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Optimizing Translation Costs and Maintaining Quality


9 min read

Written by


Argos Multilingual

Published on

31 Oct 2019

It may sound paradoxical, but following a few simple suggestions can produce more accurate translations while also helping you get the most out of your resources. Read on to see how it’s possible!

The old adage that “you get what you pay for” suggests that we should forfeit any expectation of quality when we opt for less expensive goods or services, and it has survived to this day because it’s true more often than not. But it doesn’t necessarily have to apply to translations. By properly managing your content, reusing materials when appropriate, planning ahead carefully, and being efficient with your layout and publishing processes, you can get plenty of value without sacrificing quality.

Keep tabs on your content

Right off the bat, you’ll want to consider exactly what needs to be translated and get rid of any content that doesn’t directly impact your message, because your content has a direct impact on what you pay. The standard method of pricing translation is to charge by the word – there are other steps that get added into the overall price, but word count is the most important factor, so reducing content lowers costs. For example, an introductory section describing your company and product features is pointless in a user manual, since the customer has already bought your product.

Once you’ve arrived at the content you want to keep, edit it down to eliminate wordiness. Get rid of redundant modifiers such as “step” or “item”, use a simple dash in tables to indicate “not available”, and include only metric measurements so you don’t need to pay for translating English units like “inches” or “acres.” While you’re at it, make sure that your message is easy to understand – clear writing results in better translations because the translators don’t have to guess at ambiguous meanings. If your content is heavily technical in nature, Simplified Technical English (STE) is an avenue you may want to explore.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

If parts of your documents (such as introductions, warranties, or safety sections) never vary, translate them once and store the translation for the future in a good content management system (CMS). Save repeated sections and plug them into your documents after the rest is translated – even though there are discounts for text retrieved from translation memory, there is still a fee involved but if translators don’t see it, you don’t pay for it.

It’s also good practice to make sure you share all your translation memories with your Language Service Provider (LSP). Translation memory (TM) software lets LSPs build a database of translations in multiple pairs of source-target languages, with new sentences being compared to the stored database to create matching translations. It pays to ask for a demonstration of translation memory and learn how the software recognizes matching phrases as well as what can affect matches, because you can then apply that knowledge to your content creation. The more consistent you make your documents, the more your costs will be reduced – it’s not unheard of for a customer to cut translation costs in half by learning how TM software works and adjusting their authoring process accordingly.

Be prepared

Any changes that take place after the translation has begun will add time and expense, so it’s wise to avoid last-minute revisions by planning ahead. You’ll also want to communicate the cost of revisions to everyone involved with your translated documentation. There are cases where you have to revise a document, but you’ll definitely want to resist the impulse to tweak the rest of the text in the process. Grouping small projects together and waiting to submit documents until they are final is a good idea, as combining several small requests is more economical than sending them individually.

As much as you may be in a hurry, rushing translators is a bad idea – quality inevitably drops, and costs routinely go up. Translators can only translate a certain number of words per day (1,500 to 2,000 on average) and highly technical documents often need additional time to research the subject matter and terminology. If you focus too much on speed, translators may have to skip important steps in order to meet your deadline and the final product will suffer. What’s more, most translation suppliers charge extra for rushing to meet shorter-than-reasonable deadlines, with rush charges covering overtime fees often making up anywhere from 25% to 50% of the total.

Efficiency leads to innovation

Your choice of publishing software can have a real impact on translation cost. Because translators work in translation memory software, your electronic files must be “prepped” (converted to a continuous text file) since TM software doesn’t run in publishing programs. After the translation is completed and stored, the translated text is formatted to mirror the look of the original document. These two steps are quick and efficient in some programs (FrameMaker, InDesign) and less so in others (PageMaker, Quark). The difference in prep and formatting costs can be dramatic when a document contains multiple illustrations, tables, and diagrams.

It’s also a good idea to simplify your layouts, plan for expansion, and follow good typesetting practice. A few points to consider about layout:

  • Plan for text expansion. Translation into many European languages results in 25% to 50% more words, so leave white space and use a large font size.
  • Place text in tables instead of using tabs to line up text.
  • Avoid stacking headlines or captions with manual line breaks. This will cause the translation memory software to present the text as two separate thoughts.
  • Simple layouts with standard font choices are best. Formatting a 200-page manual with multiple columns, complicated tables, and complex visuals is a costly project.
  • Use styles or master pages wherever possible.
  • Place text in the publishing program, not on images created in another program and imported into the document.
  • Place as much of the text in one text flow as possible. While some authors like to use text boxes to position text, it is time consuming to work with dozens of small chunks of text.
  • Make it a practice to leave words off illustrations. If an explanation is required, place it in the text of the message. This will make the translation go faster and cost less.
  • Include metric measurements. If your document includes dual dimensions, specify the order in which they should appear.

One final suggestion – always view your translation vendor as a partner and encourage communication. Find ways that you can work together to optimize your budget, ask your provider for input on your layout and electronic files, and be sure to consider their advice!

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