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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Working with PDFs

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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Working with PDFs

Working with PDFs

In order to protect documents from unauthorized changes and save on faxing and mailing costs, many companies have switched to e-mailing source-text documents as PDF (Portable Document Format) files. While this cross-platform file format is ideal for sharing content with others, it presents a number of challenges to freelance translators.

Dear Business Smarts:

Recently I have received a number of requests for quotes, mostly from translation agencies, based on documents in PDF format. Since these documents have to be converted to a different format in order to determine a word count, it can be quite time-consuming to prepare a quote, with no guarantee that my cost estimate will ultimately be accepted. In one particularly bad case, I received 12 separate PDF files, each one page long, for a "quick quote." Is this a new standard practice? I typically run PDF files through an optical character recognition (OCR) software package I bought, which yields good but not perfect results. If my quote is accepted, the output files then have to be cleaned up and corrected before I can translate them using a computer-assisted translation tool. The simple fact is that working from a PDF source takes longer and involves extra formatting work. What do you advise?
— Sick of PDFs

Dear Sick:

There are many uses for PDF files, but the practice of sending a file without a word count to a freelancer for a "quick quote" should not be among them.

In the translation industry, PDF has become the preferred format for documents that used to be transmitted by fax, such as legal briefs, medical reports, etc. Business Smarts is of the opinion that it is the responsibility of agencies to provide their clients with an accurate quote and the exact terms of a transaction, before the assignment can be given to a freelancer. No matter how harried a project manager may be, it is not acceptable to transfer to you, the translator, the task of quoting a job or determining the word count. If the request is an isolated incident, it is probably best to let it go in the interest of preserving a good working relationship. But sending 12 separate pages that have to be decoded individually with optical character recognition software — or worse, printed out for a manual word count — is simply too much.

Your best response would be to send a polite but firm message indicating that you are interested in the job, but feel that you can offer a better price (your regular rate) when you are supplied with an accurate word count. Otherwise, your quote will, unfortunately, be higher because the word count is not immediately apparent and you do not want to risk cutting yourself short.

Some colleagues have established a fixed surcharge for working from hardcopy and PDF documents to compensate for the extra formatting requirements and the difficulty of using computer-assisted translation tools. In many cases, even direct clients will provide an editable copy of documents, such as press releases, procedures, technical manuals, etc., if they are informed that translating a PDF document takes longer and therefore costs more. They may also be pleased to learn that a translator working from native word-processor files can offer better quality and accuracy, since elements such as tables and lists do not need to be laboriously (and possibly inaccurately) re-typed


Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: January 2007, p 47