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Do you find that the documents for translation are getting harder all the time?
Thread poster: Astrid Elke Witte

Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:13
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Mar 29, 2008

Maybe it is a pricing issue, and because I refuse to charge rock-bottom prices. My prices are, as far as I can discern, on the low average side for Germany. However, they are calculated according to the hourly income I wish to achieve. That is unfortunate, because clients are sending me harder material to translate all the time, so that the number of words I can translate per hour is continually decreasing.

I do not know whether this is deliberate policy on the part of the clients; however, I quite suspect that it is. I mean, some of them at least would prefer my prices to be lower still. This does make me wonder if they send all their normal documents to people who work for low rates, and save all the extra difficult ones for me to do at the low-average rate (which they consider too high anyway). As far as agency clients are concerned at least, I could well imagine this to be carefully calculated. If so, it goes to show that the prevalent bad habit (which I, among many others, have succumbed to over a period of time) of agreeing a particular price with a client which then applies to all documents of any kind for several years at least, is to be discouraged. It is easy to give in to that arrangement, but I think I am going to have to work out a new pricing structure, and charge according to the level of complexity.

It has also occurred to me that I used to have some software, that I downloaded free from the Internet (probably lost it with the last computer change, getting on for a year ago) that measured the level of complexity of a document, and gave a numerical grade for it. If anyone knows of this program, I could do with it again to implement my new pricing scheme.

I just wondered if this calculated method of getting "value for money" out of translators was also happening to other people at present.



Eleni Makantani
Local time: 02:13
English to Greek
+ ...
Easy and harder ones Mar 29, 2008

As far as I'm concerned, I get both easy documents (literally easy or documents at which I have experience and do not find hard at all) and harder ones. I haven't noticed what you mention, Astrid.

However, I can assume that clients (agencies or end-clients) would reasonably choose to assign more difficult texts to translators with more experience, whom they trust can do the job well. I think that happens in all jobs, not only in ours. If I have an important job, in a strict deadline, I will choose to assign it to a professional who will do a good job (and save me time, which is sometimes more precious than money, on revision and editing).


Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:13
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
My complaint concerns the number of virtually impossible jobs I have received this year Mar 29, 2008

Hi Eleni,

Thanks for your answer. I don't mind if I get a variety of jobs: some easy, some average, some hard. However, I have had a series of virtually impossible jobs, for weeks on end, and I have almost been cured of liking translating any more. I used to like translating. The problem is not that I have been accepting anything outside my fields - people rarely offer anything outside my fields any more. It is just the sheer level of complexity that they throw at me - TUs containing sentences that have about 200 words is just one example; but I have also had some terminologically extremely difficult documents recently, even though they fall within my field. Then, there is sometimes the very poor style of the author. I do not remember ever having such a long run of impossible jobs, one after the other, before.



Argentine Translator
Local time: 21:13
English to Spanish
+ ...
Two comments Mar 29, 2008

Dear Astrid, I agree with you regarding the increasing difficulty of the texts to translate.
One reason may be the constant advance of technology (IT field). We are in the front line and it is moving every day faster.
Second reason: many people have studied and learnt English. So if texts are rather simple, they read them on their own. Only very difficult translations are entrusted to professionals.
Rgds, Catalina.


Gisela Greenlee  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:13
German to English
+ ...
Pricing strategy Mar 29, 2008

Hi Astrid,

have you considered a pricing strategy that is based in part on the complexity of the document? I also suspect that you are potentially receiving difficult texts because of your experience, but when you receive documents that you perceive as more time-consuming to translate, I would put the client on notice that your pricing will vary based on the complexity of the source document. Either that, or switch to an hourly charge, which the client may not like since they won't know the fee until you are done.
I have put 2 of my clients on notice that any projects they send me that are more time-consuming than the average assignment will be subject to a higher fee. This no only includes complex documents, but also Power Point presentations with tons of boxes, because it takes longer to jump from field to field and there is less context.
Hope this helps!


