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Agency gives me a "dead" PDF, does not require formatting--how to charge?
Thread poster: JoBee
JoBee  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 15:24
Japanese to English
Sep 30, 2014

I have one agency that sometimes requests translations of poorly scanned, "dead" PDFs with charts/graphs/tables, often with text that is hard to make out in some portions.

At first I offered to perform formatting on such PDFs, laying them out in Word for an hourly rate. That led to the agency stipulating each time that no formatting was required: they would do the formatting, I would simply plop the translation into Word in a way in which they could discern which English corresponded to which original Japanese. Of course the implication is that I would charge my normal rate.

I have accepted this offer for easier/shorter assignments, but for longer PDFs with more complicated layouts, this actually creates considerably more work for me:

1. Especially with detailed Japanese characters, bad scans can create quite a headache. Much more time is spent researching unfamiliar terms, as they can't be highlighted and require some guessing.
2. Even translating into Word 'without formatting' ultimately requires considerable planning and formatting, as I need to interpret tables and lay them out in a meaningful way that the agency can understand.

Overall, the staff at this agency often give me interesting/rewarding work, always pay promptly, and are for the most part a pleasure to work with. I'd like to continue working with them, but taking this kind of work for my normal rate--and essentially halving or even further reducing my hourly income--clearly isn't ideal.

I'm thinking of explaining that I would be happy to work with a Word file if available, but with the current scan quality and the need to lay out the text in a meaningful way--even if no strict formatting is required--I would need to charge, say, a 30-40% premium. Does that sound reasonable (or even low)? How would you deal with this?

(I'd like to add that the deadlines for this agency are very generous, so avoiding the issue by saying 'I'm currently busy and can't meet that deadline' is kind of shooting myself in the foot, as it means they won't request anything else in that time frame either.)


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:24
Member (2008)
Italian to English
One suggestion Sep 30, 2014

One suggestion:

You could either print the PDFs and use a large red felt tip pen to mark each section with a number, or mark up the PDFs, without printing them, using the appropriate software that can do this. There are various applications you can use for this.

You could then use the same numbers to number the sections in your translation.

Would that work?


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Nicole Coesel  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 08:24
Member (2012)
Dutch to English
+ ...
I agree with Tom Sep 30, 2014

Additionally, it is sometime as simple as it is smart to simply number the scanned PDF pages/tables, use those for reference in your .doc file and hand those back to your customer.

Best of luck


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:24
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Ask them for help; that's my advice Sep 30, 2014

JoBee wrote:
At first I offered to perform formatting on such PDFs, laying them out in Word for an hourly rate. That led to the agency stipulating each time that no formatting was required: they would do the formatting,

So they clearly have all the technical expertise necessary to overcome this problem. In fact they probably have DTP experts who specialise in that sort of thing.

I'm thinking of explaining that I would be happy to work with a Word file if available

As they are clearly able to offer it, why not ask for it? Of course, getting the data into the file might be more difficult due to OCR problems etc. How useful for you would it be to work from both the scanned PDF, with its data, and a Word file with virgin tables etc laid out ready for your translation? I don't know whether it would solve your problem but it's a thought.

I don't think you should work for your normal per-word rate if it's taking much longer. From what you've said about this agency, I feel fairly confident that they will agree to help once you've explained the problem. Otherwise you may have to refuse to do this particular work, while accepting other jobs. Or price this work at whatever you think reasonable even if it does seem ludicrously high. It's perfectly reasonable to accept that there are jobs which you simply don't want to be considered for. If the agency recognises that you are good at what you do best there should be no problems.


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INES Reisch  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:24
Member
Spanish to German
+ ...
pdf files Sep 30, 2014

Dear JoBee

I have sometimes the same problem.
If the pdf-files are large I agree an amount for transferring these files into word.
It happens that some clients don't understand why we have to convert the files into word.
I use the OCR software Abbyy finereader professional, sometimes it takes 10min. for a document with 2 pages, sometimes more...depending if the file is large or not.
Tom has mentioned that he use some kind of these software.
But I don't know if abbyy finereader supports japanese letters.

Regards

Ines


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:24
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Remember what your job description is! Sep 30, 2014

Sheila Wilson wrote:

....If the agency recognises that you are good at what you do best .....


... In other words, translation.

You shouldn't be doing anything else.

They probably won't want to pay you extra for messing around with formatting and it would take you much longer than it would if they did it themselves, as Sheila says.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:24
Member (2008)
Italian to English
YEs but Sep 30, 2014

INES Reisch wrote:

Dear JoBee

I have sometimes the same problem.
If the pdf-files are large I agree an amount for transferring these files into word.
It happens that some clients don't understand why we have to convert the files into word.
I use the OCR software Abbyy finereader professional, sometimes it takes 10min. for a document with 2 pages, sometimes more...depending if the file is large or not.
Tom has mentioned that he use some kind of these software.
But I don't know if abbyy finereader supports japanese letters.

Regards

Ines


Yes, but you can't do OCR if the PDFs are just "dead" scans.

[Edited at 2014-09-30 14:54 GMT]


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Pierpaolo Piccinato
Italy
Local time: 08:24
English to Italian
+ ...
Talk to them Sep 30, 2014

Sometimes seems clients make all their efforts to make our job harder.
I didn't understand why they send you a bad quality PDFs.
Anyway, I suggest you to ask if they have better quality photos or send you the original document. Also I'd advise you to ask them to talk directly to the designer and discuss about the layouts.


