Using third-party resources

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Inevitably, there will come a time when even the most hard-working Documentation Consultant has to accept that they simply can't do everything themselves (or in-house), and need to look outside of the company for help. There are typically two reasons for looking to outside resources:

  • To provide additional capability (typically done for short periods during peaks in workload)
  • To provide specialist skills (such as printing or illustration).

This chapter examines both of these cases.

Contract authors

Contractors useful for:

  • Additional skills
  • Handling peaks/short time scales
  • Cost effectiveness (vs. full-time in-house people)

Choosing contract authors

Some things to consider:

  • Do they have relevant experience? How relevant is relevant is a debatable point. Don't necessarily discount an author because they haven't documented the exact system or product you are currently documenting. It is better to look at the types of documentation they have produced, and work from that. Remember that everyone starts with zero experience...
  • Always interview authors if you get the chance, even if this is over the telephone. If they can't speak clearly and concisely, then they are unlikely to be able to write clearly and concisely. Also, meeting them face-to-face will give you a better idea on whether they will work well within your existing team or organization.
  • If possible, review examples of their previous work. Sometimes it may be difficult for contractors to take samples away at the end of the contracts due to non-disclosure agreements. Also it is not always possible to take workable copies of embedded help. However, do try to see something. Some contract writers may also have written magazine articles so if they cannot provide examples of commercial work, see if they can at least provide some other evidence of their ability to write.
  • Consider whether the contract authors are to work on site or not - and whether they have any specific needs themselves. If they work on site, then you will need to arrange desk space, and probably equipment, for them to use. If they are to work from home, make sure that they have suitable hardware available, and possibly a fast Internet link, if they are expected to receive and submit work electronically. Make sure that all of this is acceptable to, and agreed with, the contractor.
  • Make sure the terms of reference are absolutely clear. Specifically, you need to be very clear about what the contractors are producing, and what inputs they can expect to receive from you and your organization to do this. You should also detail what support will be provided (from time with the SMEs through to technical support). If you already have samples of the type of things that they will be required to write, then provide these and make reference to them in the Terms of Reference. Identify any templates that are to be used, and any style guides to which the authors must adhere.
  • Make sure that all costs are clearly documented. Consider whether this includes any `expenses', from travel to paper. The contract may be for a fixed amount, or could be per hour or per day. For the latter, it is worthwhile putting a cap on the total amount.
  • Allow for contingencies. Consider what you will do if things over-run. If the project takes longer because the authors took too long in getting up to speed, then should you pay for this, or should the contractor absorb it? But if they were provided with the source material late, you may have to absorb this yourself.

Print buying

  • Make sure that all agreements are documented (even those made verbally after the contract is signed).
  • Check on whether they will subcontract out some areas of the job, or whether all carried out in-house. This could affect the cost.

Need to consider:

  • Typesetting: Will the printer be given camera-ready copy, or will they be given text and illustrations (plus a specification) and do the layout themselves?
  • Reproduction: What print method is required? May be sufficient to tell them the type of output and have them suggest the appropriate print method
  • Extent: How may copies are to be produced, how many pages per copy, and the type of information on each page (fine illustrations, text, etc.). Also, ask for a quote for the run-on quantity (so that you can get extra printed without having to obtain a new quotation). Should be cheaper as plates already made.
  • Paper: What kind of paper is required? What size paper can their machines handle? What is their basic 'stock'. May also want to consider the paper size - how many pages fit on a sheet; if special pages needed (for example, for illustration inserts), try to get these in a multiple of the number of pages per sheet).
  • Binding: Will they be doing the binding? If so, what kind of binding is required?

Choosing translators

  • Consider translation agencies versus freelance translators.
  • Look for experience translating for the industry in which you are working.
  • Technical vs. non-technical, and obscure vs. common language can affect cost.
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