How much to charge for the translation of a doctorate thesis?
Thread poster: johannad

johannad
Local time: 13:33
English to French
+ ...
Jun 27, 2008

Hi there,
I am quite new in the translation business and I find it sometimes hard to understand how much to charge people, according to the type of work. An acquaintance just asked me to give her a quote to translate her doctorate thesis on museology from English into French. It is about 80000 words. She doesn't have a lot of money as she is still studying. I usually charge 0,10€ per source word for general translations but 8000€ seems way over her budget. What would be a reasonable rate according to you? I do not want to go to low but I would be willing to lower my rate as I would like to get the job! I was just wondering how low I could reasonably go without "breaking" the market...
Thanks a lot in advance for your help.


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:33
German to English
Uninformed expectations Jun 27, 2008

This seems to be a situation in which almost any reasonable price will be beyond the budget of the person desiring the translation. Unfortunately people have the idea that translation is little more than typing text into another language, and expect to pay typing rates, plus a small surcharge for the language aspect.

I'm approached from time to time to translate memoirs, personal web sites and other documents from which the author / owner has no serious expectation of making a significant profit, if any money at all. I used to have a not-for profit rate I charged private individuals for birth certificates, genealogical records etc., but people were shocked at what such translations would cost. I eventually gave up that part of the business because of the hassles involved. It was taking up too much of my time to explain to people that their life story / family history might be interesting, but that I'm in business to make money. The logistics of personal documents were also nightmarish, another reason to let someone else do that work.

I think that in your case, even a 10-15% non-profit reduction will price the job out of reach for your acquaintance.


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 13:33
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Don't worry about "breaking the market" Jun 27, 2008

Consider the opportunity costs, however. If you tie yourself up full time for two months (using the common assumption of about 10,000 words per week output) with a text like that and then do so at a discount, will you still be able to pay your bills? Where will your regular customers be after weeks and weeks of hearing "no capacity" because you are up to your neck in the thesis? Even if you spread the work out over a longer period of time, you will probably still not be doing yourself any great favors to cut your rate much.

If you figure that you are saving a certain amount of time that would otherwise be spent on acquisition, you might think about a small break, but it's a very bad idea to get into the habit of "volume discounts" and the like. It reminds me too much of the old joke about a manufacturer losing money on every unit but making it up on volume.

If the thesis is worth translating, it is worth doing so at a reasonable rate. You decide if that is 12 cents a word or 10 or 8 or whatever. If your customer doesn't have the total amount as cash on hand, you might propose a payment plan that works for both of you, but don't cut your own throat with a low rate.

As for the "market", it can take care of itself. Understand your own costs of doing business first and you'll find in the end that you and the market get along just fine.


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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 07:33
Spanish to English
Maybe... Jun 27, 2008

Maybe you could charge her less on condition that her work will have to wait when you have other work in hand.

I always charge students less, I don´t consider that that is where the market is, but at the same time you don´t want to be out of pocket.

Regards
Lesley


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Marie-Céline GEORG  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 14:33
English to French
+ ...
What's her budget? Jun 27, 2008

Hi,
For me, a thesis means a lot of research work on a specific subject with a specific terminology that's not to be found in any general dictionary, so you could even be entitled to charge more than for a general translation!
Did you ask your friend how much she intended to pay? Did she expressly say that 8000€ was way over her budget? Does her budget seem a low but manageable price or would it barely pay for photocopying 300 pages ?
I agree with both Kevins: translation is your business, you have to pay your bills with your work... How much are you ready to give up to translate this document? If you're absolutely interested in museology and the thesis is so interesting that you're ready to charge 25% less, go for it, the market won't care. But you're the one who knows how much you have to make each month to live.

Lesley's idea is also interesting: ask her if she's ready to wait for her translation for a number of months as it will have low priority if the price is low. As someone said, there are three things to a translation: quality, price and delivery delay. Choose two of them...

Furthermore, what's the use of this translation? Is she having her thesis published? Maybe it would be possible for her to find a patron who is willing to pay for (part of) the translation?

HTH
Marie-Céline


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 06:33
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Is it necessary? Jun 27, 2008

First of all, you should not take on this job if English to French is not your #1 language combination and if you are not very knowledgeable about museology.

