Setting a volume: words per day
Thread poster: Roy Williams

Roy Williams  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:37
Member (2011)
German to English
Apr 29, 2008

Hello all!

I'm considering freelancing part time and was wondering how does one decide, if at all, how many words a day they will translate. is there an industry norm or does one simply sit in front of their computer translating until their eyeballs melt?

What are the best scheduling practices?


Jan Willem van Dormolen  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:37
English to Dutch
+ ...
Try it for some time Apr 29, 2008

The only way to find out how many words per day you can do, is to try it out. Do a couple of projects, write down your hours, and after a month or so you can do the math.
There are no 'industry standards', nor can there be, since the complexity of source texts can be vastly different. A translator of 20th century poetry will do only a few lines per day, whereas a translator who does his 3705th printer driver manual will do a couple of thousand words per day.


Lori Cirefice  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:37
French to English
It's really variable Apr 29, 2008

For me it can vary from 1000 to 5000 words a day, depending on the diffuculty of the text, and whether or not I have an existing glossary and TM for a particular client (just this Saturday I did a 5k job in one day, made possible with my CAT because it's repeat work from the same customer with same terminology). But that's just for the translation, the work was not "finalized", I did my proofing on the following day.

Be sure to factor in enough time for proofreading and fine-tuning.

Supposedly the average is around 2000 words per day, but for you that may be different.

That's the nice thing about freelancing, you can decide how much you take on, so no need to let the eyeballs melt ... I see in your profile that you have 4 years experience, surely you have some idea about how much you can get done in a day.

About working part time, I suggest you only take on jobs with generous deadlines. You may have less work when you start, but you won't stretch yourself too thin.


GeorginaW  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:37
German to English
Type of text determines speed Apr 29, 2008

Last night I translated four pages of wine descriptions in two hours - great fun. But if it had been legalese or something financial it could have taken four hours or even more to decipher it. Very hard to generalise. Also depends how well your brain is ticking over!


Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:37
Swedish to English
+ ...
Bell-shaped curve Apr 29, 2008

Jan Willem van Dormolen is absolutely right - it varies, and his advice is good. I would only add that the number of words per day forms a bell-shaped curve. At one extremity of the curve you may manage only a single word or expression a day that is very hard to understand but crucial to the translation. Other days you will whizz through thousands of wordsat high speed.

Most people find that the centre of the bell curve is 2000 or 2500 words per day. The trick therefore is to move the right-hand slope of the curve further to the right by using productivity-boosting techniques and computer tools. High on the list of such productivity boosters are electronic dictionaries, speech recognition and CAT tools. plus your own comprehensive glossaries and reference materials.

Experienced high-quality translators working in familiar areas can shift their bell curve to 3 or 4000 words per day. Some claim even higher figures.


Paul Merriam  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:37
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Figure out your capabilities Apr 29, 2008

I don't recommend simply sitting in front of a computer until your eyeballs melt. After the eyeballs have melted, you can't earn a living. And you may not meet your client's deadline anyway.

I recommend using your favorite search engine to find documents about the fields you plan to work in and a couple of additional documents besides. (The additional documents are because it frequently happens that a document you originally thought was about Field X takes a detour into Field Y.) For each document, write down the source word count, the target word count and the amount of time you took to do it. Be sure to include time to proofread it (because you aren't going to be turning in your first draft to a client). Then determine how much time per day you're going to spend translating.

You need this information because you are not necessarily going to be able to meet what your potential client would like you to do. Some potential clients don't realize that translation is more time-consuming than copy-typing and therefore 50 wpm is unrealistic. Others may be used to working with a translator who uses CAT tools to save considerable amounts of time. (You can do that also, but if the other translator doesn't provide the memory, you may not be able to save as much time.) If you promise your potential client that you will do his document with X words by Wednesday (totally beyond your capabilities) and you fail to do so or have to hurry to get it all done, you have a problem. If you tell your potential client that Wednesday is unrealistic and you won't be able to do it by then, he has a problem. You can help him solve it by offering a later deadline or perhaps by translating only part of it, or he may decide to hire someone else, but it's still his problem rather than yours.

Also, once you have your figures, you will be able to determine whether freelancing is worth your time financially. If you find you can only earn $Y per hour doing it and you value your time at somewhat more, there really isn't any point in pursuing freelancing unless you have some reason other than finances to do so.

Scheduling is up to you. You indicate you're considering doing freelancing part time, which suggests you have a full time job. That's a constraint. You also have other constraints. If you can't do your potential clients' work given your constraints, you need to tell these potential clients no.


Αlban SHPΑTΑ  Identity Verified
Member (2008)
English to Albanian
+ ...
source text and mood Apr 29, 2008

It certainly depends on the source text you are translating and it also depends on your mood.

My average is 3000, but at times I go up to 4000-4500 words a day. But you have to also consider the amount of time it will take you to recheck your own translation and proofread yourself to optimize your own results.

From my proofreading experience I have seen that many translators are so careless as to not even read what they have been translating.


Roy Williams  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:37
Member (2011)
German to English
thanks Apr 29, 2008

Thanks for your input everyone! the tips given are extremely valuable.

[Edited at 2008-04-29 17:18]


Jørgen Madsen  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:37
English to Danish
+ ...
Source text quality and language combination Apr 29, 2008

Apart from the above comments, I just want to add two aspects: source text quality (texts written by Native speakers are often quicker to translate than texts by non-Native speakers) and language combination. In my case, an English text will have more words than the corresponding Danish text, with a difference of about 20 per cent, since Danish typically contains fewer words due to for instance compound nouns written in one word etc.



Vito Smolej
Local time: 14:37
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Go quantitative Apr 29, 2008

What are the best scheduling practices?

You need to define / setup some method to measure your productivity, i.e. how much product you get out of your time working. I use Time Stamp to measure my time on the job, and analyse in Trados (my work horse). You will pretty soon get a sound idea of your limitations, averages, monday morning vs friday evening variations etc.




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Setting a volume: words per day

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