Billing for translations: Standard page, lines, words - What is optimal?

Mann mit Taschenrechner

What is the best way to bill for translations? How is a quantity of text determined? By line or standard line, by word or by standard page? 

As there are many different ways of doing this among the various language service providers, it is clear that there is probably not one optimal billing model for everyone. Let’s have a look at the differences and compare the advantages and disadvantages.

What is a standard page?

A standard page is a calculation figure that helps to assess the size of a manuscript for costing purposes. Despite the term ‘standard’ in the name, however, the standard page is not clearly defined. On the one hand, there is the calculation of ‘25 lines of 40 characters on average’, which corresponds to 1,000 characters without spaces. Another definition sets it at ‘30 lines with up to 60 keystrokes’. This corresponds to a maximum of 1,800 characters, whereby spaces are taken into account here.

If a translation is to be billed according to standard pages, it is therefore important to determine in advance what is actually considered a standard page in a specific case.

What is a standard line?

A standard line contains 40 characters (calculated without spaces) or 50 to 55 characters including spaces.

In order to determine how many standard lines a text has, display the total number of characters including spaces in your text programme and divide this value by 55. Or by 50 - depending on the agreement.

Which text volume should I use as a basis?

The source text can be used as the billing parameter for a translation, but the target text would also be an option.

The fact that the source text is often the decisive factor is simply due to the fact that it is available at the time of calculation. The size of the target text of the target text, on the other hand, is only known after translation. Although factors can be used to estimate how much shorter or longer a text will be in the foreign language, this inevitably brings inaccuracy into the calculation.

Charging for translations by word?

To the layman, charging for translations by the word automatically sounds like the easiest to understand and also the fairest billing method. But here, too, there are drawbacks in the details.

There are languages that use many compounds (compound nouns), such as German, for example. An English or a French text with a lot of words can therefore have significantly fewer words in the German translation. If a German source text is used, the number of words in the English or French target text will be higher. This is decisive for whether the source text or the target text is fairly used as the basis.

Typical average word lengths are about 7.5 characters per word in German, about 5.1 characters in English and about 5.3 in French. This alone shows that charging by words is not as clear-cut as the name suggests.

Charging for translations by standard lines or by standard pages?

The factors that influence charging by word apply similarly to billing translations by standard lines or standard pages. In this case, the discrepancy to be taken into account can be even greater.

An example: In Chinese, only one character stands for a complete word. In a translation from German, this means that the difference between the source language and the target language is particularly great when measured in standard lines or standard pages.

However, billing by standard lines is still frequently encountered when translating texts from German or into German.

Important: Pre-define billing procedures

As we have seen, there is not always one optimal billing procedure.

In order to ensure that it is fair for both parties, it is advisable to clearly define in advance which procedure will be used to calculate the fee and which special features will be taken into account. This is clearly evident in our offers for translation services.

In most cases we charge by the word. We distinguish between new words, matches and repetitions. However, billing according to standard lines or standard pages is also possible if you so wish.

We would be happy to advise you on the subject of billing procedures based on your specific project and show you which options are available.