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How many words per hour is considered safe/realistic/sustainable?
Thread poster: Merab Dekano

Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Oct 23, 2014

I have not rigorously followed my output in terms of word count. Until yesterday. I counted the words I translated and divided it by the number of hours I dedicated to that particular project (pretty much an “average” text, in terms of complexity). The outcome is as follows:

1.787 words / 6 hours = 298 words per hour (EN > ES)

6 hours comprises translation, proofreading, polishing, editing = what I call a “finished product”. It also comprises terminology research, the time I dedicate to create a subfolder for that particular project, importing the file into my CAT tool, glossary update, coffee, bathroom visits, everything.

I know this is ridiculous and, seteris paribus, I would not be interested in how many words I can do. However, there is a good reason why I should be able to “quantify” my output.

The fact is that some otherwise very professional and friendly agencies, time to time ask me if I can take on about 2.000 word project to be translated and submitted in, say, 2,5 hours’ time. That’s staggering 800 words per hour. Yesterday I had to decline the project, as I was busy with another one. However, had I not been busy, I would not have been able to accept it anyway, as that would call for a “guess work” rather than for a quality translation. I tried to extend the deadline and promised myself to work during the night (I could finish it at 3am), but the agency (probably, their client) was absolutely keen on that deadline.

Here goes the question:

What is a “yardstick” in terms of per hour output? I know skills, experience, language pair, subject matter, complexity, format, etc., etc. will influence this particular “KPI”. However, it would be interesting to know “on average” what can one consider safe/realistic/sustainable.

Thanks in advance for your input.


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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:04
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
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I did a 4000 word job within 8 hours last week Oct 23, 2014

That is 500 words an hour. However, after you have worked 8 hours in a row, you have to completely relax for 4 hours doing nothing.

I was asked to provide an "acceptable" translation draft, and their editor was assigned to take it over and edit my draft in the subsequent 4 hours. so my case was different to yours in that I was not supposed to produce a "finished" file. If I was asked to deliver a printer-ready version, I would need at least 12 hours. This means my output should be around 350 words per hour for a translation + editing + proofreading task.

Hope this helps.


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
How do they do it? Oct 23, 2014

jyuan_us wrote:

That is 500 words an hour. However, after you have worked 8 hours in a row, you have to completely relax for 4 hours doing nothing.

I was asked to provide an "acceptable" translation draft, and their editor was assigned to take it over and edit my draft in the subsequent 4 hours. so my case was different to yours in that I was not supposed to produce a "finished" file. If I was asked to deliver a printer-ready version, I would need at least 12 hours. This means my output should be around 350 words per hour for a translation + editing + proofreading task.

Hope this helps.


Thanks very much. I do recall having “pushed” myself for similar output, but that happens occasionally and, as you rightly pointed out, you are kind of “bushed” afterwards for coming 3 – 4 hours.

The question that bothers me is the following. If I declined that “800 words per hour” project, somebody did accept it and hopefully delivered it. How do they do it? Are they “super translators”? Nietzsche come to mind.


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Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:04
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Not doable Oct 23, 2014

I think it's reasonable to translate 2-3000 words per day, depending on your experience and the subject matter (more if there are repetitions/matches of course). I won't usually commit to more than 2000 per day to build in a bit of extra leeway in case I need it.

I've never really worked out how many words I can do per hour, and I think it varies too much to make this a useful calculation anyway. I would assume that I can do 1000 words over the course of a morning or afternoon. I definitely wouldn't take 2000 words for a 2.5 hour deadline!


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
And you enjoy your work too Oct 23, 2014

Rachel Waddington wrote:

I think it's reasonable to translate 2-3000 words per day, depending on your experience and the subject matter (more if there are repetitions/matches of course). I won't usually commit to more than 2000 per day to build in a bit of extra leeway in case I need it.

I've never really worked out how many words I can do per hour, and I think it varies too much to make this a useful calculation anyway. I would assume that I can do 1000 words over the course of a morning or afternoon. I definitely wouldn't take 2000 words for a 2.5 hour deadline!


Thanks, Rachel. 2-300 words also makes your work enjoyable and you are proud of your output.

But again, the question remains: how on earth can they do it? And why do reputable agencies and professional PMs "demand" such otherwise unrealistic deadlines? I hate to say "no" to my good customer. I am willing to "push" myself when the occasion demands it, but I cannot take on 800 words an hour, unless I MT-translate it and then "edit" it, which I have not ever done (professionally).


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Matthias Brombach  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 22:04
Member (2007)
English to German
+ ...
Take drugs... Oct 23, 2014

like amphetamines, please your customer and ruin the translation industry and your health.

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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 22:04
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I always say 2000 words per day per client Oct 23, 2014

Merab Dekano wrote:
1.787 words / 6 hours = 298 words per hour (EN > ES)
6 hours comprises translation, proofreading, polishing, editing = what I call a “finished product”.


