My ideal purchase order: pipe dream or reality?


May 2021 update: The purchase order has been updated. Please see this post for 4 new versions of it (for translation, revision, editing and localisation), which you can also download here.

For a while now I’ve been working on the type of purchase order I’d like to give to both my agency and direct clients (especially new ones) so that we all know where we stand and are clear about the price and what it does and does not include. Today I’ve been inspired by reading Two to Tango: Tips for Project Managers from a Freelance Translator (parts 1 and 2) by Igor Vesler on Lingua Greca’s blog to finally finish my first draft. I’m posting it here so I can get your feedback and comments, because I’m a little concerned that it might be overly long and put some clients off.

One of the main reasons why I feel such a detailed PO is necessary, however, is that important information we need to do a translation justice often only comes out after probing on our part, or even as an aside when asking the PM/client about another aspect of the job. For example, if it’s for publication, the client needs to know that we cannot guarantee it will be error-free unless they are prepared to pay for a revision and an edit as well. Agencies will probably (hopefully, but definitely not always) have that covered either in-house or by hiring a second translator for the revision. Direct clients, on the other hand, might not even realise how many steps a translation can involve and how crucial four and even six eyes can be in the process if publication-ready quality is required.

Perhaps this is not such a major issue in other language pairs (I translate from Spanish into English only), but some agencies add a last throwaway remark in an email that the client has stated the quality of the translation is paramount. As I discussed at length in Pay special attention to this translation or else, one translator cannot be expected to perform two or even three roles for the price of only one. Besides, as we all know, it’s usually much better if  a colleague revises the text as they will undoubtedly find it easier to spot any errors or suggest improvements.

My ideal purchase order also includes a question on style guides and reference materials. Knowing the preferred style is essential when translating or revising a document for publication in a journal, for example, as reviewers are notoriously picky and will reject anything that doesn’t meet their rigorous standards.

Another imperative question to ask clients that request revision services is whether they have used machine translation. Again, maybe this does not happen as much in some language pairs, but unfortunately, in my experience (you can read about that in the posts listed here), a number of end clients (not agencies) put their documents through Google Translate (for example) to save money. Even if they try to clean up the messy result (some don’t bother to make any changes at all), I can always tell, primarily because I find “revisions” of this nature so incredibly hard, time-consuming and soul-destroying.

Since informing clients that I don’t post-edit machine translation hasn’t stopped some of them sending such texts my way, perhaps a direct yes or no question will. Naturally, if they answer yes, they’ll have to find someone else to provide the post-editing service or accept my translation rate.

I’ve also included a line to ask clients to provide explanations for the acronyms and abbreviations they use in the text. This is primarily to make my life easier. Sometimes they’re obvious, but when they’re not, we can waste a lot of time trawling through the Internet trying to work them out. I always feel obliged to make an effort to search for them before asking the client for help (definitely don’t want to appear dumb), so asking for a list at the outset would save a lot of hassle. It might also alert clients to the fact that we cannot be expected to know all their internal jargon. However, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, perhaps that’s going a step too far and asking too much from a busy client…

One of my agency clients often sends me documents with scanned in texts and graphs. More often than not, I have to translate them by inserting the text below. Given that the words in these scans are not counted automatically in Word, it’s important to establish whether they have to be translated and how many there are. Suddenly discovering later that there are far more words than you thought can jeopardise your deadline.

The final point I’d like to make about the PO below is that the I’m still working on the terms and conditions to be attached, although I’ll use the ITI’s Model Terms of Business as a starting point.

So what do you think? Would you be happy to ask your clients to fill in this purchase order? What changes would you make? Is there anything you think I should add? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Service Provider


Client Name/address
Client’s Tel.
Service (translation/revision/editing)
Subject area
Purpose/target audience of the text
Is the text for publication?

If yes, is a separate revision service required (i.e. four eyes)?

Is a separate editing service required (i.e. six eyes)?

Preferred style-guide
Are any glossaries available?
Are any other background/reference materials available?
File name
No. of words/pages
Delivery date
Delivery time
Source file format
Delivery format
Software required (if any)
Is a translation memory (TM) available?
Has machine translation (MT) been used?
Does the text contain acronyms/abbreviations?

If yes, please provide list explaining what they stand for.

Does the text contain any graphics/scans?

If yes, do they need to be translated?

If yes, should translation be inserted in document or a separate file?

Any further details/information/requirements/preferences
Rate per word/page/hour
Project price
The project price includes one round of revisions.

Subsequent revisions will be charged by hour/word as agreed.

Payment method
Payment due 30 days after invoice date
Terms and conditions
All your texts and correspondence will be treated in strict confidence

Since I first wrote this post I have updated the form based on readers’ suggestions. It’s now called the Purchase Order Checklist.

Explore this blog by starting with the categories page

14 thoughts on “My ideal purchase order: pipe dream or reality?

  1. Wow Nikki! This is great! I also think that a lot of times clients (both agencies and direct companies) don’t provide nearly enough information about the translation. Very often they just send a file with no instructions. I often have to ask “will this be for publication”, “will this be on a website or in print?”, “are certain words meant to be buttons on a website or headings?”, “what is the target audience?”

