More than you budgeted for...

Subject: More than you budgeted for...
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Tue, 15 Oct 1996 13:24:44 -0500

Karen F asked for advice on a manual revision that could
take much longer than she expected. Karen, as you note, you
have two choices: leave the manual as is and just update
it, or bring it up to your standards but sacrifice some
income. Perhaps the two aren't mutually exclusive?

First, do the most important part: update the manual to
match the current reality, which is what you've been paid
to do and what users will notice long before they notice
relatively minor stylistic problems. (I don't like passive
voice either, but it doesn't bug me as much as
incomprehensible or inaccurate writing.) Next, send a brief
proposal to your client that reports the problem with the
passive voice, explains how you'd like to fix the problem,
and offers to do this for an additional cost. To justify
this additional cost, try a few things:
- estimate how much shorter the manual will be (passive is
usually longer... as a SWAG, try 10% or so, but test this
using actual text and your proposed rewrite) and what this
is likely to save in printing costs.
- point out that fixing the problem now, at 1996 costs,
will be less expensive than fixing it later, at
inflation-adjusted costs; remind the client that future
editors will probably try to fix the problem and will build
this time into their quotes.
- give a few carefully chosen before and after examples to
show how active voice improves the text. Don't focus on
unclear or misleading examples, because you're expected to
solve these anyway.

Are you doing online editing? A search and replace, perhaps
several of them automated via a macro, might solve the
problem nicely. For example, replace all "the button should
be clicked" by "click the button"... this leaves you fewer
things to correct manually.

If your cost estimate isn't that much higher than your
original quote, these points may well make the sale for
you. If you hope for substantial future business from this
client, you may very well have to swallow the lost income
and produce an excellent job to ensure that future work.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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