Re: Estimating Pages per Writer?

Subject: Re: Estimating Pages per Writer?
From: Lauren <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Mon, 12 May 2014 13:35:48 -0700

On 5/12/2014 11:31 AM, Jim Witkin wrote:

Is there any industry accepted method for calculating how many tech writers
are required to maintain a certain number of documentation pages?

This reads like a question on an online IQ test.

I realize these would be rough guidelines, but is there a page count per writer that
seems reasonable? Right now, I'm a tech pubs department of one. I'm
maintaining about 2,000 pages of user documentation and spec sheets on
existing products, plus developing new documentation as new products are
introduced. I want to have the conversation with my manager about how/when
to expand the tech pubs group, but wanted to cite industry guidelines if
they exist.

Going after page count will not help you. The number of pages that a document requires is not based on what the writer can produce but on what the reader needs to understand the subject matter. So complex subject matter will require more pages than simple subject matter. Complex readers (if I can call them that) will require fewer pages to understand the subject matter than simple readers (if I can say that without sounding derogatory). So the variables in material and readers makes gathering any metrics on the subject of page count nearly impossible. If your subject matter never changes complexity and your readers never vary, then you can estimate page counts... maybe.

Fiction writing tends to have some stability in numbers of words for a story but there is a range. For example, novels are longer than novellas but it is the story that drives the word count and not a writer's or editor's formula.

If you look at the library of work you maintain and you see a pattern, let's say user manuals have a certain page length a system guides have another and there is little variation, then maybe you can estimate pages. You are better off, though, estimating what types of documents you need to produce, how many documents you produce of each type, and how much time goes into each revision. Then from there, estimate how much time is spent on each type of document. The thing is, once you get a formula, your needs and expertise will change. You will get faster while a new writer will be slower, so the formula will break about as soon as you find it.

What I would do, and have done in your position, is compartmentalize the types of documents and time to produce them. I have categorized documents in degrees of complexity (like with a scale of 1 to 5), so that work was easier to delegate to new people. As new writers came up to speed, I managed workloads so that everyone had a balanced workload and would not be burdened by too much work that was tedious or uninteresting. I also tried to make sure that writers had their "favorite" projects. I could estimate how many days or weeks a writing project would take and what dates would trigger a need to add more writers to a project to avoid delays.

There was no industry formula for determining how long a project would take but I did find a general estimate for projects at various companies.

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Estimating Pages per Writer?: From: Jim Witkin

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