Word Count Inconsistencies

February 1, 2019 |

Counting words, characters, and/or lines is a crucial subject for clients as it is the foundation for pricing translations. However, if you have been relying exclusively on the Word Count feature in Microsoft Word to get the word count of your document, you may get a much lower word count than actually translated. Different word processing programs and translation tools often produce different word count values for the same document. Sometimes those differences can be quite significant. They are due to the use of different rules for counting as well as deficiencies in the applications themselves.

If you have been using the Word Count feature in Microsoft Word to check the word count, you have received a lower word count as Microsoft Word does not count comments, headers, footers, embedded objects and files, and—most importantly—text boxes. If a file has been run through an Optical Character Recognition program, these programs tend to create a lot of text boxes. Word does not count the words in text boxes, and yet they need to be translated, proofread, and edited.

The same problem exists with Excel and PowerPoint. PowerPoint does not count embedded Excel spreadsheets. PowerPoint also does not offer character counts, which means translators in languages that rely on character counts should consider using a third party counting tool for this reason.

There is also a problem with version consistency. Every version of Word, PowerPoint, etc. has different rules regarding words and word count. PowerPoint 97 and 2000 are not consistent with the Word counting rules. For example, they count hyphenated words as two words. Fortunately  PowerPoint XP corrects this difference. In plain text, this means that two different users with different PowerPoint versions may disagree about the word count on the same document. So if clients contest the quoted word count, the reason may be because the client is using a different version of Word, PowerPoint, etc.

In our comparison of counting tools, PractiCount and Total Assistant came out the clear winners. PractiCount is easy to use due to its tabbed interface and adjustable settings, and it can also generate invoices. PractiCount can count footers, headers, text boxes, inserted Excel and PowerPoint documents, comments, WordArt and more. Total Assistant can produce a word count of multiple files in just two steps and counts unfriendly formats such as PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat. Total Assistant is a more basic but also cheaper program than PractiCount.

Some of the available word count tools are AnyCount (which comes with Translation Office 3000 or can be purchased as a stand-alone tool), TextCount, and FreeBudget.

The translation of a document can have many complexities. The most important factor when quoting a file will always be the total number of words that a file has. Therefore, it is essential to be absolutely precise about the word count of a file, since there is no room for differences. Any differences in the amount of words can lead to differences in the amount owed.

A common problem that usually arises when analyzing a file is the word count for manuals in MS Word. In general, these technical manuals are documents that include several image files, designs, graphics, etc., that make the manual itself heavier than normal. Generally, these are very large files (sometimes exceeding 50 MB), which make the task of analyzing very difficult using basic tools mentioned above.

In these cases, it is quite common, when analyzing the file using word count from Word, for the client to note that the manual has a certain amount of words. However, when quoting, translation agencies analyze files with professional tools such as Trados, memoq, etc. and the difference between the initial count when analyzed in Word is substantial. For example, a Word file that shows a count of 30,000 words, may have a word count that exceeds 100,000 in Trados or memoq. This may be due to several factors: hidden text that Trados , problems with tags, with images.

To make sure your document is being translated with the correct word count, make sure to work with a professional translating service equipped with the correct translation tools.

Category: Business Translation

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