What is and is not to be counted in word total of a translation
Thread poster: Kenneth Shockley

Kenneth Shockley  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:53
Member (2009)
Spanish to English
Jan 25, 2010

I am a former school teacher who is now a free-lance translator, and I have been working for some time for a local translation agency here in Spain that has been providing me with almost all my work. (Hopefully, this will start to change now that I am a member of ProZ and have purchased SDL Trados; also, I just did a 1-year CiOL Diploma in Translation course with International House in Barcelona and took the exam this month, so I hope to have more time to strike out on my own now)

My question is regarding word count:
I would appreciate it if those of you with more experience in free-lance translation could give me some advice and guidance as to whether there is a generally accepted idea of what is and isn't to be counted in the word count. Examples of doubts: some numbers, words that aren't translated because the translator decides that the most appropriate thing is to leave them in the source language, etc. Any help you could give me along these lines would certainly be appreciated. I feel I need to be more "in the know" about how things like this are generally done. Thanks very much in advance for your help!


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Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:53
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
Several standards Jan 25, 2010

From my experience the most common is charging for the entire contents of translated document (including numbers and of course words left untranslated - after all for instance during English to Polish translation numbers need to be changed and leaving something untranslated is a conscious decision of a translator). It is also a matter of efficiency - checking the word count displayed for instance by MS Word takes seconds while manual counting of words would be very time consuming.

Still there is no one standard - probably the most common standard is word count provided by MS Word but word count given by other tools - for instance Trados Workbench usually differ.

As you begun to use Trados, you will also meet with CAT analysis of text (analysis which takes into consideration repetitions and if there already is a TM also matches with TM (translation memory) provided by the client. Such exact matches and repetitions are usually paid less.

Best Regards
Stanislaw


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Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:53
Italian to English
A matter of trust Jan 25, 2010

Hi Kenneth

Usually, no one has the time to dissect a document and relies on Word's wordcount, unless the quantity of non-translatable elements is significant, but this all depends on how penny-pinching your client is.
My approach is to be seen to be fair and honest; offer a discount if it is warranted and clients won't question your assessment in future.
Good luck as a freelancer,


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Kenneth Shockley  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:53
Member (2009)
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Very helpful replies Jan 25, 2010

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Stanislaw and Russell. Actually, I have not really had any problems with this up until now: A customer told the agency he didn't expect the numbers and right angle brackets to be counted in the document he had sent in to be translated, which was a relatively small one listing photo captions for tourist brochure. I just used Word to count the total, without giving it much thought, but perhaps the fact that it was not a very big document made the customer think the count was too high. Anyway, I subtracted the right angle brackets from the total, and I believe that satisfied him.

As the title of your reply suggests, Russell, I do want to build a relationship of trust with my customers, and I certainly want to do all I can to be seen as fair and honest in my approach.

Thanks again!
Kenneth


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:53
French to English
+ ...
Remember the purpose... Jan 26, 2010

Kenneth Shockley wrote:
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Stanislaw and Russell. Actually, I have not really had any problems with this up until now: A customer told the agency he didn't expect the numbers and right angle brackets to be counted in the document he had sent in to be translated, which was a relatively small one listing photo captions for tourist brochure.


So in all of this, the important thing to remember is that word count is a rough estimate to help you assess the amount of work involved and to agree a price with the client. Linguistically, there's actually no such thing as a universally agreed-upon definition of "word". Word processors generally take a "word" to be a sequence of characters separated by whitespace, but it's not like there's really some intrinsically fixed value attached to each such sequence-- it's just an estimation to help you arrive at a ballpark figure. It really makes no sense to be so petty as to start trying to deduct individual sequences as this client is trying to do.

Of course, what diplomatically you tell the client/agent is a different story...