    By the way, do you mind if I “borrow” this template from you? I’d like to translate it into my source language and use it for sending to clients. Let me know if this is OK.


  2. Hi Nikki,

    You’ve pulled together an impressive inventory of all the questions for which translators need answers (and sometimes forget to ask).
    Putting myself in a client’s shoes for a moment, how would I react if I received such a document to fill out before I could order the translation I (urgently, of course) need?
    My hunch is that translation agencies wouldn’t be (or shouldn’t be) taken too much by surprise; after all, they tend to just send an email asking “when can you translate X document and for how much?”, often without even sending the text in question, yet ask translators to fill out lengthy questionnaires just to be included in their database of possible contractors. Forms like this are familiar to them.
    Working nearly exclusively for direct clients, I have the feeling my clients would go “bug-eyed” if I sent them something like this right off the bat. All the information it solicits (normally) is gathered through a phone conversation or an email exchange (“getting the brief”) — the quality of either helping build trust, understanding and the opportunity for the translator to position him/herself as a trusted advisor. Said details are then included in the descriptive of the quote the client would sign, showing the translator has understood the client’s needs, objectives, possible constraints and has provided answers to meet them.
    Two approaches, same result in terms of information gathered, but quite different in terms of the dynamic nurtured between a professional service provider and a prospect/client.
    It is sometimes delicate to find the right balance between what we need and suits us and striving to put ourselves in clients’ shoes to anticipate their perception and adjust to them in a mutually-beneficial way!


    1. Hi Patricia,
      Many thanks for your comments, which are very similar to the ones made in this thread on LinkedIn:
      in other words, it may be better to use this as a checklist rather than actually giving it to the client. On the other hand, there’s quite a lot we could fill in first before even sending it to the client as a result of the negotiation stage you mention, so filling it in shouldn’t actually prove that daunting.


  3. I think this is a great idea, Nikki, and would love a copy when it’s finalised.

    I just have two small comments: in the text for publication section, ‘two pairs of eyes’ and ‘three pairs of eyes’ are more immediately understandable than ‘four eyes’ (which is often a synonym for someone wearing glasses) and ‘six eyes’ (which puts me in mind of an alien).

    With regard to style guides and glossaries, I have one client who sometimes sends me multiple copies of each, which occasionally contradict each other, so I tend to ask the client to rank them in order of priority, to avoid this problem.


    1. Hi Gill,
      Of course you can have a copy and thanks for the points you make. I will change the document and the post as soon as I can to incorporate your ideas.
      I have also thought that I need to include which version of English is required, since I always assume it’s UK English for me given that I’m British and can offer nothing else, only to discover later (sometimes after I’ve completed the job) that it should have been US English.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Nikki –

    I’m both pleased and honored by the fact that my modest article in the ATA Chronicle evoked such a response. I truly appreciate your and all contributors’ enthusiasm in implementing this order form. However, I must warn everyone: it is not all that simple, as my experience vividly shows.

    First, when dealing with agencies, one must accept the fact that their project managers (PMs) routinely refuse to fill out this form for obvious reasons:

    1. In most cases, data to be entered into this form are unavailable to the PM. In order to obtain them, PM needs to pass it on to the client and request the client to fill it out or, at the very least, to call the client and ask specific questions (needless to say that the client may not have all the answers readily available).
    2. This order form is beneficial for a translator, not to the PM, but adds substantially to PM’s workload, hence the opposition.
    3. PM may also be reluctant to use it just because it’s not provided for by the agency’s policies and operational procedures.

    Second, when dealing with direct clients (again, as my experience shows), they are even more reluctant to fill it out—up to a point that they may prefer another vendor just to avoid filling out this form. This is especially true for law firms with their I-need-it-yesterday modus operandi. The only case where it does work is a big project—provided, however, that the order form is filled out only once and covers the entire project (even if it consists of numerous documents of various types and nature.)

    Third, I doubt if such order form can be useful in hard copy where all its entries are shown and have to be browsed by the client. The only way to use it efficiently and without imposing much of a burden on your clients is to have an online form of tree-like structure where the only entries that need to be filled out appear on the screen. For example, if the client requests translation of a plain text, any and all questions regarding graphics are redundant.

    Fourth, when it applies to an agency, it is not a freelance translator who is supposed to implement this order form. The agency is! My article was driven by agencies’ systematic failures to obtain all relevant data from the client. Both order form and respective operational procedure must be agency’s process components. (Naturally, if a freelancer works with direct clients, s/he may implement it as well.)

    All and all, before using it as a tool, the project brief (aka the order form) must be developed in such a way that reduces the workload to a minimum. This is a precondition to its successful implementation.


    1. Many thanks for your comment, Igor, and my apologies for not replying to you earlier. I have only recently had time to address this post and update the form, which I am now calling a “purchase order checklist” as it seems from your contribution and other comments that it would be best used as a personal checklist. I had suspected this might be the case, which is why I queried whether it was just a pipe dream.
      My form and this post had mostly been written before I came across your article, and when I did, I decided it was time to finish my own post on the topic. I am glad we have all had this discussion as I think it has raised important issues.
      Again, thanks for your input, which I hope everyone will take the time to read.


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