Apologies for the terrible pun in the title of this blog – I couldn’t resist it, given the subject matter. In case you’re reading this before you’ve had your morning coffee, I’ll clarify the topic of today’s blog – stats, stats and more stats! Over my years as a freelancer and before I started outsourcing any work to other colleagues, I’ve always liked to keep records of how many words I’ve translated. About a year ago, however, I decided to start keeping more detailed information on exactly what I work on, as well as charting the outsourced work as well.

All things special

As freelancers, we’re constantly told that we should specialise. And we should. But when you’re starting out, that can be a really hard task. There are very few freelancers I know who have the income or willpower to turn down paying work because it isn’t their specialism. Many of us have pulled an all-nighter at some point in our career, cursing ourselves (okay and the agency) for taking on this paper on nuclear physics when what we really want to translate is the marketing material for Karl Lagerfeld‘s latest collection. Also, it takes a long time to have the courage to say exactly why we want to specialise in a certain field. For some translators, the choice is easy – they have existing training and interest in the subject. For many others though, the decision to specialise is much harder, and the reasons for it can seem much…lamer. But the bottom line is, if you like a subject, you’re interested in it and want to devote time to researching it, then that is just as valid as the guy who’s a medical translator because he also happens to be a board certified orthopaedic surgeon. Show off.

Get me some stats, stat!

There’s also nothing wrong with having a few specialisms – we can have specialisms that pay the bills and specialisms that really light our fires. Even the most experienced translators occasionally take on jobs which are more general, uncomplicated or just different from their specialisms – often to give them a bit of head space. Sometimes, if your given subject of expertise or type of translation doesn’t pay extraordinarily well, that’s another reason to have something else up your sleeve. For me, my specialism lies in more technical texts and the reason for this is several years of working in the environmental sector – the general umbrella topic of “the environment” encompasses many different fields; ranging from science to construction, hitting sustainability and ecology along the way. I’m also a major history geek and have been since I was a teenager, so it’s an area I’ve actively chosen to specialise in. In the past few years I’ve collaborated with a client on more techy subjects and have (to my surprise) loved learning about software, new apps and IT. In the middle of last year I decided to start recording the subject area of each translation I did, so I could gain a picture of the type of projects I work on. Naturally, I had to put it into a pie chart and I thought I would share it here:


As you can see from the chart – the “Environment, Science & Technical” slice of the pie is by far the largest, and for any number crunchers out there, that equated to 226,393 words in 12 months. By contrast, the legal side of things, which I generally try to keep to a minimum, added up to just 3569 words over the year (which was a single, very simple project.) I also thought it would be interesting (yes, I know how geeky that makes me sound) to track how the year went in terms of words translated, so I took the data on monthly word counts and put it into a simple graph.

Word count stat

Going with the (work) flow

It was fun to see the spread of work over the course of the year and how it corresponded to projects. I remember that October and the Christmas period were quiet, not only because I took holidays, but many clients did too. However, I had thought that April and May had been quiet months (again, I had taken some holiday) but the numbers tell me otherwise. Some of the difference in my recollection of the month compared to the reality could be attributed to the type of projects I was working on. For example, if I have steady work throughout the month the word count can be quite high, but seem very relaxed. On the flip side, a month with lots of small jobs with tight deadlines can seem extremely busy (and lucrative!) but the figures say otherwise. So, the result is that I’m still not sure when the best months are to take time off!

I’ve got some more stats up my sleeve but they’re more related to the outsourcing side of the business, so I’ll leave them for another post. For my last funky graphic though, I wanted to give a feel (without breaching any confidentiality of course!) for the types of projects I’ve been working on as an individual translator. I’ve said it before – I love words, so this type of infographic (if I can call it that) really appealed to me, as it’s a selection of words or subjects I’ve been working on in the past twelve months. Enjoy!

Translated words

Post edit: This has been a really fun post for me to write, not to mention the fun(!) I had when I was looking through my data and analysing it. I’ve had some chats on Twitter since I’ve posted it and it seems other translators find this sort of information interesting too, so I thought I’d ask some questions to hopefully get some opinions in the comments – do you keep records or word counts? What about your specialisms – do you have one or a few? What’s your work flow like throughout the year – even or up and down?

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