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:13
English to French
+ ...
Adjust your rates for each job Mar 29, 2008

One of the reasons I don't display my rates is that I don't have a single rate I apply to all jobs. There is about 50% difference between my lowest and my highest rate. I quote different rates depending on the level of difficulty of each job, that is, I, too, target a certain hourly rate and each time I am offered a job, I predict my output based on the level of difficulty of the text.

I constantly have to educate clients because of this and need to explain to them once in a while that it is not because I translated a simple, straightforward letter at X price that I will be able to apply the same price for highly technical texts that require a lot of research, because my output is not at all the same. A printer also asks for a higher price when printing a 4-colour brochure even if they asked for much less when they printed the same brochure in two colours, so it's not like people in general are not familiar with the idea. They usually understand.

The problem is that there seem to be very few translators who charge different rates for different jobs. I find it's a shame - many of us are underpricing our work, even those who otherwise charge respectable rates. We have to make our clients understand what we charge them for. If we need to work harder, it is perfectly normal to charge more.

[Edited at 2008-03-29 22:39]


Madeleine MacRae Klintebo  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:13
Swedish to English
+ ...
Ditto Mar 29, 2008

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:
One of the reasons I don't display my rates is that I don't have a single rate I apply to all jobs. There is about 50% difference between my lowest and my highest rate. I quote different rates depending on the level of difficulty of each job, that is, I, too, target a certain hourly rate and each time I am offered a job, I predict my output based on the level of difficulty of the text.

I do not have ONE rate. My rates depend not on the client, but on the actual text and general conditions. A couple of things that affect my rate:

1. Complexity of text (including whether it's well written or not)
2. Delivery date (do I have to work outside my normal hours?)
3. Payment method (any method that incurs an extra charge for me is included in the rate or surcharged)

And for texts that require a serious amount of research, I advice the client that I will have to charge by the hour (and give a maximum amount of time chargeable).

Astrid - "on the low average side for Germany"? If you feel that you're being taken advantage of, revise your rates. If the agencies choose you because you're good at your job, let them pay for it.



Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:13
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Yes: Some agencies do squeeze freelancers Mar 30, 2008

Hi Astrid,

I suspect that you are correct and that, for the agency you are referring to, you are in a second or third tier of freelancers that are resorted to only when absolutely necessary (with freelancers charging lower rates occupying the upper tiers).

I think that I am in the same position vis-a-vis a large global translation agency that I have done a lot of work for.....

Victoria makes a good and fairly obvious point: that you ought to look at work before you quote a price on it (gauging your rate according to the estimated hours it will take to complete--as you indicate, and as I also do).

I don't know about you, but the one ramification I've found from freelancing is that there really is no predictability or loyalty in the agency-freelancer relationship. I think that this is bad for both agencies and freelancers. What would be better would be an emphasis among big companies on *forming relationships* with freelancers rather than just scurrying about to place jobs in a way that seems entirely impersonal and that is based on a "lowest bidder" mentality.

I think the only answer for now is to continue to try to develop contacts with other agencies (or, better yet, to try to make contacts with companies needing translation *directly*, and thus cut out the middleman). The company you refer to obviously has no particular loyalty to you. It is only fair that the inverse also be true.......



Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:13
Dutch to English
+ ...
Not necessarily more complex Mar 30, 2008

But with added work: using certain terminology, using TagEditor, providing the file as a pdf, etc. I have started refusing all jobs I do not like or that I know will take me more time. I am lucky becasue I get offered too much work anyway. I have found, however, that I do get what the agency calls a difficult translation (because it is field specific) that turns out to be very easy (for me because it happens to be in my field; sometimes it pays not to tell an agency about all you are good at).


Birthe Omark  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:13
Member (2006)
French to Danish
+ ...
Swings and roundabouts .. Mar 30, 2008

Some jobs are easy to do .. either because they are perfectly suited for you, your experience and style. And isn't that wonderful. That is when the joy of translating settles inside you, and gives you the opportunity and encouragement to look deeper. Really a win-win situation.

