TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
MY QUESTIONS are these:
In your departments, what is the ratio of writers
to projects in your
publications departments? What should I know
before trying to persuade the
product manager to hire another writer?
I have heard that for Dreamweaver, the
documentation task was divided among
a team of writers (each working for significantly
higher salaries...). Isn't
that how projects are generally staffed? Or do
other people find they are
working alone on monster projects?
I'll answer this one first by saying "Yse." In other words,
I have worked in both situations. In the Monster Marathon
category, I have always tried to be clear about the risks,
and we have always had to make compromises... Usually in
the quality of the final output. Basically, you get what
you pay for, and if a company won't pay for enough writers,
enough will not get written. That's pretty simple.
You are right in assuming that huge projects have teams of
Me feels the load a bit heavy here... :?(
My initial response to this is, "Honesty is the best
policy." I realize that is a hard code to live by. But in
the long run, it is probably true... To commence from the
worst-case scenario, if you demonstrate that a project is
woefully understaffed, and thus wind up looking for work, at
least you will have a life! That beats working 16 hour
days, 6 (or 7!) days a week for six months (which turns out
to be a year or more because the understaffed project
slipped the schedule 5 times).
Ok, so now I will try to be reasonable.
First off, you should have a doc plann, which means you
describe exactly what manuals you plan to produce, have at
least a rough outline, and some guesstimate for page count.
Along with this is a guess at resource requirements... the
one you are most worried about is time. This is your chance
to begin negotiation over the quality of your life for the
life of the project. You are telling them what you can and
will produce, in how much time. If you come up with 160
hours (ridiculous number, I know) and they need it done in a
week, then they need to hire three more writers. If they
"do" math, they can figure that out.
A word of warning... You might think you can hack out, oh,
20 or 30 pages a day. Maybe you feel cautious and cut that
down to 10. But have you considered Alpha draft, Beta
draft, and Final draft? Have you considered review time for
each milestone? Have you considered production time and
lead time for the printer? I recall hearing a
3-page-per-day rule of thumb once, long ago. I have no idea
whether that is correct. What I tend to do is estimate MY
time to reach a specific milestone, and let managers figure
out the transactions between departments and external
resources (like printers). But the final doc plan needs to
include scheduling for all these milestones, as well as your
But this situation seems to cry out for definition. So your
best bet is to take that step. Spending a week on it now
will save much heart-ache and time later. In the process, I
suggest you work closely with your editor and manager. I
have always had good luck asking stupid questions like, "I
see this is to be a 6,000 page manual. Can you explain to
me why there is only one week set aside for writing it?"
The idea is for everybody to agree on realistic goals, and
plan for success. The best thing to happen would be that
management sees the light and makes realistic expectations.
The usual thing to happen is that you make commitments you
feel comfortable with, and then you must meet them. The
worst thing to happen is that they decide you are not the
writer they want, and send you packing. But I ask you, if
you really aren't the writer they want, why do you want to
work there? So even the worst case is not so bad.
Your next question might be, does anybody have examples of
good Doc Plans? Sorry, but I don't have any on hand. Does
anybody else? I think that would help you quite a bit.