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Tips For Outsourcing Technical Writing Projects

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In difficult economic times, many firms are looking at ways to reduce costs while maintaining quality. One thing that many firms decide to outsource is the development of their technical manuals. This can be a very successful way to streamline your operation if all parties understand the process and stick to predetermined guidelines. This article lists six keys to a successful technical manual outsourcing arrangement.

1. Set the ground rules. It is very important that all parties involved understand what is to be accomplished, by whom, and in what time frame. This begins with a detailed proposal that explicitly describes the project, including the intended content, formatting and layout details, and types of illustrations to be used. Perhaps most importantly, the project scope should be indentified as much as possible; an estimated page count based on a rough outline is very helpful.

2. Assign Responsibilities. If nobody knows who is responsible for what, then nobody will be responsible for anything. Every project should have one individual in the client's office identified as the primary point of contact. All files and communications should flow through this person. Individual contributors can communicate with the technical writers, but the primary point of contact should always be copied.

3. Settle the money issue. No project should ever begin without the price being clearly understood by both parties. Our projects are usually conducted on a fixed-price basis. Any changes in scope are identified and agreed to by both parties in writing, and the project proceeds. Working with a set price incentivizes the technical writing company to finish the project on time and within budget.

4. If will it be done? Setting a schedule is a key part to getting the project started and finished to everybody's satisfaction. If a project does not have defined milestones for the outline, draft, and final copy it is destined to linger on. Getting a firm completion date set on the calendar will help your project run more smoothly. But in every project, unexpected factors crop up, and many times they will impact the schedule. It is best if everybody recognizes this as a possibility in the beginning.

5. Get it in writing. If a portion of a project is submitted (e.g. outline, rough draft) the technical writing company should insist upon a formal review and a written (or, email) approval. This will ensure that everybody has taken the responsibility to review the document and will avoid surprises later.

6. Be flexible. Particularly with the first project that is outsourced, parties on both sides of the equation should be flexible. There is an inevitable learning curve for these types of arrangements. The second project always goes smoother than the first, as the technical writers learn about the company, the individuals involved, the technology, etc. The customer's staff learns what is expected of them, become more comfortable with the mechanics of exchanging information, and how to communicate their changes and suggestions to the technical writing company.

Our library of completed projects fills almost an entire office. In over 20 years of technical writing, we have developed a good working relationship with dozens of clients, many of whom have outsourced their projects to Allard for many years. If your company will heed the suggestions in this list, it will help your next project proceed smoothly.

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