But some other jobs are for one reason or another just not 'good'. Maybe the the subject area is OK, but the style may be so awkward for you, that you feel this heavy weight. You don't achieve the volume expected, you may have trouble meeting the deadlines, and you certainly don't have any surplus energy left to research more than the strict necessary .. and the risk is that you start cutting corners, selecting the 'good enough/will do instead of 'good'.

Those spells can be long, but they are unpredictable. In a large-volume job you may meet different different authors, some of which are 'right' for you, and others 'wrong'.

I feel with you Astrid but, but hang in there, persevere - the good days are there too.

Now I wil close to go back to my online-nightmare-tools catalogue- translation which has ruined my Easter, my weekends, my evenings .. and on which I don't know how much time I need to spend every time I log on to a new page. But I know that some time again, there will be another good job.

Keep smiling ...



Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:13
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
No, I don't think so Mar 30, 2008

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:
I do not know whether this is deliberate policy on the part of the clients; however, I quite suspect that it is.

You mean, you suspect that it is profitable for your clients to spend time to analyse all of their texts in terms of potential difficulty, and then send the more difficult stuff to the higher-charging translators? Really?

...that measured the level of complexity of a document, and gave a numerical grade for it. If anyone knows of this program, I could do with it again to implement my new pricing scheme.

Hmm, I never thought of including the document's statistical complexity in the pricing structure. I guess it would be done, but it would take a lot of tweaking to get the system right.

And these statistical methods don't always hold true -- most of them rely on word length and sentence length. You can have a very complex text that uses mostly short words, and you can have a very easy translation in which the source text uses mostly long words. Even if the method is smarter and relies on whether the words uses are marked as "common" or "uncommon" in a thesaurus, it will not necessarily mean the text is more or less difficult to translate.

In fact, I wonder if one could simply count the number of fullstops, question marks and exclamation marks, and compare it to the number of commas, semi-colons, colons, brackets and ellipses, to determine a ratio for "probably so or so complex".


Off-topic: I toyed a bit with my "periods-versus-commas" method and I think it would work best if you do it on a per-paragraph basis. A text with 100 paragraphs of which 20 are highly complex and 80 are dead simple would score less complex overall than a text of 20 paragraphs of which all of them are are somewhat complex.

[Edited at 2008-03-30 10:41]


Martin Wenzel
Local time: 01:13
English to German
+ ...
Prices must be based on difficulty of text and format... Mar 30, 2008

The time factor in translation is crucial...

You may have an "easy" translation that you haven't read through carefully and you'll end up doing a lot of extra time searching for a couple of difficult terms that were not clear in your source text...

When I worked full-time for a translation agency, I was on good terms with the secretary and always convinced her to farm out the real stinkers.

If you are a freelancer, it is a different kettle of fish altogether and you may have to accept the occasional stinker.

Before I accept work, I normally print out all documents to discern the font and other hidden secrets.

As I always want to use my CAT tools, I don't want to do any scanned in PDFs that I cannot convert because they are like one big pic....

Sometimes I do accept a stinker translation even though I know I am not gonna earn a lot with that job simply because I am interested in the subject...

Agencies are getting cheekier all the time, however, this can work both ways if they are too cheeky they may just end up not finding anybody to do the job over the weekend or in a short time.

When quoting prices, agencies do charge extra for weekend and rush work, whereas as a freelancer I do have a hard time asking for a surcharge on my normal price...

I think if you have noticed this recent tendency of receiving difficult translations more frequently, you will have to develop a new strategy to ensure that you will earn as much as you have intended.



Carla Abdel Karim
United Arab Emirates
Local time: 04:13
French to Arabic
+ ...
Vary your rates accordingly! Mar 30, 2008

It is true that very few translators think of pricing each job depending on different parameters.
That is why you are requested to quote for a job, otherwise, clients can consult your quotes directly on your profile!
The quotes I have entered are simply "indicative". My pricing may vary depending on the "emergency" of the deadline, the degree of the text's technicality, the degree of difficulty. It might be hard to educate your clients to the system at first. But if you actually rate the document when you are done by degree of difficulty and indicate the amount of time spent on terminological research, they will not disapprove, whereas this ensures quality. Set up your own difiiculty scale!

