Technical Writing | The cost of Technical and Process documentation

Why is it that companies view the cost of Technical and Process documentation as an unnecessary expenditure rather than viewing documentation as a centre of knowledge? Management seems to have a blind spot when it comes to documentation and conveniently forgets the role of documentation.

When redundancies beckon, I know how quickly the technical documentation department will be sacrificed. When management seeks layoffs, the technical author(s) will be amongst the first out the door. Months later a member of staff points out that the documentation is out of date and follows up by asking: do we have anything up to date we can use?

In sacking the technical documentation team, no one assumed responsibility. Keeping it up to date is left to those least inclined to keep it up to date. They are the people who would benefit most from its upkeep.

The cost of Technical and Process documentation
The cost of Technical and Process documentation

Within a software environment, we easily forget that as the developers progress their software application, it also becomes more complex. Failing to supply up to date documentation means customers can and do overlook many of the improvements and advanced features. The same could be said of any IT department. As the network grows, there are more questions and fewer answers. No one has a good overall knowledge of the network due to the lack of documentation.

Where does that leave technical writers?

However, you refer to us, be it technical authors, communicators, documentation staff or as the font of all knowledge. Never doubt our experience, our people skills, our ability to write clear instructions.  We can explain complex technical terms in easy to read formats. Who else is willing to put up with blank stares, sarcastic comments and listen to comments such as “whaddya want now?’ to get what your company needs; usable documentation.

The cost of Technical and Process documentation
The cost of Technical and Process documentation

Remember it is not about the cost of hiring a technical author. It is about our value to your organisation. Our documentation will keep your staff informed and up to date. There is a point to keeping your processes up to date as your working environment changes. It is also about keeping that software guide up to date enabling your customers to use your product more efficiently and know they invested in a superb product.

Finally, don’t forget that a technical author will not only you save money now but also at a later date and will keep on saving you money, therefore, over the long term justifying their value to your business.

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Technical Writing | Hiring a Technical Writer

Budgets for the job

When you start the process of Hiring a Technical Writer, my advice is thisdo not cut corners when sourcing a budget:

  • Check the daily rates/hourly rates. Do not expect an experienced technical writer if the daily rate is derisory.
  • If your rate is low, you will attract Technical Writers with less experience whereby the result could be a disjointed document with no formatting and poor English
  • A good TW who charges a higher rate may save you money by taking less time to do the job.

Your Technical Writer in the flesh

hiring a technical writer
Hiring a technical writer for your project

Many TWs will have worked in a variety of environments. In due course, we gain knowledge that could provide a solution to other long-running problems. Hence why managers should never underestimate TWs.

What will you need?

Before you actively engage the TW on your site, do you have all equipment ready:

  • One of the most common problems is no laptop on the day they start
  • That their profiles to log in to the network are set up
  • If they are reviewing existing documentation make sure it is available

When you start explaining the work to a TW in company-specific jargon, do not assume they understand you. There is a good chance that the TW during an interview may mention that what one company knows as “XYZ” may not be the same as yours.

What should you do?

  • Be certain the SMEs or others with whom the TW will engage are aware of the appointment and know the goals of the project
  • If you are the primary contact do not disappear without the TW knowing where you are or who is second in command
  • Do not assume the TW is less than proactive if you cannot see them writing down a list of questions and talking to the appropriate people. If they are reviewing existing documentation, they may need a few days to understand the content before they start acting pro-actively
Techwriting Hiring a Technical Writer
Hiring a Technical Writer

If after settling on a start date

If a problem arises let the TW know in advance because:

  • You may need to change the start date or find another job for the TW to assess.
  • Delays will only diminish your budget if the TW is on-site with nothing to do.
  • If the problems are likely to be ongoing be honest and let the TW know – do not consistently change the start dates because it is not very professional and TWs do talk to fellow TWs.
  • Be consistent with the project, its objectives, and deadlines
  • Do not change the parameters of the project by allowing project scope creep.
  • Communicate with the TW as S/he may not have the time to stay beyond the current time allotted for the project.
  • Make contingencies if you need to extend the contract

What will the Technical Writer do for you?

Supply a project plan. Do not expect one within a matter days. if they own a generic copy, they can adapt it for the project; else create one from scratch.

The project plan should include a documentation schedule, including milestones and how progress can be measured.

On longer projects, TWs will complete a weekly project management report, which will outline problems, issues, bottlenecks, etc.

If the contract states that travel abroad or within the UK is necessary, make sure they are available to go.

Foreign travel as part of the contract

Some companies expect contractors to pay their expenses up front on foreign trips.

Might I suggest that they:

  • Can afford to do so without getting into debt.
  • Know the procedure to claim their expenses
  • Be clear on when the payment will be paid
    • I once submitted expenses, which, due to a misunderstanding took three months to process.