Source Vs. Target Word Counts: How Much to Charge for Translation?

Feb 15, 2019

First, some bad news. We’re not going to tell you whether or not you should charge based on source or target word count. There’s just no perfect answer to that question. It really depends on a variety of factors. Instead, we’re going to help you make the best decision for your situation by giving you some guidelines and considerations.

Benefits of Charging Per Source Word Count

The primary benefit for charging according to source word count is your ability to provide upfront pricing. That’s a real selling factor to customers who are on a budget and need to know exactly what your work will cost up front. This also tends to be a good approach for customers who tend to be ‘one-time’ translation customers. They’re going to be more comfortable knowing what they owe.

Bottom Line: If your translation source is clear, and you have a customer who needs to know how much they will spend up front, source word count may be the best way to establish your translator fee.

Benefits of Charging Per Target Word Count

There are definitely some advantages to charging by target word count as well. If you have a client with hard copy documents or documents that aren’t in a format that allows easy word counting. Rather than manually counting words or guessing, you can simply get started. In many cases, businesses and individuals who use translation services frequently are pretty comfortable paying according to their target word count. You’ll just invoice them for the completed work, minus any deposits.

Bottom Line: If you cannot establish a source word count, or if you are working with a business, you might base your translation charge per word on the target document.

Linguistic Considerations

The terms expansion and contraction refers to changes in word count that frequently happens when translating text from one language to another. Simply put, different languages have different syntax, grammar, and other characteristics. So, translating from Spanish to English usually leads to fewer words. As an experienced translator, you know your languages of expertise, and where expansion and contraction usually occur according to source language and target language.

Your customers' preferences can lead to expansion and contraction as well. So can the type of document. For example, if your customer wants a very concise target document, it could be much shorter than a source document that goes into a lot of detail. Likewise, translating fiction often leaders to a longer target document as you work to ensure that you retain the work’s intended meaning.

If you do anticipate significant expansion or contraction, you may want to adjust your translation rates per word accordingly. The translation pricing per word can be adjusted based on the amount of expansion or contraction, and also the overall difficulty of the translation job.

Bottom Line: When deciding how much to charge per translation it’s important to consider every factor that will impact the amount of work you need to do, and the client’s expectations.

Final Thoughts: Do Some Competitive Research

The best way to sell translation services successfully is to adhere to industry standards while providing better services than your competitors. To do this, you’ll need to answer the following questions:

  • How much do translators charge in my specific niche?
  • Is it standard to charge for source or target word count?
  • Can I create a competitive edge by going against the grain or not?

Ultimately, the kind of translations you perform, your target customers, and the languages in which you specialize will be major deciding factors in your choice here. There’s no choice that is better than the other. Instead, you’ll need to take the information provided here and make an informed decision.