Technical Writing - Designing Your Document

There are essentially two types of contract for technical authoring which one you choose will set the tone for your working relationship with your chosen writer. It’s important to fully understand the risks and benefits of each kind of agreement before you go ahead with placing any work.

Fixed Price – seems simple enough right? You set a price for some deliverables between you and your author and then you kick back and wait for the finished product. The trouble with this kind of work is that a good author knows it loads all the risk on them, if your project is delayed than he/she has to wait out that delay, if you undergo multiple revisions on your product/software they’ll have to rewrite again and again and so on.

Therefore any writer worth his/her salt is going to have to budget for additional wiggle room, and that can be a substantial amount on a large project because from experience they’ll know that delays and rewrites are all but inevitable.

You can limit the hidden excess by developing a very clear project brief specifying deliverables on both sides (including dates and times) and prioritising some work (for example core documents) and categorising other work as “nice to have”, so that if there’s time left within the agreement the writer will provide this documentation too.

Time and Materials – possibly the better route if you’re working with a trusted writer. You pay only for time spent on a project and for any material expenses associated with that work. Often this kind of arrangement will have a cap associated with the maximum value of work provided under the agreement that may not be exceeded by the writer without written consent.
This contract is both fair and equitable in that you are paying for the work you receive but once again it is best backed up with a plan of deliverables to ensure that the writer is progressing on the work in a reasonable manner, rather than invoicing for time on a schedule.

Planning

Good forecasts and plans work in favour of both parties, the party who is contracting the work may think a vague brief works in their favour but in reality it means that if the agreement ends up over-running significantly they will be de-prioritised by a writer who is trying to ensure a commercially successful business for themselves.
In many cases it can be best to actually pay the writer to do an in-depth plan for you prior to committing to a fixed-price arrangement. That way neither side can feel cheated in the event of over-runs (or in that one in a million case of achieving the aims ahead of schedule).

What should a plan include?

It should include detail that captures all stages of a project and includes some additional time for over-runs and unforeseen complications. There should be estimates for a number of drafts and revisions, a detailed list of assumptions and requirements and a breakdown of any predictable expenses such as travel, accommodation, software purchases (if you require specific authoring software for example), hardware purchases (for some projects clients will insist on “clean” dedicated hardware), etc.
It should also include any additional relevant details such as who retains copyright, whether a non-disclosure agreement is required, non-compete clauses etc.

Contracting out your technical writing can be a very rewarding process, but you need to make sure that you get what you need without compromising quality.

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