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A-Z of Translation – the letter W:

As we hurtle towards the end of the alphabet, W is about pricing:


Words – This blog post is not about words as such, but about their use in many countries as the basis for billing translation work. Pricing per word (or thousand words) is the norm in the United States and the UK, for example. In many European countries, characters are used instead, often expressed in terms of a standard line or standard page.

Regardless of whether words or characters are used, the underlying belief is that quantity should determine the price. Since some texts are more specialised and demanding than others, it is common for pricing models to apply different rates according to the level of difficulty, so the formula becomes “quantity + difficulty = price”.

Determining the relevant number of words can be surprisingly tricky. Some translation providers will use the word count of the original document (source word count), others prefer to use the number of words/characters in the translation (target word count). Since some languages need more words than others to say the same thing (or longer words), this can easily make a difference of 10 per cent or more. Our preference is to use the number of words in the original document, not least because this is a known quantity at the start of the job, so clients have cost certainty.

It is obviously fair not to count any (significant) content that does not require translation, such as a long list of product names, for example, and to make allowance for any significance repetition within a document or overlap between a set of documents. To make things more interesting, different programs and tools will produce different word counts. There is simply no shared understanding of what constitutes a “word” – some counting tools treat “it’s” as two words, for example, while Word regards it as one.

A fair and consistent approach is obviously vital. Our aim is to count the words in the most client-friendly way possible.

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