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:53
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Remember, your time is as important as their document Jan 26, 2010

Kenneth Shockley wrote:
A customer told the agency he didn't expect the numbers and right angle brackets to be counted in the document he had sent in to be translated


It isn't our job to decide what the client does and does not want translated - that's the job of the end client through the agency. If text hasn't been marked as 'not for translation' then the very least you need to do is to examine it and decide for yourself whether it should be translated, probably you will need to check with the agency - that takes time and time is money.

Remember, you're a professional and your clients need to pay for two things (although they generally only see one or the other on the invoice) - your time and their text in another language.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 15:53
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
One guideline Jan 26, 2010

Kenneth Shockley wrote:
...whether there is a generally accepted idea of what is and isn't to be counted in the word count. Examples of doubts: some numbers, words that aren't translated because the translator decides that the most appropriate thing is to leave them in the source language, etc.


Main rule: Count everything that the translator has to type or that the translator has to check.

Generally, if a client wants to reduce the word count by having the translator ignore certain elements on a page, the client should clearly mark or indicate these untranslatable elements so that the translator does not any spend time thinking about whether an element should or shouldn't be translated.

Words, names and numbers that form a semantic part of a sentence should be counted, even if those names and numbers remain unchanged, because the translator has to consider how to deal with them.

Exception (or not): If the purpose of the untranslatable text is to explain to the translator how to translate the translatable text, it means that the translator has to spend time reading it, and you are essentially charging for time spent on the job. That said, in some cases a translator may agree to charge less or nothing at all for the presence of untranslatable explanatory text in a document, if he believes that it doesn't really affect the amount of time that he spends translating the file.


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Kenneth Shockley  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:53
Member (2009)
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Yes - and "more" is not always "better" Jan 26, 2010

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Kenneth Shockley wrote:
A customer told the agency he didn't expect the numbers and right angle brackets to be counted in the document he had sent in to be translated


It isn't our job to decide what the client does and does not want translated - that's the job of the end client through the agency. If text hasn't been marked as 'not for translation' then the very least you need to do is to examine it and decide for yourself whether it should be translated, probably you will need to check with the agency - that takes time and time is money.

Remember, you're a professional and your clients need to pay for two things (although they generally only see one or the other on the invoice) - your time and their text in another language.


Thanks, Neil and Sheila,

Very good points, about word count being an estimate, about diplomacy, and about what the customer is paying for.

I might add that, although less frequently, there are even cases in which the translator, using his/her professional criteria, decides that it is more appropriate to leave a word in the source language, in italics, (in some cases adding an explanatory footnote) than to simply translate it and indeed, if somebody were to translate that word along with the rest of the document, the final product would be worse, not better, even though technically "more words were translated". Examples would be some of Spain's monuments, castles, etc. whose names would be best left in the original Spanish, (although possibly adding the translation/explanation in parentheses or a footnote when appropriate).


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Jocelyne S  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 15:53
Member
French to English
+ ...
Decide on things ahead of time Jan 26, 2010

I agree with others on the issue of counting words, but I just wanted to add that you really should always agree on word count before starting a project to avoid any unfortunate surprises involving clients arguing about your word count after the fact.

If you are working with an agency, you should request a Purchase Order (PO) from them with all details about the job (number of words, rate, deadlines, delivery format, etc.), or else provide them with your quote and ask them to sign and return it to you before starting a project.

Trust is certainly important, but it won't stand up in a court of law.

Best,
Jocelyne


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solange trad
Portuguese
+ ...
Who sets the fee and how the fee is calculated Jan 26, 2010

Methods of arriving at an "exact wordcount" of a document for the purpose of explaining a fee, are arbitrary.

If you are working for an agency, then it is most likely the agency will have a specific criterion for counting words, used by all their service providers. In this case, each agency will tell you what the wordcount is for a given document and then you can discuss the fee based on that.

On the other hand, when dealing with a customer directly, you can use whatever parameters you may think appropriate for giving a quotation - whether it is wordcount (as you calculate it), time, type of text, type of client, or anything else.


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