Question for people with tech writing businesses?

Subject: Question for people with tech writing businesses?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Dick Margulis <margulisd -at- comcast -dot- net>
Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2006 10:06:48 -0400

Dick Margulis wondered: <<I'm working on a proposal to do a large documentation project for a local organization--more than I care to do by myself, as I have other, non-TW projects competing for my time. However, I'm not sure the best approach to take to staff such a project. I suppose I could advertise for a contractor, but given the time of year, I'm thinking of looking for an intern. I realize I'd have to supervise closely and do a lot of teaching, but that's fine with me.>>

If you're willing to look for and supervise an intern, talk to your local university to see whether they have an internship program for their technical writing students. Some schools require a practical (i.e., real world) project as part of the graduation requirements, and working with their students acccomplishes several very good things: you help a student acquire real-world experience they can put on their resume while getting a summer job that actually relates to their career, and build some ties between the academy and the industry (never a bad thing imho). Good kharma! Even if they don't have a formal program, it can't hurt to ask to talk to their students.

Advantages for you include the fact that you get someone with at least a certain minimal level of training, and that you have their professor as both a carrot and a stick you can wield if there are any problems. The fact that they need to submit satisfactory work to pass their course is a strong motivator to work hard. If it's a post-grad program, the prof may even take on some of the burden of teaching and supervision--that's part of the job description for a thesis supervisor.

It's also worth noting that you can probably pay an intern less money than you'd pay an experienced pro, while still paying them more than they'd likely be able to earn at any other summer job. I say this not because I'm encouraging you to exploit slave labor <g>--quite the contrary, actually--but rather because it lets you quote a lower price than might otherwise the case and you mentioned "local" organization. That could mean a non-profit, or simply a smaller company with a correspondingly small budget, so you'd be doing them a kindness by lowballing on the price. You might even find them a future employee (the intern).

In any event, working with an intern gives you a larger margin to cover your own time costs; if they turn out to require more supervision and rework time than you expected, you won't sacrifice as much of your potential profits on the project.

<<Any strong cautions, one way or the other (contractor vs. intern)?>>

Just the usual ones: Ask for a sample of their work and spend enough time talking to them to find out what problems they encountered in preparing that work, and the approach they took to solving them. Find out a bit about their previous real-world experience so you know what kind of work environment they're able to survive--focus on what problems they typically encounter on the job and how they deal with them. This is a strong clue as to where you'll need to intervene or monitor more closely.

If you go the intern route, talk to their teachers to get a feel for things about the intern that became apparent only over the course of an 8-month school year--there are many things you might miss in a 1-hour interview. Particularly in a graduate program, the profs are likely to have a good feel for the strengths and weaknesses of the students who apply, and they may be able to guide you to the best candidates for a specific job or reveal areas where you'll need to spend additional time coaching or correcting. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

Always supervise most intensively right at the start. Any mistakes or misunderstandings you can correct on page one are things you won't have to correct for every page submitted thereafter. Do the "plan thrice, write once" thing more rigorously than you might do by yourself, because the intern will be following the plan and won't have the benefit of knowing what you were thinking when you wrote the plan. Better still, write your own plan and compare it with the intern's plan to see which of you missed something. Working with keen young students is often an exercise in humility because they're sometimes smarter than we are. <g>

If you decide to go with a contractor instead, talk to your local community of techwhirlers (both inside and outside STC) to ask for referrals--and warnings. I've used this approach with considerable success in the past to fill jobs.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - --
Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


WebWorks ePublisher Pro for Word features support for every major Help
format plus PDF, HTML and more. Flexible, precise, and efficient content delivery. Try it today!.
Doc-To-Help includes a one-click RoboHelp project converter. It's that easy. Watch the demo at

You are currently subscribed to TECHWR-L as archive -at- infoinfocus -dot- com -dot-
To unsubscribe send a blank email to techwr-l-unsubscribe -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
or visit

To subscribe, send a blank email to techwr-l-join -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com

Send administrative questions to lisa -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Article: The Secret Of Impressive Writing? Keep It Plain And Simple: From: arroxaneullman
Question for people with tech writing businesses: From: Dick Margulis

Previous by Author: What sounds better than "as-is", but means the same?
Next by Author: The Problem With Keeping It Plain And Simple? (take II)
Previous by Thread: Re: Question for people with tech writing businesses
Next by Thread: ADMIN Re: Article: The Secret Of Impressive Writing? Keep It Plain And Simple

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads