Posted by: patenttranslator | August 11, 2013

How Much, If Anything, Should Translators Charge for Formatting?

Patent translators generally don’t need to worry about maintaining the exact formatting style of the original patent documents, partly because many patent applications in foreign languages include numbered paragraphs, each  of which contains only one or a few sentences. This means that it is very easy to locate a corresponding paragraph in a Japanese or European patent application, and fortunately also that the translator is unlikely to skip a paragraph when all of them are sequentially numbered.

But many patents contain tables, sometime very complicated tables taking up a whole page, and they often also have a number of graphs, flowcharts, drawings and illustrations at the end. All of this information must be scanned in and included in the translation since patents are often available only as a PDF file.

The question is, how much, if anything, should translators charge for this additional work? Tables can be quite complicated to recreate, but this timid patent translator never had the courage to charge clients extra for creating tables. I create tables for free and charge only for words and numbers contained in them.

While patent lawyers charge for their time in increments of 15 minutes, they don’t like it when translators try to do the same to them. More than 20 years ago when I was still quite the greenhorn in the field of patent translation, I included a modest charge for 15 minutes of scanning on my invoice. The law firm paid the invoice, which came up to well over a thousand dollars based on the word count, but they did not pay the modest scanning fee.

So I stopped charging a scanning fee and instead started slowly increasing my per word rates, starting with the company that did not think that the  time I wasted scanning graphic elements was worth anything at all to them.

It actually makes sense to throw something like that in for free because even if I spend for example several days translating a very long patent in PDF format that has a dozen pages of graphs and figures at the end, it rarely takes me more than an hour to scan and cut and paste the graphics into the word processed file, and I still do charge for the words contained in the figures that I have to translate.

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But it is a very different story when I translate articles from technical and medical journals, or for example test reports, because these documents often have several figures, illustrations, graphs and equations and chemical formulas on each page and it can be very time consuming when I try to match the dimensions of the illustration to the translated text.

When I am translating a similar article for a direct client, I still generally do not charge anything for the time spent scanning and formatting because I feel that since I am already charging a higher rate to all direct clients, I don’t need to do that.

When I am translating an article for a translation agency, I generally don’t do any scanning and formatting unless the agency agrees either to pay a higher per word rate, or pay an hourly rate for formatting in addition to the per word rate, which almost never happens.

The third option that I offer in these cases to agencies is to key-code the original test by assigning numbers or letters to the text in figures that must be translated and creating an additional PDF file of the key-coded original document. The project manager can then create the entire document including the graphic elements based on my files.

There is only one agency that gets special treatment from me in that I include all the graphic elements in my translation for them without charging a cent extra for this – because this agency always pays me within a few days once they receive my invoice.

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How do translators in the same field or in other fields handle this issue? I don’t know. I think that some have simply accepted the notion that the this kind of free “desktop publishing” task is  just another freebie that is naturally expected from them, similarly to obligatory discounts that many translators must agree to provide for so called “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” generated by computer assisted translation tools.

Call me crazy, but my time is really valuable to me.

I think that working for free, namely when I spend a lot of time as an unpaid desktop publishing nerd, is not a good use of the valuable commodity called time.

This is a commodity that is quite limited for all of us, as all of us will one day simply run out of it, with the possible exception of Mick Jagger, who is still singing and jumping up and down and around the stage exactly the way he was doing it 50 years ago when most people reading this blog were not even born yet.

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Responses

  1. Little of the work that we do is really demanding in terms of formatting but my partner is a champion formatter and she does ensure that our finished product looks crisp and clear and – above all – that it FITS comfortably on the page :).

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  2. […] Patent translators generally don't need to worry about maintaining the exact formatting style of the original patent documents, partly because many patent applications in foreign languages include …  […]

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  3. @ Michal
    That’s all fine and dandy, but the real question is: can she cook, for instance švestkové knedlíky s tarohem (plum dumplings with cottage cheese) or svíčkovou na smetaně s brusinkama (sirloin in cream, with cranberries)?

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  4. A sweatshop worker on piece rates does not get paid extra for keeping his or her workstation tidy 🙂

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  5. That’s true.

    But I am not a sweatshop worker …. more like a highly experienced tailor specialized in fine suits for gentleman and wedding dress alterations.

    Which is why I deserve a high piece rate … and I know how to get it.

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  6. Perhaps it is helpful to know that Germany, a couple of weeks ago, adopted a law (Zweites Kostenrechtsmodernisierungsgesetz, signed on July 23) that regulates rates for translators (working for courts, authorities, etc.). The law differentiates between “normal” and “non-editable” (those which need to be scanned or retyped or reformatted) texts. It seems that the extra work is now “officially” factored in: €1,55 per line of 55 characters (normal) and €1,75 for non-editable lines (that would be approximately €0.17 and €0.21 per word, respectively).

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  7. I still can’t figure out the correct formula for calculating the number of (German) words per 1 German line, which you would then need to multiply by about 1.25 to arrive at the English word count.

