Contract Technical Writers versus Employed Technical Writers

You’ve posted an advertisement for a full-time technical writer. The financial advantages seem to make sense. Why hire a contract technical writer at hundreds of pound per day when you can employ a technical writer for one fifth that amount, and get the same amount done?

This is the Crux

An employed technical writer, unless highly skilled and experienced in the field of technical writing, will simply not produce as much for you, at as high a standard, as a contracted technical writer, who had to become adept at learning new stuff quickly, improvising to make the best use of their time when clients delay getting information for them. Experience in technical writing beats financial benefits hands down.

An experienced technical writer will:

  • Have years of experience with clients
  • Have qualifications to illustrate writing skills, in English, languages or (the annoyingly elusive) technical writing courses
  • Be busy and therefore not able to start on Monday (this is a good sign, and one indicator that they’re worth waiting for)
  • Have shining testimonials to vouch for previous clients’ contentment with their work
  • Talk to you about:
    • audience
    • output
    • information architecture
    • single-sourcing
    • benefits
    • time required with developers, PMs and SMEs,
    • how you can contribute to making their output meet your needs
    • be concerned about reducing support and sales guys’ stress over calls about how the product works
    • be aware of current trends

And, remember, Cheap Writers Can be Expensive.

What Tech Companies Need to Know About Documentation

Northern Ireland is a tech hub, it would seem. Who knew? If you don’t believe it, check out Digital Circle for the latest news.

Are NI Tech Companies Documenting Their Products?

Some are, certainly, because we work with them on getting documentation right. You can see which organisations were worked with that are interested in software documentation in Northern Ireland here.

Others are outsourcing documentation of technical information elsewhere: India, America, England.

Many are not documenting their products at all, or are doing so poorly. This may seem more prevalent in smaller organisations where there may be only a couple of (part-time) developers, who may also operate in the roles of management or sales. It’s a combination of lack of time, or resources to document their product properly.

Does Lack of Documentation Impact on Sales?

How do you feel when you unpack your sleek, new office phone and the only documentation is a multi-fold pamphlet, written over and over in every language known to man (and a few besides) printed in font size 6? You were hoping for more than 3 lines of instructions, weren’t you?

Now, compare this to how you feel when you open a software product, and the help system is well signposted, comprehensive but well structured, so you drill down to what you need in three clicks? Calm. Secure.

Clear, comprehensive instructions add to your product. But, what do they add?

  • Clarity – full instructions let the user know YOU know your product well, and there are no dark corners in which you’ve never been
  • Quality – among other things, users want an abundance of information, though it must be well structured and as easy to navigate as the product itself

How Much Does it Cost?

Some larger technical companies will establish a Technical Publications Department. The cost may be assumed to be that of the combined salary of the employees. Typically, a senior technical writer, technical author, or technical communicator will head the team.

What are the Roles?

Any Technical Publications department will need to fill the following roles.

Senior Technical Writer

The role involves: designing a system for the production of documentation; choosing software and setting up databases to store the documentation input and output (including text files, screenshots, videos, screencasts, help files and wikis for example); monitoring the software development software for changes that impact documentation; managing the workload engendered by a the usual number of releases a year, including any mini releases during that period; coordinating with the SMEs (developers, support, management, to ensure they work with writers to get the content and detail right); editing and proofreading the work of the team; and most likely, writing some content themselves.

It’s a responsible, and challenging position, often involving some politics between writing team and management priorities.

Technical Writer