Why do you charge for translation by the word not by the page, line or hour?

Hello. I’m getting quotes for some translations and some agencies are quoting me based on the number of pages in the document. some based on the number of words and some are even saying they charge by the hour. It says on your website that you charge by the number of words in the source document. What does that mean and why do you do this? and what’s the advantages and disadvantages of the other methods?

Hi Krista,

Thanks for your your question.

There are several different charging models in the translation industry but we believe charging by the number of words in the source document (the document you want translated, not the finished translated document) is the fairest method as it means that we are able give you a fixed price which accurately reflects the amount of work we do for you.

I’ve explained the other methods and their flaws below.

Translations charged by the page

The problem with charging by the page for translations is there’s no standard definition of the size of the page; or the size and amount of text on that page.

For example, in the USA a standard letter page is 216 mm wide by 279 tall whereas a European A4 page is 297 mm wide by 210 mm.

Whilst the differences in physical size might be small, what’s more significant is the number of words printed on the page which can vary from less then 500 to over 700 depending on the font, style and size.

In summary, the disadvantage of charging by the page is it makes it very hard to produce a standard price list as the page unit is too variable.

Charging for translations by the line

Somewhat surprisingly in our opinion, charging by the line is quite popular in many countries in continental Europe.

The problems with this approach are similar to those encountered when charging by the page. How do you define what is a standard line? And on what size of paper?

It gets even more confusing when you are dealing with digital text on websites, mobile phones and tablets. As anyone who has used one of these devices knows, the number of words on a line changes in an instant when you turn the screen through 90 degrees!

In an attempt to introduce some standardisation it’s common practice to assume there are 15 words in each line of text. Of course some lines in some contexts will have more, and some will have less but fifteen is a reasonable average.

We feel that instead of assuming an average, we may as well count the words and quote on them directly so you get an accurate quote in the first place.

Charging by the number of lines or pages might have been OK before the use of computers became universal but it now seems very outdated and adds no value (Which is why we don’t do it).

Translating by the hour

Of all the the translation charging models, charging by the hour is our least favourite as it’s very difficult to estimate in advance how long a piece of work will take.

There are huge variances in the time taken to translate different types of texts.

Highly technical documents may require frequent references to specialist glossaries whilst straightforward correspondence is much quicker. It’s often not apparent to the translator how much time they’ll need before they actually start the work which makes it even harder to estimate in advance.

Another fundamental problem with paying translators by the hour is you’re incentivising them to to take their time when you probably want your translation delivered as soon as possible.

We are aware that not all translation companies agree, but we feel charging by the number of words in the source document is the fairest and most transparent model.

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