Nearly worthless PDF conversion documents - what to do?
Thread poster: Joan Berglund

Joan Berglund  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:17
French to English
Oct 21, 2009

I seem to be getting hit with a lot of orders where the client wants CAT memory, so they send me a convesion of a fairly complex doc they received from the client as a PDF, even an image PDF. In many cases, the conversions are full of problems - columns instead of tables, section breaks everywhere, text boxes sprinkled like seasoning throughout, all kinds of instabilities and formatting problems. Have others had this problem? How much time is it reasonable to spend fixing these messes? Or do you just give the client the same formatting that they gave you?

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 04:17
English to French
+ ...
You shouldn't have to spend time on the layout at all--unless you get paid for it Oct 21, 2009

I don't think you should spend any time on fixing these problems. If you accept to work with such documents without charging extra, clients will always expect you to be up for it. This translates into a significantly lower hourly rate for you.

I suspect that clients who send you such badly converted text are trying to undercut their competitors by cutting corners. They can offer the finished product at a cheaper price because they don't spend time making sure that everything is in an acceptable condition. Maybe they are even secretly hoping you will clean up their mess--there is unfortunately an increasing number of translators willing to compensate for the corners the agency cuts, and many agencies know this.

I make it a point not to work on OCR output unless I am the one who creates the output--and I charge for that service. I gladly accept PDFs, but I charge what the work is worth. In other words, I add value, and I charge accordingly. If you are the one adding value by fiddling with bad OCR output, you should be the one to get paid for it.

With such clients, I would propose a markup for cleaning up the mess or to get only healthy files to begin with. It's up to you whether you are willing to spend time cleaning up OCR mess when you could be translating instead.


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Brian Young  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:17
Danish to English
Translation or DTP Oct 21, 2009

I Agree with Viktoria. I do not think that a translator should have to spend a lot of time formatting any document. There are programs, like Able2docPro, that do a very good job of converting pdf to a word document, while retaining all of the formatting, like paragraphs, indents, bullets, etc. Then it is an easy matter to just type your translation over a copy of the the original, while retaining all of the formatting. I simply refuse to get involved in the process of setting up and formatting a complex text in Word, based on an image or a pdf. In some cases, for example in translating complicated documents like diplomas, that have a lot of formatting, and very little real text, I just supply a translated glossary. If the client wants more, then let them find someone else.
I guess it's a matter of defining your job. Are you a translator, or a typist or publisher?


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 09:17
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Incompetence in conversion Oct 22, 2009

Joan, this typically results from the agency or end customer personnel not understanding the proper use of OCR tools. I suggest acquiring and mastering these yourself and charging a fat surcharge for the service. Usually it is best to define the conversion zones manually. Automatic settings are a recipe for disaster. You'll find some guidelines for post-OCR quality checks and workflow here.

I actively marketed this service for years, and customers usually loved it. I also deliver the cleanly converted source text along with the translation. This is useful if the customer wants to rewrite it later. And all of this made a nice contribution to income. An article on including OCR services in your business model is available here on ProZ.


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Howard Cooper
Local time: 04:17
French to English
Request original format Oct 22, 2009

Request the client's original word pre-pdf file (if it exists) and let them do the conversion to pdf. Or, request the original pre-convert pdf file and convert it yourself to Word, then back to pdf. Nuance tools are very good.

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Joan Berglund  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:17
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for all your comments Oct 23, 2009

Yes, I think the problem is with not really understanding the conversion process. Your comment on the need for manual zone setting was interesting, Kevin, I will take a look at your link. I do have an old version of of Omnipage that I use. I have been thinking of updating, but the material I have been getting from clients (who presumably have a much bigger software budget) was no better than what my old software could do, so I was not ready to rush out and by anything new. The problem may well be using automatic settings instead of manual zones. I was just really surprised at the quality of the material I was getting without even an apology or comment from the customer. Actually, I finally gave up on fixing the formatting on the particular job that prompted my post, it was just beyond the pale. The good news is the client was very happy with the translation part, so I guess they aren't too upset about having to deal with the formatting. In the future, I will try to be more on top of what people are sending me, so I can inform them of any issues beforehand. The problem with some of the output is that it often looks ok in print layout view, so maybe they really don't know what they are sending me. My clients are fairly well-reputed and not particular cheapskates, this is part of the reason I was taken by surprise. But I do know what to look for, even if the clients don't, its just a matter of being aware that there might be problems. I really don't want to become an OCR conversion expert, but I may need to in self-defense.

[Edited at 2009-10-23 18:26 GMT]


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 09:17
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
The best defense.... Oct 23, 2009

Joan Berglund wrote:
I really don't want to become an OCR conversion expert, but I may need to in self-defense.


I can definitely sympathize with your reluctance there, Joan. But the reality is that if you don't master this, you'll be at the mercy of others to deal with these conversions, and most of them will do it wrong. Guaranteed.

Coincidentally I got an unsolicited e-mail today from a partnership of students specializing in OCR conversions and formatting. I have no idea if they really know their stuff, but I'll be happy to forward the contact info to anyone who might want it. They wrote to me in German, but I presume they read and write English as well.


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Joan Berglund  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:17
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Kevin Oct 23, 2009

Actually, if you get a chance, I would like the contact info. Although your post has me thinking that my chronically funds-challenged but computer savvy kid could learn a new skill. I could probably even get him work from other translators and even agencies. Hmm..

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