Note: This blog post was originally written in Japanese for our Japanese website. We used our machine translation platform Translation Designer to translate it and post-edit the content in English. The original Japanese post can be found here.

"I want to request a document translation to a translation company. How should I approach it?" In our blog, we share tips on how to work with translation companies like us to answer questions like this.

We gave an overview of how to request a quote in a previous post, 5 Points to Clarify to Get a Desired Quote for Translation Services.

In this post, we will discuss about the word and character count that takes place at the time of preparing a quote. We bet that some of you readers have had the experience of being confused after receiving a quote for professional translation services. Hopefully, this post can clear some of the questions that you may have had in the past.

Let's unravel the mystery of a translation quote

"Thanks for the quote. By the way, what is this item on the third row and why is it included?" It's pretty common to receive such a question from first-time customers regarding a quote.

Although the wording might differ depending on the translation company, a quote for professional translation services basically consists of the following items.

  • Translation fee
  • Layout fee
  • Additional fees

A translation fee is literally the translation cost. We calculate how much will cost for the number of words or characters in a document.

A layout fee is the cost to adjust the layout of the translated document, which is calculated for the number of pages or hours it takes to work on the layout. If no layout adjustments are required, no cost will be added here.

Additional fees can include costs for processing the files before and/or after the translation work or layout adjustments. Anything that requires someone to spend working hours for the project will go in here. Of course, no costs will be added if there is no additional work to be done. Sometimes these additional fees might be called engineering fees. See this post for details on localization engineering work.

For this post, we'd like to explain the word (or character) count that is the basis of the calculation for a translation fee.

Word count method

As mentioned above, the translation fee depends on the number of words or characters to be translated. Therefore, translation companies count the number of words or characters when preparing a quote. So, what is the standard?

Many professional translation services base their fees on the word or character count of the document. For example, if the document that needs translation is in Japanese, we count the characters like below.

この文章を翻訳します。 ⇒ 11 characters (Note: punctuation marks are included in the count.)

If you want to translate an English document, we count the words like the following.

I translate this sentence. ⇒ 4 words

When counting the words or characters, translation companies generally use a computer-assisted translation tool, commonly known as CAT tools, or the word count tool in Microsoft Word.

Let's take a look at the example below. The number of words is displayed as "508 words" in the lower left corner of Word document. (How to check the word count might be different depending on the version of Word you have.) When you click on the displayed number of words, a window opens up like the one shown below.

You will check the number in "Words" for English documents or the number in "Characters (no spaces)" for Japanese documents. However, remember that the count might be different depending on what tool you use.

Counting by source words or target words

Have you heard of "source word count" and "target word count"?

When creating a translation quote, you can use the word or character count of the original document (source) or that of the final translated document (target). The policy differs by translation companies. We call the former source word count and the latter target word count. Let's look at how they are different.

The source word count method sets the unit price for one word if the original document is written in Western languages and for one character if the original document is in Japanese or Chinese. This is a calculation method that counts the number of words or characters in a document that needs to be translated and uses it as the base of the translation fee.

On the other hand, the target word count method counts the number of translated words or characters at the time of completion, meaning when the translation is done. If you're translating from English to Japanese, you will count the number of characters in the translated Japanese document. From Japanese to English, it's vice versa -- you will count the number of words in the translated English document. Then a unit price is set for 200 words or 400 characters. The criteria for the unit differ by translation company. This is a method of presenting the translation fee in a set of words or characters.

In the past, customers often provided their documents by sending the actual printed document or by fax. In those days, in order to check the number of words or characters in a document, we had to count everything manually. But for counting the translated words or characters, we were able to automatically count them after translation if we used word processing software such as Microsoft Word for the translation work. This is why the target word count method became common.

Nowadays, customers send documents for translation by data such as Microsoft Word or PowerPoint when they request a quote. Therefore, it is possible to count words or characters before the translation work, making the source word count method to become the mainstream.

Advantages of counting source words

With the target word count method, you won't know the exact number of words or characters until after the translation is done, and the estimate provided before translation is an approximation. You might get charged a different amount from the estimate at the end of the project.

On the other hand, with the source word count method, the translation cost is determined by the number of words or characters before starting translation. So, you don't have to worry about the cost changing afterward. This is the advantage of counting source words in which an accurate and fair quote can be presented before starting the translation.

As mentioned above, there was a time when translation companies had to manually count the number of words using a counter. Thanks to the current digital era, even if documents are provided by paper manuscripts such as books or fax, we have technology that can help us. Optical character recognition, or OCR, technology is used to easily count the number of words even within images and scanned documents.

Counting the source words is a prerequisite even when using a translation memory (i.e., accumulated past translation data) with a CAT tool for analysis.

When you do word count with a CAT tool, you can calculate in detail. How much of the content of your document matches the translation memory, how many repetition phrases are there, how many new phrases to be translated are there, how much past translations can be used from the memory, and so on. In addition, there are cases where discounted unit prices can be applied according to the match rate with the translation memory, so you will be able to obtain more cost benefits.

This is also a distinct advantage of counting source words, where a quote is provided before translation.

Kawamura's translation services

We hope this post was helpful for you. If you had an experience of getting a quote for professional translation services and wondered about the calculation method, now you know how the word count matters.

In principle, Kawamura International adopts the source word count method for preparing a quote. If you have any questions or need a quote, please feel free to contact us.