Hope this helps, as it has helped me.



[Edited at 2008-03-30 11:38]


Deborah do Carmo  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:13
Dutch to English
+ ...
Grading Mar 30, 2008

Hi Astrid,

I charge most clients EUR XXX to EUR XXX, depending whether the text (which is nearly always legal) is general, semi-specialised or specialised, based on a quick assessment of the file before acceptance.

It's an approach that works for me because I am still earning my target hourly rate, regardless of the level of difficulty of the text, and I get a good mix of work as a result. If I stuck to one rate, they'd obviously throw me the harder legal stuff because they know I can do it and keep the "boilerplate work" back for other translators.

It is an approach that works for the client because I don't totally price myself out of the general legal market, although I'm not cheap, so they (a) have the choice of someone qualified in both law and translation doing the job, (b) have peace of mind that no major revision will be required, and (c) they know where to go immediately when the topic is more/very specialised, i.e. something perhaps only someone with legal training could really understand.

The same approach could be adopted by a true specialist in any area, I'm just taking law as my example.

Good luck

[Edited at 2008-03-30 13:53]


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:13
English to French
+ ...
The key is to let your client know what you are charging for Mar 30, 2008

What I am going to say is something that very seldom comes up here: have your client appreciate the work you do.

It is simple, really. When the client offers you a job, you can reply with a quote in which you don't just tell them how long it will take you to deliver the goods and how much it will cost them. Also include a list of things you will do to make it happen. Real-life example for a 6000-word technical text:

- Read file to determine what parts of the text will require assistance from the end client (approx. 1 hour)
- Mark problem points and prepare a list of questions to the client (approx. 1 hour)
- Convert file to enable the use of the required CAT tool (this doesn't necessarily mean converting per se - it can mean using Bookmark Handler, for example - approx. 1/2 hour)
- Preliminary quality assurance (installing the client's fonts to make sure formatting doesn't shift, deleting double spaces between sentences, etc. - approx. 2 hours)
- Terminology search (this is where you may also add the creation of a termbase, term validation with the end client, etc. - approx. 5 hours)
- Translation (approx. 15 hours)
- Preparing a second series of questions for the end client (approx. 1 hour)
- Quality assurance (ensuring that source and target segments match, ensuring that the terminology and the style are consistent, spelling, etc. - approx. 3 hours)
- Final proofreading (approx. 1 hour)

This example is for a straightforward job. It still doesn't include tasks like aligning earlier translations to produce a TM, converting a PDF to text or using OCR, looking up user interface terms in an Excel sheet to make sure you use exactly the terms that will appear in the interface in the target language, translating images, etc. If you add such a list to your quote, the client will have a better idea of what you are doing for them and this can help justify your rate (which you can easily calculate by using the same list). In this case, the total duration of the translator's work was nearly 30 hours, but only half of that was spent actually translating. Once your client realizes this, they will probably start to expect that you will charge certain jobs at a different rate than others, and in some cases, they will try to eliminate some of the tasks in your list before sending the work off to you, which means easier jobs for you (they will take less time and you will earn a bit less money from them - but this will leave room to grow your client base). If they still expect you always charge the same rate no matter how difficult the text is and how many cumbersome tasks you will have to perform, then it may be time to look for other clients. In my case, if I don't feel that my work is appreciated (not just moneywise), I move on.

Once you are done with a job, you can also repeat the same list in your invoice, this time putting the real duration of each task (sometimes, they turn out to last longer than planned). Again, you are reminding your client what they pay for when they pay the amount at the bottom of the invoice. I find that the extra ten minutes spent on this (10 minutes you DON'T charge to the client, naturally) is an investment that yields a fantastic return in many cases.

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