Secondly, I wonder if this translation is really necessary? More and more, English is becoming the international scientific language. In many countries most people at the university level speak English and in some countries classes are taught in English. At most, it may be useful to publish the abstract in French and then refer interested readers to the complete version in English.

This is going to be a major undertaking that may give you nothing but headaches. It is too bad your friend cannot afford it - if you can't afford a house, you don't ask your friends to build one for you.


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johannad
Local time: 13:33
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you so much! Jun 27, 2008

Dear all,

Thank you so much for your detail replies, advices etc, it was really nice of you to take time to give me these precious informations. It made me realize that I should indeed not lower too much my prices - at least no more than 20% - and not commit myself to working for two months full time at a really low rate and loose other customers.

I got back to this person: she really needs to have it translated into French, not because she wants to publish it, the situation is a bit complicated, she did her thesis with an English teacher here in London, and therefore had to write it in English, but now she needs to present it in French at her University in Paris. However, it seems that she is not willing to spend 8000€ on a translation - I do not know as yet her budget, but if it is too low, I will just wish her good luck!

I gave her the option to be more flexible for the deadline and get a lower rate, let's see.

Oh, and I made a mistake on my profile, that I corrected, I translate from English to French, and would obviously not accept any work that is not into my native language!

Have a nice day - I will let you know the end of the story...


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Juliana Brown  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 08:33
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I agree with Tina. Jun 27, 2008

The abstract is a good starting point. It's the calling-card for the dissertation, and all that's needed usually, unless the whole thing is being published as-is.
Having written a thesis and translated a few, I can tell you that you are indeed in for hours and hours of research and reference work, some of it far from easily available. Not all references will be available online for you to confirm, and then of course, you have to make sure there are not already existing translations done of those texts. I love that type of work personally, but it will eat up all your time. Forget about doing it "part time".
In terms of the money- there are grants available sometimes through university departments for expenses including translation. Ask your friend if she could speak to the graduate studies department about this, or her thesis advisor. Don't short-change yourself on this.


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xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 09:33
Spanish to English
+ ...
Do your friend a favour Jun 27, 2008

johannad wrote:

... she really needs to have it translated into French, not because she wants to publish it, the situation is a bit complicated, she did her thesis with an English teacher here in London, and therefore had to write it in English, but now she needs to present it in French at her University in Paris...


It seems to me that the best solution is for your friend to do his/her own translation! Your friend obviously knows the subject and terminology inside-out (and in both languages) and will do a better job, faster, than you could ever hope to do (with all due respect to you as a professional translator...). And your friend is likely to find some passages in the English that could usefully be 'adapted' for a French academic readership - things that might never occur to you as a translator.

So, do your friend a favour. Suggest that (s)he does the translation him/herself - and offer to proofread it free of charge for 'old time's sake'.

MediaMatrix


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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 19:33
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Student price Jun 28, 2008

I remind of my starting days for translation job. I got cheap requests from students who were too lazy to read foreign texts by themselves. I charged them very low cost in order to joyfully educate myself on those particular academic subjects.
My recommedation: a thesis can be very valuable for some people to read. Translate, absorb and get paid in exceptional price level!

Cheers,
Soonthon L.


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:33
Dutch to English
+ ...
Best suggestion Jun 28, 2008

mediamatrix wrote:

johannad wrote:

... she really needs to have it translated into French, not because she wants to publish it, the situation is a bit complicated, she did her thesis with an English teacher here in London, and therefore had to write it in English, but now she needs to present it in French at her University in Paris...


It seems to me that the best solution is for your friend to do his/her own translation! Your friend obviously knows the subject and terminology inside-out (and in both languages) and will do a better job, faster, than you could ever hope to do (with all due respect to you as a professional translator...). And your friend is likely to find some passages in the English that could usefully be 'adapted' for a French academic readership - things that might never occur to you as a translator.

So, do your friend a favour. Suggest that (s)he does the translation him/herself - and offer to proofread it free of charge for 'old time's sake'.

MediaMatrix


This is what I was thinking too. I proofread theses written in English for Dutch universities from time to time (many Dutch universities demand a thesis written in English these days). The student does the translation and I check it. I tend to charge half my normal rate for this.


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