The bulk of my work is not the "finished product" type of work (i.e. I'm to deliver a file in some CAT format, and I'm not the person responsible for finishing touches on the final file). So for me, the only steps are translation and re-editing. However, when I do get the type of job where I'm supposed to deliver a polished end-product, then obviously it takes me much longer, because more steps are involved.

When clients ask me about my translation output, I usually say "2000 words per client per day". This leaves me with a bit of leeway. Even if a client sends me a file of 5000 words which I know I will be able to complete within one day, I don't promise more than 2000 words per day, because you never know what might happen. Also, translating 5000 words in one day on a single job renders me a zombie the next day.

I typically don't count aftercare (on subsequent days) as part of the "hours", unless the aftercare takes more than half an hour. By aftercare I mean when the client comes back with questions, revisions, etc.

The fact is that some otherwise very professional and friendly agencies, time to time ask me if I can take on about 2.000 word project to be translated and submitted in, say, 2,5 hours’ time.


When I get a rush job like that, my reply is usually "between 300 and 500 words per hour", but I have to see the file first. I rarely get them, though... most of my clients want next-day delivery for jobs of about 1000 words. In fact I regularly tell my same-day clients that I can't promise same-day delivery, and that I'm likely to be able to deliver on same-day deadlines only for short jobs.

What is a “yardstick” in terms of per hour output?


I would say 250 words per hour is a good output for producing polished final products.


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I feel much better now Oct 23, 2014

Samuel Murray wrote:

Merab Dekano wrote:
1.787 words / 6 hours = 298 words per hour (EN > ES)
6 hours comprises translation, proofreading, polishing, editing = what I call a “finished product”.


The bulk of my work is not the "finished product" type of work (i.e. I'm to deliver a file in some CAT format, and I'm not the person responsible for finishing touches on the final file). So for me, the only steps are translation and re-editing. However, when I do get the type of job where I'm supposed to deliver a polished end-product, then obviously it takes me much longer, because more steps are involved.

When clients ask me about my translation output, I usually say "2000 words per client per day". This leaves me with a bit of leeway. Even if a client sends me a file of 5000 words which I know I will be able to complete within one day, I don't promise more than 2000 words per day, because you never know what might happen. Also, translating 5000 words in one day on a single job renders me a zombie the next day.

I typically don't count aftercare (on subsequent days) as part of the "hours", unless the aftercare takes more than half an hour. By aftercare I mean when the client comes back with questions, revisions, etc.

The fact is that some otherwise very professional and friendly agencies, time to time ask me if I can take on about 2.000 word project to be translated and submitted in, say, 2,5 hours’ time.


When I get a rush job like that, my reply is usually "between 300 and 500 words per hour", but I have to see the file first. I rarely get them, though... most of my clients want next-day delivery for jobs of about 1000 words. In fact I regularly tell my same-day clients that I can't promise same-day delivery, and that I'm likely to be able to deliver on same-day deadlines only for short jobs.

What is a “yardstick” in terms of per hour output?


I would say 250 words per hour is a good output for producing polished final products.


Thanks very much, Samuel. That is so reassuring. I feel much better now:-)


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:04
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
You can't translate from the first minute Oct 23, 2014

Merab Dekano wrote:
I have not rigorously followed my output in terms of word count.

I do routinely keep count and I can say that it varies from below 100wph to very nearly 1000wph for a CAT-assisted text. But 250-300 is my most common rate and certainly a good range to be using with a client.

What is a “yardstick” in terms of per hour output? I know skills, experience, language pair, subject matter, complexity, format, etc., etc. will influence this particular “KPI”. However, it would be interesting to know “on average” what can one consider safe/realistic/sustainable.

I'd add another to that list: time for job acceptance.
If it's an unknown client you can't just receive an email, fire back an acceptance, open the file, and start translating. That's a nightmare waiting to happen. You first need to spend at least a short while, and maybe some considerable time, evaluating whether you should in fact be collaborating with this client at all. And even if they check out as a good prospect, you still have to check the job carefully against their PO: Does the wordcount tally? Is it in the format they say (e.g.editable vs scanned PDF)? Is there complicated formatting that they haven't mentioned? Is the source actually understandable or has it been badly written/translated from another language? The list goes on, and meanwhile the clock keeps ticking.

If it's a regular and trusted client then a lot of the above can be dispensed with, though I wouldn't advise accepting a rush job without giving the text at least a quick glance through.

What it boils down to is that, though you can translate 250 words per hour, you can't guarantee to deliver a 1000-word translation in 4 hours flat.


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
very good point Oct 23, 2014

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Merab Dekano wrote:
I have not rigorously followed my output in terms of word count.

I do routinely keep count and I can say that it varies from below 100wph to very nearly 1000wph for a CAT-assisted text. But 250-300 is my most common rate and certainly a good range to be using with a client.

