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PDF source documents – to convert or not to convert?

PDF source documents – to convert or not to convert?

Almost everyone needs their translation as quickly, as cheaply, and in as high quality as possible. Potential translation agency clients, however, rarely realise that assessing a translation job involves more than just the amount of text, its specialisation, or the language combination. The deadline, the price, and even the quality of the processing all depends on the form and format of the source document.

Editable versus non-editable format

For the client and the translation agency, editable source formats such as MS Office formats (DOCx, XLSx, PPTx) are the most advantageous for many reasons. But there are many other formats – Adobe InDesign (INDD), for example, can be used to create the IDML working format. Often, however, a client needs a translation from PDF format, and this always needs to be converted into an editable format.

A PDF document is usually created in one of two ways. For PDF documents printed from applications such as MS Office, the file can be easily converted to its original format (e.g. DOCx). Oftentimes, though, a client needs a translation from a PDF file with a scanned text (or another JPEG-based image format).

When translating from non-editable formats, such as PDF with scanned text, we need to utilize OCR (Optical Character Recognition), meaning converting it into an editable format (typically DOCx or another Microsoft Office format). Such a conversion from PDF to Word usually requires plenty of manual intervention by a specialist after the automated conversion. Although these specialists have the most modern tools at their disposal, they usually have to manually format the translation based on the original scan so that the submitted translation is as faithful to the original as possible.

If a client sends us a non-editable PDF document as the source format, we need to take the essential professional conversion of the document into an editable format into account when calculating the overall delivery period for the job. This is a very important part of guaranteeing a reliable translation.

Why let a translation agency prepare the editable format?

With an editable source, both parties have an overview of the number of source words, thereby removing the need to work with target word (or standard page) billing or estimation in the price quote. Non-editable formats (such as scanned PDF files) cannot be accurately analysed – an exact word count is impossible, so an accurate price for the translation cannot be provided in advance; if we include an OCR of your PDF source document, however, we’re able to charge per source word.

Converting your document properly takes time, of course, which involves costs. In terms of price, there are plenty of tempting free online converters these days. It’s not uncommon that a client may wish to perform an online conversion from the PDF to Word himself and send the resulting raw conversion of the source document to the translation agency before making an actual enquiry. This approach, however, carries many drawbacks and risks.

These risks are mainly related to the quality of the final document. The shortcomings of an amateur OCR may not be obvious to the client at first glance, so naturally the output from the free online converter might seem sufficient and usable. The problem, though, is that the resulting text is often poorly converted; not only in the text itself, but the various layers of the document become blended and overlap. A typical text is commonly divided into columns and text fields; this formatting breaks down during conversion and even more so during further work, such as a translation. On top of this, consider that the target language will typically have a different length, and soon you run into real problems. In some places the translation may not even be visible.

An improperly converted document from a free online converter will end up requiring more time and money, since both parties will have to deal with the necessary “salvage” work from the faulty formatting at the end of the translation process. In addition to these problems, complications associated with a problematic target document will also jeopardise the delivery date of the order. When regarding the final price, the extra DTP work on the target document will have to be charged at the end; this will be significantly more expensive than the money “saved” by performing an amateur OCR of the source PDF. Simply put – we offer a lower rate when you order OCR from us, and we guarantee a higher quality of processing before the translation begins. But we cannot guarantee the best quality after a translation when an amateur OCR from a free online converter has been utilised. Any additional corrections to a “broken” layout (if they are possible) will be subsequently charged at a higher DTP rate.

A truly professional translation agency, though, will prevent this risk ahead of time; our specialists will recognise the origin of your Word document in advance, and our agency’s coordinator will then recommend that you deliver the original scanned text in PDF format at the very start. The coordinator will then be able to accurately price the work for converting it into a high-quality editable format.

Briefly stated: if you don’t have the editable format available, you should provide us with the original PDF at the outset rather than working with a conversion from an untrustworthy free online converter. This allows you to entrust the conversion of the source PDF to our expert and avoid many of the problems mentioned above.

Here’s another thing to consider: when you use free online converters and similar tools, you’re giving your data to a third party. In contrast, if you work with a professional translation agency, you have the guarantee of data security throughout the entire translation process (from conversion, through translation and proofreading, to all internal checks of the target document).

If you’re still unsure about anything regarding your formatting, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ll be glad to provide you with a translation of your documents – as quickly as possible, as cheaply as possible, and (above all) in as high quality as possible in all respects.



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