At 09:04 -0700 4/10/06, Courtney Collins wrote:

>  Is anyone aware of a formula for how many words/pages a Tech Writer can 
> produce in a given period of time? I am being asked to take on additional 
> manuals and upper management wants some numbers to justify additional head 
> count that will be needed. I can probably come up with an estimate based on 
> what we produce today, but I was wondering if some kind of standard already 
> exists.

Courtney: all your responses have been (quite justifiably) 'it depends'. And it 
does: there is no formula. If it's any help, 0.5 to 4 or more hours per 
<average manual> page depending on content, complexity, audience and quality 
and availability of input data. The latter is key: if you are dependent on 
specific people for data input and they are busy, then all the metrics for 
productivity in the world won't have a lot of bearing on true, elapsed, time 
for content creation.

There are many other issues on estimation - a book could be written. If working 
with a complex product you haven't seen before, you need to allow for your own 
head-banging time to get up to speed with it. Also, the 'other people' factor 
comes heavily into play if the job requires reviewing by subject-matter experts 
(as is usually the case). I once had a set of ten manuals that took the client 
about eighteen months to review, by which time the product in question had 
moved to a new revision.

I can't do better than this other than echo the recommendation to meticulously 
record your own productivity on all jobs for use in later estimation. You can 
then feed this into those phases of a project plan that define your own work, 
while making 'reasonable' estimations for other people's productivity. The 
planning process is usually a matter of scientific 'finger in the air' 
guesstimation. That is, it's fine to make estimates, providing that you clearly 
document those estimates and can justify them. It also help to highlight them, 
for example in a 'Risks' section, which can be especially useful if the dirt 
starts flying later ;-)

An anecdote: perhaps even more difficult than estimating virgin content 
creation is estimating revision, particularly for a large documentation set. I 
was once asked to undertake such a job. Two weeks of heavy, and unpaid, 
spreadsheeting later, I came up with a figure of about $22k in today's money. 
The client's response was 'Yes, we thought it would be about that much'. The 
point being that because I was able to show what in school we were taught to 
call our 'workings out', they were happy to accept the estimate.

Or... you can ignore all the above and Google on 'technical writing planning 
metrics estimation', which got me 3.5 million hits. Here's the top hit, which 
offers a free Excel estimation spreadsheet:


It looks like good sense.


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