Here’s a question we frequently get when customers ask us for quotes: “How do you charge: by the word, by the page, or by the hour?”

Translation is most commonly billed by word or page. I don’t know of any company that charges for written translation by the hour, although interpreting, formatting and DTP are customarily billed in this way. In case you’re not familiar with DTP, it stands for desktop publishing, which is the way the industry defines the process of localizing graphics work on brochures, posters, PDF files, e-books, magazines and other published pieces. 

By the word. This is the standard way to quote translation and it usually involves straight text (such as reports, contracts, press releases, manuals, etc.) where the words can be counted and the number of words will be uneven from page to page. When we receive Word files, we go by the file’s word count (found at the bottom left of the screen), adding in any content in text boxes, comments or footnotes –which the word count doesn’t include. For Word files we receive that have been converted to PDF, we simply export back to Word and get the word count that way.

By the page. The type of work that is billed by the page usually involves scanned forms (such as invoices, tax returns, and other types of forms). The words on these typically cannot be counted electronically or manually, or it’s impractical to do so. We either convert the files or use word-counting software to get an idea of the word count, then we take into account the time involved in mirroring the form if it’s a personal document. In the case of bank statements or tax returns, we may also do a full conversion to a Word document and recreate the document in its entirety.

By the hour. The work that is typically billed by the hour involves interpreting, website localization testing, formatting and DTP. In case you’re not familiar with industry jargon, DTP stands for desktop publishing, which is the way the industry defines the process of localizing graphics work on brochures, posters, PDF files, e-books, magazines and other published pieces. 

There are companies that list their per-word rates on their websites or that give out rate cards. We are not one of those. There are many factors that go beyond content and affect pricing. They are:

  1. Language combination. This industry, like any other, is subject to the realities of supply and demand. In the United States, a language combination such as English-Spanish will be much more affordable than, say, English-Yoruba. In this country, and particularly in Miami (where TransForma is based), translators of English to and from Spanish are plentiful, and this keeps the price fairly low. English-German, while not as uncommon, is an expensive combination; much more than Spanish-English. The rarer the language, the higher the fee –not only because those bilingual individuals are rarer, but because qualified translators in the language combination are rarer still.
  2. Complexity of text. Straightforward content, such as a speech, is much easier to translate than a patent, which requires not only a competent translator but a highly trained subject-matter expert. Therefore, the price of the patent translation will be much higher.
  3. Turnaround time. If you have a very large amount of text that you need in a very short timeframe, you may pay anywhere between 50% to 150% of the regular fee (sometimes more). We were once asked to turn around 100,000 words (roughly 400 pages) from Spanish into English in 48 hours. We did it, but it wasn’t cheap –even for Spanish-English.
  4. Amount of text. Generally speaking, the more text you have, the lower the per-word fee you’ll pay. But this applies to real volume and not to, say, ten or even 50 pages of text.
  5. Volume. If you’re a multinational company that produces a large amount of content across multiple platforms in several languages, your translation provider will most certainly take this into account when pricing your project and will give you a discounted price. If they don’t, look for another provider!
  6. Formatting requirements. Documents that need to be recreated to be faithful to the source will be priced for the content (words) and also for the DTP, formatting or file conversion. These can be charged by the page or by the hour.
  7. Legibility. We often get documents that appear to be second- or third-generation copies, or with text that is cut off at the margins, and often those are the best that the client can provide. In many cases, the content can be figured out, but it is more difficult and time-consuming. The price will reflect the level of effort that the translator has to undertake in order to do his or her job.
  8. Whether the content can be summarized instead of translated in its entirety. Depending on what you are trying to accomplish, the 50-page contract you send out for a translation quote can be summarized for a fraction of the translation cost. Your translation provider should suggest this option.

    It’s always best to present the documents to your translation provider in order to get a quote. Birth, death and marriage certificates, for example, come in a wide variety of “flavors” depending on the country of origin: in some countries they are produced as contracts; in others, they are fairly simple with a minimum of content. Most agencies I know don’t feel comfortable giving a “blind” quote without knowing exactly what they’re quoting on. We certainly don’t. So, when you ask an agency what they charge for a birth certificate, a tax return, a manual, a contract, or whatever type of document, chances are they will ask to see it before giving you a price.
    Carmen Hiers is founder and managing partner of TransForma Translation Services. Get a free quote on your project today at or call 305-722-3827.