Re. Paying by the word

Subject: Re. Paying by the word
From: Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 1996 10:08:13 LCL

The previous message, or perhaps the one that you'll
receive immediately after this one, asked about the
practicality and the potential pitfalls of being paid by
the word.

Practicality: The author's preliminary estimates were $0.23
per word, which seems reasonable given that translations
typically run at about this cost. But I think the author is
underpaid at this rate, for the following reasons:

1. If you spend an entire day interviewing engineers, doing
library research, holding meetings, etc., you don't get
paid a red cent. Possible solution: accept an hourly rate
for these activities.

2. The current approach relies on a word count feature to
determine the number of words produced. This methodology
has a potentially serious drawback: let's say that you
produce a 2000 word first draft. So far, so good. The draft
now goes to review, and there are several substantive
changes you must make. Hypothetically, let's say the
changes require you to delete 200 words (e.g., a few
sentences, a short paragraph, and a few isolated words) and
replace them with 200 new words. Net change in word count,
zero; net pay, zero. What you need is some way of counting
keystrokes, both those that input words and those that
provide necessary formatting (e.g., applying a paragraph
style ought to count for at least one word). Possible
solution: software?

3. How much do you get paid for creating (or working with
an artist to create) illustrations. Is a picture worth $230
(1000 words!), or more, or less? How about tables, which
require substantial design work before you can begin
entering data? Possible solution: establish an equivalency
factor, based on the number of words you could fit into the
space occupied by the graphic? (I don't like that one at
all, and a value of 1000 words is a cliche, not a valid

4. There's an important conflict of interest: Verbosity
pays _you_ better, but well-crafted terse writing is far
kinder to your reader and more likely to be the sort of
writing your client will demand (both to cut costs and to
address the needs of the reader). Not only do you get paid
less for terse writing (fewer words), but you also have to
devote considerable effort (unpaid time) to chop out
unnecessary words. Possible solution: Know thy writing
style, and negotiate a word rate that pays for this extra

The solutions I've proposed certainly aren't bulletproof,
so I'd love to see better ones proposed.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one of our
reports, it don't represent FERIC's opinion.

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