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When Should You Hire a Contract Writer?

By Jacquie Samuels

Your product is ready to ship! Wait, quick, someone write the documentation!

Yes, this happens a lot. However, if you want your users to be able to use your product without banging their heads against the wall, then your best bet is to hire a contract technical writer.

Contract technical writers can be hired for long or short term, as sole writers or to augment your existing staff—whatever your project needs. They are a cost-effective solution that can provide you with the clear, quality content that your users need.

Why use a technical writer at all?

A technical writer is that person who can bridge the gap between product and user. Documentation can make or break your product, so it makes sense to invest in a technical writer so your users can understand what your product can do for them and how to use the product.

A technical writer provides:

  • Clear writing and effective communication: Documentation is useless if it’s not clearly written. However, this is about more than just word choice and grammatical expertise. It’s as important to know what to write as it is how to write it. A technical writer is trained to do both.
  • Professional formatting and presentation: From layout and font to appropriate size for graphics, a technical writer makes your content look professional. Also, don’t forget about branding. Your documentation is just as much part of your product as its other features and it should look like it. Colors, styles, and logos can go a long way to making the documentation look like your documentation.
  • A user’s perspective on the product and in the documentation: Technical writers work as user advocates, seeing the product and the documentation from a user’s point of view, which makes the end result usable, clear, and an invaluable component of the product.

A technical writer can make informed decisions about providing the right sort of information in the right location. Some of the many options that a technical writer considers while writing are:

  • Multimedia to explain why and to show how
  • Embedded help
  • Online help
  • Tutorials
  • Charts, graphs, and tables
  • Tasks
  • Search and index mechanisms (so people can find what they are looking for)
  • Copyright and legal requirements
  • Industry standards

What are the benefits of hiring a contract writer?

Many companies cannot afford or do not require full time technical writers. In this case, what makes the most sense is to hire a writer on a contract basis who can meet the needs of the project, however long or short that might be.

Another case is where a company has a staff of existing writers, but needs to meet a sudden increase in demand of either volume or time.

In both cases, the primary benefits of using a contract technical writer include:

  • Cost: A contract technical writer costs less than a full-time employee. In this economy, being able to cut costs where you can just makes good sense. So a contract writer can be hired for the term you need and only that term. You get great documentation and pay only for what you need.
  • Skill: Many specialist technical writers are only available on a contract basis. They have highly advanced skills that only apply to short projects, such as implementing single sourcing strategies, creating documentation sets, applying minimalism and task-oriented strategies, creating video tutorials, or updating a template. These specialists can work with your existing writers, if you have them, or on their own. Hire them for an advanced documentation project to improve the content quality or the content creation process.
  • Experience: Contract technical writers have a wealth of experience that they can draw upon because they have worked on so many different projects. They have created solutions to problems that you haven’t even encountered yet. A professional has the knowledge to get the job done well and efficiently.

When is the best time to hire?

The ideal time to hire a technical writer is while you’re gathering business requirements from your clients for the next release. A technical writer can help you develop end-to-end use cases and user scenarios that can benefit the entire product. Not only will your product be better as a result of those use cases and scenarios, but your writer will have a complete and profound understanding not just of your product, but of how your users will want to use the product. At that point, the writing can be done well and done quickly.

If hiring a writer at that stage seems too early for you, seriously consider hiring one during the development phase when the the technical writer can still be party to the decisions made during development. The choices made during development often clarify how the user should be using the product. If you wait to hire a writer once the product is complete, they’ll be left doing a rush job without understanding the product properly. It’s worth the extra time and money to invest in quality—and quality does take time.

The bottom line

Have a product idea? Hire a contract technical writer early. The earlier the better.

Need to meet a sudden deadline or temporary increase in demand? Fill out your staff with experienced, skilled, and cheaper resources for the life of the project.

Hiring a contract writer gets you the right skills in the right place at the right time.

About the Author

Jacquie Samuels is a technical communication consultant providing companies with DITA, CMS, and information architecture solutions and training. She endeavors to help everyone create documentation that is stronger, faster, and smarter. You can connect with Jacquie through Writing Assistance, Inc. at www.writingassist.com or by email through sales@writingassist.com