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Deciphering illegible source texts October 27, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings, Translation Sites.

I agreed to translate a batch of medical invoices and reports this week and am just realizing that the source documents are so illegible that my OCR program will not read them. It took an hour to run the 46 pages through ABBYY FineReader, but the results were so abysmal I threw the results out and decided to print the pages out and type the translation by hand. As a result I won’t be able to give my client a price quote. It is a disquieting feeling – not knowing how many words await me and being unable to use Trados on the files. Even if the source text is pretty bad I usually run it through ABBYY for a rough word count, copy and paste the text into a clean Word file, and format it by hand. These source texts were so bad it would have been completely counterproductive, so now I get to look forward to deciphering illegible doctor’s stamps and handwritten referrals for the next few days.

You don’t realize how dependent you become on programs like ABBYY and Trados until you can’t use them. I had a flash of brilliance while writing this post and decided to delete the illegible pages in Adobe Acrobat and then run those legible pages through ABBY. I also have printed out all 46 pages to refer to as needed (the down side to this is that I have now used up all my “scrap” paper for printing and will have to use fresh pages for a while…). It isn’t a complete panacea, but it will allow me to translate the legible invoices and medical reports and get a general idea of what awaits me. I feel like an idiot for not having thought of it sooner. I definitely have a bad case of the Mondays!


1. Ryan Ginstrom - October 29, 2008

I feel your pain, Jill! I remember the days of thermal faxes and mailed manuscripts (which we’d sometimes have to mail back!), and I vastly prefer the mostly electronic documents of today. This is especially true with Japanese, where deciphering handwriting can ruin your whole day…

I wonder about tossing out the OCR results, though. Could you get a fairly accurate word count off it, even if it’s useless for Trados work?

By the way, sometimes when I get a hard copy to translate from an agency, I’ll see little penciled-in character counts on each page (547 … 312 … 817). I’m *so* glad I don’t have to do that, and am very happy to pay the agency a markup to count it for me!

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