What is a “yardstick” in terms of per hour output? I know skills, experience, language pair, subject matter, complexity, format, etc., etc. will influence this particular “KPI”. However, it would be interesting to know “on average” what can one consider safe/realistic/sustainable.

I'd add another to that list: time for job acceptance.
If it's an unknown client you can't just receive an email, fire back an acceptance, open the file, and start translating. That's a nightmare waiting to happen. You first need to spend at least a short while, and maybe some considerable time, evaluating whether you should in fact be collaborating with this client at all. And even if they check out as a good prospect, you still have to check the job carefully against their PO: Does the wordcount tally? Is it in the format they say (e.g.editable vs scanned PDF)? Is there complicated formatting that they haven't mentioned? Is the source actually understandable or has it been badly written/translated from another language? The list goes on, and meanwhile the clock keeps ticking.

If it's a regular and trusted client then a lot of the above can be dispensed with, though I wouldn't advise accepting a rush job without giving the text at least a quick glance through.

What it boils down to is that, though you can translate 250 words per hour, you can't guarantee to deliver a 1000-word translation in 4 hours flat.


Thank you very much, Sheila. This is so valid point. It takes so many calls / emails / changes event before you can start working that this time should definitely be taken into account.

I also fully agree; you cannot count on a 4 hour deadline for 1000 words, as anything can go wrong. This is the reason I LOVE to have the "black night" before the deadline strikes. Not that I do not fancy to have a good night sleep, but just in case anything goes wrong, I will, at least, be able to spend some extra hours on fixing the thing. So far never missed a deadline, and I would like to keep it that way.


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aruna yallapragada  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:34
Member (2008)
German to English
+ ...
1500 per day Oct 23, 2014

1500 words per day is what I tell agencies I can do. This gives time for any problem that may arise (in India, anything is possible), and also to get familiar with the subject matter. Once the subject becomes familiar, even 2500 per day is possible.

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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Makes sense Oct 23, 2014

aruna yallapragada wrote:

1500 words per day is what I tell agencies I can do. This gives time for any problem that may arise (in India, anything is possible), and also to get familiar with the subject matter. Once the subject becomes familiar, even 2500 per day is possible.



Thanks, Aruna. Makes sense.


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 22:04
Italian to English
There was a poll on this topic last summer Oct 23, 2014

Just out of interest, I worked out my words per hour rate on the newspaper translations I do every morning for a quick poll on Proz last summer:
>
On the basis of the 150 or so articles I've translated for the Corriere della Sera website (www.corriere.it/english) so far this year, just under 100,000 words in all, the average wph figure works out at about 225.

The articles range in length from 200-2,000 words (median: 651 words) and they have to be turned round in 2-4 hours, although they're usually out the door in less than three.
>
This includes QAing and proofing in Studio, Word and online.


[Edited at 2014-10-23 13:55 GMT]


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Articles Oct 23, 2014

Giles Watson wrote:

Just out of interest, I worked out my words per hour rate on the newspaper translations I do every morning for a quick poll on Proz last summer:
>
On the basis of the 150 or so articles I've translated for the Corriere della Sera website (www.corriere.it/english) so far this year, just under 100,000 words in all, the average wph figure works out at about 225.

The articles range in length from 200-2,000 words (median: 651 words) and they have to be turned round in 2-4 hours, although they're usually out the door in less than three.
>
This includes QAing and proofing in Studio, Word and online.


[Edited at 2014-10-23 13:55 GMT]


Thanks, Giles. I also translate articles/interviews on a regular basis, from Russian into Spanish. Now that I look at the word count, I do about 250 words per hour. Most of the time, there are no repetitions at all, as those are what I would call "semi-creative texts". You do five sentences "on the fly" and then spend the next hour researching what the best way is to translate a phrase that is little bit colloquial, but quite formal at the same time. Little bit too colloquial is wrong and little bit foo formal is wrong. It is jut in the middle. I love it, though (Most of the time I do legal texts).


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:04
German to English
298 words/hour is reasonable Oct 23, 2014

Merab Dekano wrote:

I have not rigorously followed my output in terms of word count. Until yesterday. I counted the words I translated and divided it by the number of hours I dedicated to that particular project (pretty much an “average” text, in terms of complexity). The outcome is as follows:

1.787 words / 6 hours = 298 words per hour (EN > ES)

6 hours comprises translation, proofreading, polishing, editing = what I call a “finished product”.


That's reasonable as an average output. I generally promise 2000 - 2500 words/day for most of the work I do (including revision, etc.). On a good day and if the topic is familiar, I can easily produce 4000 words in a day. However, I sometimes work on medical texts with difficult terminology – and poorly-written, to boot – so I have to read the abstracts of articles referred to in order to get a grasp of what the author is actually trying to say. The result is about 1500 words/day.

A lot of translators get into trouble for overpromising in terms of output, delivery date, etc. Offer a rate of output you're comfortable with and which allows you to deliver a polished product. You won't regret it in the long run, and your customers will appreciate it as well.


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