applied to clinical trials in Europe, Japan and the United States. At the end there is a 4-page glossary covering general principles of statistics.
  3. The University of Glasgow statistics glossary. This is the most comprehensive glossary in my list. It isn’t specifically focused on clinical trials but it goes into much more detail for each term, with cross references linking to other terms in the glossary.

But even with these resources, I’d still like to deepen my knowledge of the subject, and so I’ve decided to enrol on a statistics course this autumn as part of my Continuing Professional Development.


A few weeks ago I came across a TED blog about Coursera, a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. There’s a range of subjects including Humanities, Medicine, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Business and Computer Science. It has grown exponentially since it was launched at the end of 2011 and there are now more than one million students enrolled on its courses.

Statistics One

So on 3rd September I start a 6-week course called Statistics One. This is an introduction to statistics given by Professor Andrew Conway at Princeton University. Each week there’ll be three one-hour video lectures and a data analysis assignment. The course syllabus looks like this:

  • Week one: Random sampling and assignment. Distributions.
  • Week two: Descriptive statistics. Measurement.
  • Week three: Correlation. Causality.
  • Week four: Multiple regression. Ordinary least squares.
  • Week five: Confidence intervals. Statistical power.
  • Week six: t-tests, chi-square tests. Analysis of Variance.

I’m really looking forward to the course and I’ll report back here when I’ve finished. In the meantime, have you taken any Coursera classes? Why not join me on this statistics course and we’ll be fellow students! Please add a comment below if you do.

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3 Responses to Statistics for translators: some resources and a free online course

  1. Silvia says:

    I do not have the time to take this course right now, but I took the pharmacology classes on Coursera and they were great and very illustrative. Good luck! Silvia from Argentina

    • Thanks, Silvia. I’ve just completed the first week and it’s very interesting so far. I downloaded the video webinars for the pharmacology course so that I can follow it in my own time as I only spotted it a month ago. Maybe you could do the same for the statistics course?

  2. Pingback: Writing for the Sciences | Signs & Symptoms of Translation

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