Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ask to see it first

Corinne McKay, in her excellent blog Thoughts on Translation, recently had an informative post on whether translators should be paid by the word or by the hour.

After a paragraph detailing the advantages of pricing by the word, she starts to mention the disadvantages:

Pricing by the word has an obvious disadvantage from the translator’s side, which is that you are agreeing to work for a flat and fixed rate. So, when you get to those three pages of barely legible handwriting, or the document that’s been scanned, faxed and photocopied eight times before arriving in your inbox, you have to decide whether you need to negotiate a higher per-word rate.

All true, but that's why one should always ask to see the project first, and only then quote on it. In the case of handwritten documents, and the like, also, quoting by the source word makes little sense: much better to provide a quote by the target word (unless one wants to spend time counting words on paper).

My standard answer for requests such as those mentioned above is normally:

Our estimate for the work is X dollars, based on the information you provided and our standard rate of X cents / word. We calculate the word count on the source language, except for documents not available in editable electronic format, for which the word count is calculated on the target text. For handwritten and other hard-to-read documents, there is a minimum fee of X dollars / document. Please note that this is an estimate only. We can provide a binding quote, and confirm our availability for the job, only after seeing the actual documents to translate.


  1. Riccardo, thanks for the link and for the great post. You are so right about seeing the document before committing; excellent advice!

  2. :) Not only for the quality of the layout, but also for the topic and the level of complexity. I never take any work unless I see the original I have to translate... :)


  3. I read Corrine's post and this. Good points. I run an agency that deals in documents from law firms, which are often messy, illegible, PDF scans of old re-faxed handwritten letters, etc.

    It always makes sense to review the document first. And to set a minimum charge for handwritting or tables with small fonts, for example. But switching from per-word to per-hour is prickly because it runs contrary to pricing standards (in my realm) and it makes the agency's task of quoting a bit too fluid. Extending a higher rate per-word to a translator seems fair.

    What also evens things out is, I don't expect a translator to charge less because, in an easy text, he can breeze through at 900 words per hour. And I try not to give any one translator all the awful stuff.

  4. I always ask my clients to let me have a look at the document to be translated first before providing a quote or committing to taking the job on not only to avoid the aformentioned problems but also to get an idea of the actual time involved. Sometimes it is necessary to do some Internet research to confirm the proper usage of the latest jargon in a particular field. As we all know, we need to be able to provide not only a technically correct translation but also the right style for the target audience, which might require a bit more time than original expected.

  5. Why not charging a per word rate for services such as typing or OCR? Although I've been lucky enough not to have a single hardcopy to translate, that's what I offer to my customers.
    And I agree with all of you: I wouldn't translate something without seeing it first!


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