September 24, 2012

Time Estimation Method For Technical Writing Projects

How To Estimate  Time For Technical Writing Projects?

Estimating  time for technical writing project is an art or craft that I do not know but surely it is one of the significant and core skill, yet most of the technical communicator find it one of the most daunting task because it relies on many conflicting, delicate and external factors.

Why to estimate time

Either you are a freelance or permanent employee if you can effectively estimate the time commitment required to complete a project, you can safely meet your clients’ needs while maintaining balance in your schedule. If you can’t do this you won’t know how much to charge for your work or how to best schedule your time and wind up costing you time and money.
Unfortunately, it is difficult but essential.

With the spirit of sharing, I thought to post few tips on what to consider while estimating time for the technical writing project. Nothing revolutionary. There are many sites and resources available, but it is difficult to say what is the exact method, probably that’s why it is an estimation. End of the day, it will be your experience which will make you the guru of this gyan.

Pre Kick off meeting preparation time is important for freelancers to take into consideration. You can also consider the time required in preparing of the quote, MOU, negotiation time, preparation of the agreement. 

Know what you have to estimate before estimating you should be familiar for what you are giving estimation because sometimes documenting one menu may take one hour and sometimes it may run in many hours. Knowing the scope is most vital part of the estimation.So do not forget to allot time for meetings to evaluation of project details.

To conduct information-gathering meeting is essential for estimating, raise questions until you are sure you understand the application. It should be a red flag if a client or developer is not willing to define the project for you.

Try to understand the difficulty of the project during your research. Have you worked in this domain earlier? Is it a simple topic or complicated? Do you know and have the knowledge of the tools which are required to complete the project. Give yourself permission to have a greater learning curve than for projects similar to your past work.

Check the availability of the finished project, specification requirement docs and other information availability? 

Also find any existing document you have to update or you have to do it from scratch, Are templates ready or you have to create?

These are the small things you should consider before estimating actual writing time.

Guestimate time for actual work-After understanding the complexity of project and knowing the real number of windows and menu option make a high-level view of topics now you can guesstimate the actual time you will take to write.

Keep in the mind apart of the actual flow you have to write an index, appendices and many definition and introduction. Also keep time for graphics, formatting, editing and self-proofreading and generating output.

Revision-Make it clear in advance with the client about number of revisions client keeps changing his or her mind or code allot time for each round. This avoids the endless cycle of minute detail changes that end up adding hours and hours to your total time commitment

Buffer-This time cushion you when unknown problem suddenly emerges like delay in getting feedback, hardware or software problem or your guesstimate deviate from the path,

Extraneous Hours-This time is important when you have very demanding client who needs you to revolve around them answering call writing emails remember all these takes time

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September 13, 2012

Proofreading Tips for Technical Writers

Who are the proofreader's?

The proofreader combs through the work looking for any inappropriateness. These include punctuation, spelling, spaces, alignment, type font and style, and other minutiae. This can involve comparing the final copy with the final trail print.

Technical writers and Self proofreading

Proofreading is one of the important skill technical writers must possess to excel in their profession. A good writer with self-proofreading ability are able to churn out accurate, clear, concise, flawless and logically structured document, it’s imperative that you review each word to check for typos, mistakes, context, and tone. Those little details really do matter!

In several projects I had worked as a single writer or freelancer with no peer or editor around, in fact in my current project also i am the sole contributor and in that scenario, I have to proofread my own work, this is when I felt the need of good self-proofreading skill .So did some homework on proofreading and here is the weblog of it.

I asked my friends on LinkedIn Information Developers group and I got some great tips thanks to Altaf Ahmed, San Xu, Carlos and Kranthi Kumar Kandagatla for their insight. 

To find out errors, you must know the type of errors that you do commonly.In this post my main focus is on some common mistakes and methods to reduce them by self-proofing.

Please also keep in the mind there is a difference between editing and proofreading.It is said that we should not do together, but I believe if you have ability to do it together please go ahead.

First step I think is you should have a checklist of commonly made mistakes by you and make sure you don not repeat it again :-) Go ahead make a checklist. Few entries for checklist currently spilling out from my mind are:

  • Spelling mistakes
  • Incorrect data
  • Incorrect or inconsistent capitalization
  • Incorrect Numbering and Heading
  • Incorrectly spelled names
  • Non-agreement of subject and verb
  • Use of passive voice
  • Incorrect punctuation
  • Incorrect Referencing of illustrations
  • Incorrect header and footer
  • Reversed numbers like 459 to 495
  • Sound similar but have different meanings words (e.g., except/accept, palette / palate, intense/intensive).
  • Wrong use of apostrophes
  • Check Cross-references
  • Style Guide compliance mistakes.(Mistakes in Fonts, Images, Tables etc)
  • Incorrect Index

Now you have a checklist available, but how to find your own writing  errors which often occurs just when stress levels are highest and time shortest, writers minds resist identifying them as errors. Under these conditions, you will see only what they want to see because we are often blind to our own  mistakes?

Few popular and easy steps which work wonder to many will surely work for you as well.

Allow some time to pass. This is one of the tip which is common to all who responded on Linkedin. Put the work aside for a few days or weeks before beginning the proofreading process.

Read out loud to yourself. This is one of the wonderful tools, try it, you can find your many grammatical mistakes. Reading out loud will help catch missing words. It’s also helpful for determining whether a piece lacks clarity or if phrasing doesn’t sound quite right.

Spell checks this. Spell check your document, spell checker can do some wonder like:

Identify misspelled words
Find double occurrences of words
Identify double capital letters at the beginning of a word
Identify when a small letter precedes a capital letter
Accommodate additions to the dictionary of unusual words you commonly use

Beware spell check  also cannot do many things, Like

Find typographical errors that appear to be correct
horrible instead of honorable, be long instead of belong )
Point out grammatical errors
their instead of they're, its instead of it's )
Identify poor sentence sense and syntax

Check all the links and cross references-Click on all the links and cross references manually, see if they navigate to the proper location and not broken.

Backward to forward-Start with the last paragraph first. Because you’re reading it out of order, you’re more likely to spot the typos and spelling mistakes

Pause before you press Send- Take a long pause before sending the final draft, pause can vary from hours to days. 

Avoid distraction- I personally like to proofread my work without any distraction, you can use a quite location or earphones, choice is yours.

Proofread print-This is not eco-friendly and little expensive method as well but one of my close to heart method. Print version is also handy for making notes with pen, crossing out excess verbiage, and changing vocabulary prior to implementing the corrections in a final version.

Illustration/Screen check-Make sure you have used correct images and screen shots.

Response from LinkedIn Information Developers Group