What I am moving towards is an entry on TextCount, a German text counting program, and counting text in MS Word. But basics first:
Some broad generalizations here:
Translators usually charge by length of the text, roughly speaking. At least, thats the starting point. Sometimes a translator and client/agency have a standard rate. With direct clients, its more common to look at the nature of the text before deciding a rate.
Length can be measured by words or by keystrokes.
Words are normally actual words (typing speed is measured by theoretical words 5 letters in length): German words are on average longer than English words, and average length varies by subject matter, so you have to be careful when agreeing on payment.
In Britain, charges are per 1,000 words; in the USA, per word.
Keystrokes: in Germany translators measure by the line, usually of 50 or 55 keystrokes.
Literary translations are often counted by the standard page (Normseite). (In Germany, this means taking the lines as they come if a line is half full, it is still a line. Literary translators fight against attempts to introduce a Normseite of 1800 keystrokes per page, where every line is full I suppose the traditional standard page is nearer 1500.
On the computer, you can count a text as a whole and divide it. On a typewriter and typewriters still leave their traces on some counting practices you cant. Sometimes rules like this are used: If an incomplete line is over half the length of a complete line, it is counted as a complete line; if it is less, it is disregarded.
In Germany, translations are often charged by the lines in the target text. The target text is always on the computer and therefore easy to count; but the customer doesnt know the price of the translation until it is finished. Translations into Chinese, for example, are counted from the German source text.
Now that many translations are received as computer files, and I scan and OCR nearly all the rest (using the Russian program FineReader), I usually give the customer a quote in advance, because I know the length of the English (in keystrokes) is about the same as the length of the German (but in words, about 15% longer, I imagine).The statute governing payment by the courts uses the term Zeichen (characters), instead of Anschläge (keystrokes). It is argued that the statutory line of 50 characters means a real line of over 55 keystrokes. There is a counter-argument that translations have always been counted including spaces. In fact, it’s a joke among translators that if a customer doesn’t want to pay for the spaces (or the numbers), the translation should be delivered without them.
MS Word: some older versions of Word give a word count and a keystroke count without spaces, but no keystroke count with spaces. To get it, you have to add the word count to the keystroke count, roughly speaking. This translator has a macro to do that.
What is a keystroke? Opinions differ. Does it include tabs, page breaks and so on? i.e. is it a charge for movements of the finger or for marks on the page?
What if someone phones me up and offers to pay me a rate in Swiss francs or per word in US dollars? Is there software to convert? I have a nice Excel file given to me by a fellow-translator where I can enter the exchange rate between euros and whatever, how many words I usually get a line and other variables and compare the foreign word rate offered with the euro line rates I am used to.
Per Döhler has a sample file of about 400 words to test how various programs count in words here.