    I think that Germany likes to count lines instead of words because there is then more room for manipulating the final cost with this fuzzy method. The anglo way to calculate the cost is more precise. You want to make sure that you control how much the lazy worker bees called translators are allowed to make to the last penny in the anglo version of crapitalism.

    For Japanese and Chinese characters, the rule of thumb is 2 characters = 1 English word, which makes it relatively easy to calculate the cost once you check the current yen/dollar exchange rate.

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    • I don’t know about the German line rate system being fuzzy. I’m English and have been working in Germany my entire translation career and only translate German into English and only on the basis of a line rate (total no. of characters in document including spaces divided by 55 equals no.
      of lines). As a legal translator translating documents with words like Kostenmodernisierungsgesetz in them, why would I want to charge by the word? Pricing here is always (at least in my experience) on the basis of source text so everyone knows where they stand from the start. Having said that 90% of my customers are direct clients now who don’t understand or care about line rates or word rates so they just get a project price which I calculate on the basis of my standard line rate with a bit added (but not stated as such) for extra formatting where needed.
      Otherwise whether I charge for formatting depends on the project, customer, volume and amount of formatting required.

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      • Ah ok re-reading this now: yes no way would I convert my line rate into a word rate, line rate only, converting to word rate is indeed fuzzy!

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  8. I don’t mind doing a little bit of formatting free of charge, if it’s for what I consider a valuable client. But anything more than this, I either don’t do or I charge extra (usually by the hour). TBH, my preference is not to do it. I like translating, and I’m happy to spend my time doing it; I don’t like recreating tables and whatnot.

    The last time I came up against this issue was a couple of months ago when a not very regular client (who sends me a few smallish jobs a year) sent me a scanned pdf that consisted entirely of heavily formatted tables. I said that if they couldn’t provide a properly formatted Word document, I would have to either charge the whole project by the hour or charge a higher-than-usual per word rate to cover the extra time needed. Lo and behold, the agency themselves recreated the source file from scratch in Word and sent it me to translate the next day.

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  9. A good agency would send the format of the tables to you without even being asked to do so.

    But maybe that’s just the way things used to be.

    Everybody wants freebies these days.

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    • You know what they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch…

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  10. @Karen

    Fuzzy can be good if it means more money for the translator.

    I just wonder whether there is a precise formula for converting per line count to per word count so that I can figure out how much I would be paid if I work for a customer in Germany on that basis.

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  11. The per word rate allows intermediaries to deduct all repetitions easily, whereas the per line rate doesn’t… I prefer the per line rate, thus…

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  12. “When I am translating an article for a translation agency, I generally don’t do any scanning and formatting unless the agency agrees either to pay a higher per word rate, or pay an hourly rate for formatting in addition to the per word rate, which almost never happens.”:

    Some PMs are paid to do the extra formatting. I guess (some) agencies prefer to do the formatting themselves in order to keep rates as low as possible…

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  13. @Rob and Isabelle:

    Thanks for the links. I tried to enter the data but could not make it work. I guess there is no simple rule for converting word count to lines. I will try it again.

    “Some PMs are paid to do the extra formatting. I guess (some) agencies prefer to do the formatting themselves in order to keep rates as low as possible…”

    Oh, yes, that must be it.

    Back when I used to work a lot for agencies, they would send me key-coded figures or complicated tables so that I would only have to translate the Japanese words in them, or sometime they would send me a formatted table and I just filled in the translated words.

    But most of them probably got used to free work from translators in the meantime.

    It’s much more cost efficient from their viewpoint, just like obligatory discounts for “matches” and “fuzzy matches”.

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    • I use it precisely to convert from lines to words. It should work for you the other way round.

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    • Steve, if you click on the “Help” button, a screen will open, explaining very clearly what they mean by “Unit”. This is where people have problems, usually. It’s a bit tricky, but clearly explained.

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    • “But most of them probably got used to free work from translators in the meantime.” :

      Yes, competition is more and more international nowadays and translators know it, so they accept worse and worse conditions from some of those super-large, international agencies…

      I have come to realize that translators working long hours at home for peanuts are a bit like those female carpet weavers (in Tunisia and other countries) who work at home for months on a carpet, to sell it for not much to a reseller who then makes a huge profit on tourists… 🙂 One really has to love translating and working at home to endure all that…

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      • P.S. I like the comparison with the carpet weavers because each little knot is like each word a translator translates, amounting to thousands of knots or words, which in the end constitute a carpet or translation, which is then sold at the price we know…

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  14. “Yes, competition is more and more international nowadays and translators know it, so they accept worse and worse conditions from some of those super-large, international agencies…”

    But you can also use your brain and “international competition” to try to figure out how to use Internet to cut out the intermediary and work for direct clients.

    That’s what I did. And I am not that smart – if I can do it, anybody can do it.

    A lot of literate carpet weavers and pottery makers in third world countries sell carpets and pots directly to buyers from their website.

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  15. […] from names of people (III) Whole Wide Word: A blog about words, language, translation & more How Much, If Anything, Should Translators Charge for Formatting? SDL Trados Studio vs. memoQ: Translating Text Columns in Excel The House of Impossible Loves – […]

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