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A query from a colleague yesterday set me off on this train of thought: she’d proposed a PowerPoint surcharge to a long-standing agency client and been told that surely surcharges weren’t relevant any more, now that most CAT tools process files in most common formats. Hmmm, I wonder? My colleague actually uses Wordfast Classic, and PowerPoint files certainly aren’t straightforward given that Wordfast uses a Word interface. Text is extracted from the PowerPoint file as you work, and then re-imported, but there can be issues with text formatting, text boxes being missed and the layout not being as it was in the original. There used to be a neat add-in called Werecat that extracted all the text in advance, then re-imported it, but even then the formatting wasn’t always correct. Updating your TM after you’d checked the target file was also problematical, leading to twice as much work. In Trados Studio, however, PowerPoint files are much easier to process and only usually require the odd tweak of the target file if the target text overruns the space allotted for the source text. I too used to apply a surcharge for ppt files, but my colleague’s comment brought it home to me that I hadn’t done so for quite some time, precisely because it hadn’t been an issue. I always use Trados for PowerPoint (and Excel files) now, and there isn’t usually any extra outlay of time required, whereas when I just used Wordfast, I did find them much more time-consuming and therefore charged more. The question now is whether clients will continue to accept PowerPoint surcharges when the majority of translators can process such files with relative ease? I suspect not….

Pdf files, on the other hand, are a completely different kettle of fish. As I hinted in my last post on Being picky, pdf files are not my favourite format, although more and more jobs seem to be arriving in this guise these days. I don’t automatically rule them out: there are editable and non-editable pdfs and I use two different types of software (Abbyy Fine Reader and Solid Pdf to Word), which both do an excellent job in their own way. For editable files, even lengthy texts with complicated tables, I find Solid Pdf to Word easy to use and it usually produces near exact formatting of the original file, tables included. The software itself is inexpensive, less than $40, and processes files quickly, so the conversion process really isn’t a big deal. In such cases, I often waive any pdf surcharge as it involves very little extra work for me and the resulting goodwill is well worth it.

In the case of non-editable, usually scanned files, Abbyy Fine Reader comes into its own. This is a much more expensive software package, but one I wouldn’t be without. I think it currently costs about £99, but when you think that it can enable you to process an otherwise unextractable text in a CAT tool and make use of existing formatting and repetitions/matches, the price soon pays for itself. It’s more complicated to use than Solid, and you have to specify your source language and how you want to save the resulting output, primarily either as editable text, including formatting, or plain text, without formatting. With Abbyy, I find it can over-complicate the formatting if this is complex in the first place, i.e. columns or tables, or lots of diagrams or equations, and it’s very hard to change the formatting once Abbyy has decided that a certain layout, columns, etc. applies to a particular section.

For documents that are essentially straight text, I find it can be easier to use the plain text, no formatting option and tidy up any hard returns, paragraph spacing, bullet points afterwards, rather than fighting with an arbitrarily imposed format. This is particularly relevant in the case of patents, where the actual formatting often doesn’t matter, but you have to use a client-specific page template for your translation. I often don’t apply surcharges in this case, as the reason I’m doing the conversion is for my benefit: the client hasn’t stipulated that they want the layout reproducing and I’m converting the file to obtain an electronic file to use in my CAT tool – although I’m sure the client gets a better, more consistent translation as a result!

For texts with lots of diagrams/tables, I would use the editable format, but expect to have to do a lot of careful adjustments as I worked – and for that reason, I would always apply a pdf surcharge of at least 20%. As I said in my previous post, some texts look too horrendous to even contemplate: you just know they won’t convert well, or will end up as chunks of badly formatted text interspersed with unconverted images that you still have to label with captions – and they are the ones I usually turn down outright! Some longer texts are so laden with diagrams and equations that they become huge and unworkable when converted and you have to consider whether your computer can even handle them. I had one earlier this year that I was going to split between myself and two colleagues: I converted the editable pdf very successfully with Solid, but the resulting file was massive. I had a fairly new and powerful computer, so managed to split it into three constituent parts, but both my colleagues found even the smaller parts unwieldy to handle – another aspect that needs to be borne in mind. If in doubt, no surcharge will compensate for the frustration of complicated file handling. Most translators love the task of translating, not messing around with layout….

Admittedly, many CAT tools now claim to convert pdf files for you, but my experience of the resulting converted text is that it can be littered with hard returns, making a mockery of the segmentation and leading to useless TM entries. I prefer to translate converted pdf files in Wordfast, so I’m working in a Word environment and can easily eliminate any hard returns as I work. It’s much harder to do that in Studio, where the two offending segments often just will not merge! Similarly, brochures in column format can end up being gibberish if the conversion has gone across the page rather than down each column, and I wouldn’t hesitate to turn down any such potential headaches. If clients send xliff files of converted pdfs, then think very carefully whether you’re agreeing to reproduce the formatting of the original – or whether the client is going to do that for you. If the former, a surcharge may well be appropriate.

You may also come across even more complex formatting requests such as InDesign files and again I wouldn’t even think about it unless you have InDesign and know what you’re doing – in which case a surcharge should definitely apply for your additional expertise! Yes, Studio and MemoQ et al can handle InDesign files, but if you can’t see the resulting target output, you will definitely be at a disadvantage. Unless you get lots of support from your client, i.e. they can check the target file for you, I personally would steer clear, based on my limited experience with the complications involved.

So, on balance, are formatting surcharges still reasonable in today’s high-tech environment? I believe they are – in some cases. It’s always worth asking at the outset whether a Word version is available – you’d be amazed how often the mere mention of a surcharge makes a Word file miraculously appear! If not, only you can know how much extra effort a certain job will take and if the client isn’t prepared to accept a surcharge, then say no. Different translators using different software may find different jobs easier or harder. Translators who dictate may prefer to translate a pdf file without any CAT tools at all, in which case it’s no different to any other translation, especially if they use a typist to resolve any formatting issues! The bottom line is what you’re prepared to do – but don’t sell yourself short.

With grateful thanks to Mox for the brilliant (and very apt) cartoon http://mox.ingenierotraductor.com/

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