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JoBee  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 15:24
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Some good suggestions... Thank you! Sep 30, 2014

Tom in London wrote:

One suggestion:

You could either print the PDFs and use a large red felt tip pen to mark each section with a number, or mark up the PDFs, without printing them, using the appropriate software that can do this. There are various applications you can use for this.

You could then use the same numbers to number the sections in your translation.

Would that work?


Thank you for the suggestion, Tom. The numbering is actually something I've done before, although I find it can quickly become very time-consuming if the PDF/image is too cluttered.

I actually feel that this is something the agency should be doing, too, if they don't feel inclined to pay for any formatting. Otherwise, translators have literally no incentive to ever take a PDF over a Word file.

Sheila Wilson wrote:

As they are clearly able to offer it, why not ask for it? Of course, getting the data into the file might be more difficult due to OCR problems etc. How useful for you would it be to work from both the scanned PDF, with its data, and a Word file with virgin tables etc laid out ready for your translation? I don't know whether it would solve your problem but it's a thought.

I don't think you should work for your normal per-word rate if it's taking much longer. From what you've said about this agency, I feel fairly confident that they will agree to help once you've explained the problem. Otherwise you may have to refuse to do this particular work, while accepting other jobs. Or price this work at whatever you think reasonable even if it does seem ludicrously high. It's perfectly reasonable to accept that there are jobs which you simply don't want to be considered for. If the agency recognises that you are good at what you do best there should be no problems.


Thanks very much for that, Sheila. In the instance I'm dealing with now, the scans are pretty terrible--I'm thinking they've been faxed multiple times, and some of the Japanese is scarcely legible. I don't have high hopes for OCR, but it's worth a shot. Alternatively, having tables/columns laid out with no content would be very helpful. I'll see what the agency says.


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Paweł Hamerski
Poland
Local time: 08:24
English to Polish
+ ...
it's quite simple Oct 1, 2014

charge extra for poor quality PDFs - it's obvious as you have more work with them (how the customer would fancy that is another matter). Or rather ask them why they must give you poor quality PDFs and if it can be avoided by making scans at the source (or close to it).

If you are afraid to ask for a rise, don't ask.

[Edited at 2014-10-01 15:00 GMT]


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Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:24
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
@Tom Oct 1, 2014

Tom in London wrote:

Yes, but you can't do OCR if the PDFs are just "dead" scans.

[Edited at 2014-09-30 14:54 GMT]


Why's that? Isn't that exactly what OCR is for?


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:24
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Maybe Oct 2, 2014

Erik Freitag wrote:

Tom in London wrote:

Yes, but you can't do OCR if the PDFs are just "dead" scans.

[Edited at 2014-09-30 14:54 GMT]


Why's that? Isn't that exactly what OCR is for?


Maybe, and although there are many applications that claim to be able to do this, any time I've tried to extract text from a scanned PDF, I've never had good results - especially when the scanned image was scanned crooked and if it includes smears, grids and tables, shadows, etc. Just a complete mess.


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Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:24
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
OCR Oct 2, 2014

Tom in London wrote:

Erik Freitag wrote:

Tom in London wrote:

Yes, but you can't do OCR if the PDFs are just "dead" scans.

[Edited at 2014-09-30 14:54 GMT]


Why's that? Isn't that exactly what OCR is for?


Maybe, and although there are many applications that claim to be able to do this, any time I've tried to extract text from a scanned PDF, I've never had good results - especially when the scanned image was scanned crooked and if it includes smears, grids and tables, shadows, etc. Just a complete mess.


Indeed, the recognition quality depends heavily on the quality of the scan. I just wanted to make sure it's not (again) a case of condemning software without really knowing what it does and how it works.

My experience with OCR software is a lot less negative as yours. Still, I avoid PDFs as source documents when I can, and I always charge extra for PDFs.



[Bearbeitet am 2014-10-02 12:41 GMT]


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Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 01:24
German to English
+ ...
for poor quality scans Oct 2, 2014

where you are straining to see what the word or number actually is, I do think a premium should be charged, or possibly a refusal.

My work largely involves PDFs, because of the type of material that I often do. Usually that is not a problem. But lately a lot of people are using their phones (!) to photograph their documents. You get distorted shapes, blurry edges, and poor resolution so that when you expand the image it simply turns into blurry fuzz.


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JoBee  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 15:24
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
A bit of an update Oct 3, 2014

Thanks so much for your advice and input, everyone. It really helped me make the most of this situation.

I explained to the agency that numbering/formatting before their final format wasn't for my own purposes, as it doesn't affect my ability to translate at all--it's for them to be able to meaningfully interpret what each part of my translation corresponds to.

Just as Sheila pointed out, they were very understanding and prepared a numbered sheet for me to go by. It's easy enough to understand and will save me a decent amount of time with formatting, I would say.

Maxi Schwarz wrote:

where you are straining to see what the word or number actually is, I do think a premium should be charged, or possibly a refusal.

My work largely involves PDFs, because of the type of material that I often do. Usually that is not a problem. But lately a lot of people are using their phones (!) to photograph their documents. You get distorted shapes, blurry edges, and poor resolution so that when you expand the image it simply turns into blurry fuzz.


This is definitely something to consider, especially in situations where it complicates a large portion of the translation to be done. In this case, while the scan is legible for the most part, there are figures that are quite difficult to make out. I considered requesting extra payment for it, but was luckily able to find supplementary information in another location online, formatted in the same way and with mostly the same terminology. (I suppose that isn't something the agency can take credit for, but as I won't end up having to do the extra work that comes with unreadable text, I don't feel right charging for it.)


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