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Why do word counts vary from tool to tool?

Why do word counts vary from tool to tool?"Eating words has never given me indigestion", Winston Churchill once said. While that may have been true for the British Bulldog, many a translation client has gotten indigestion, a headache, or worse after trying to understanding word counts underlying translation quotes.

Beyond the issue defining a "word" - is it source, target, reviewed, net, gross? - word counts are a perennial issue. For medical device and pharmaceutical companies collecting competitive translation proposals, it must seem confusing to receive different word counts from different translation companies.

There are generally two reasons for this:

  1. Which software applications were used
  2. How those applications were used
wintranslation's recent article Why do word counts vary from tool to tool? gives a good overview of the first point. They include the following good comparison:

Comparison of word counts

The second issue, how tools are used, is only hinted at in the article. Footnotes, text in graphics and anchored boxes are examples of instances where the operator's know-how can make a big difference.

The process by which TMs are leveraged is another way that words counts can be impacted. For example, prior to ForeignExchange deploying memoQ, we used a process that we called "incremental leveraging" to decrease net word counts by 10, 15, even 20%, depending on the project.

With all of these variables, it's easy to see how word counts can vary tremendously. For translation suppliers who really understand their tools, this presents an opportunity to generate more accurate and more competitive proposals. For drug and device companies, it's a good way to "look under the hood" and kick the tires on suppliers' proposals.

[Thanks to Ruben de la Fuente for the link to wintranslation's article.]

We have written quite a bit about the confusion around "words". Take a look at the following articles:
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  1. Tesstranslates said...
    Thank you for a very interesting insight. Do you work for agencies who tell you what the word count is? If so, do you follow their suggestion or do your own word count and counter offer?
    Elliot Nedas said...
    Different tools produce different word counts because the counting rules are different.

    For example, .ppt Power Point files - MS Office counts all punctuation marks as separate words.

    To reduce this discrepancy in word counting standards such as those proposed and developed by LISA. GMX V should be used by all vendors when counting words. This way a fair playing field is created and word counts are more accurate.

    It is all about the rules used to define the count. Use proprietary rules and see the variance, use peer reviewed standards with well defined and open rules and the results are fairer and more accurate.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Angelika Zerfass said...
    For some a word with a hyphen is one word for another tool its two words, the same goes for words with an apostrophe. Content of an automatic field in a Word file might be seen as translatable by one tool and not by another. Standalone number is another one, or something like "§1", which is not interpreted as a word, but needs to be translated into "section 1". Shall I go on...?

    [Via LinkedIn]

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