Cost of Documentation

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Comments (7)

Jake in Long Beach, California

88 months ago

I am writing a proposal for my company to get some outside help documenting some software I have written. Currently, there are over 20,000 lines of code in a web application. Please give me some rough numbers on what to expect it to cost if we were to hire a company to write the documentation for us.

Thank you,
Jake

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Ed Hanson in Denver, Colorado

87 months ago

The number of lines of codes in an application has no bearing on the cost of documentation. It just doesn't relate.
First of all, you need to identify what documentation you need. If you have already produced the software, you have skipped over the most important documentation: Requirements and Architecture. This is a common mistake project managers make and it leads to a poorly designed product and does not serve the user's/customer's needs. Documents created during the design and development phases are the guiding blueprint for the project. They provide a framework and a standard the entire development team must adhere to. When design documents are not created, the user (the prime focus of the requirements docs)is not served. Engineers and programmers are so enamored of features and functions, they often forget that the user does not have the same level of techno understanding they do, and they turn out a product that is troublesome and difficult to use. There is no accountability for design and implementation. To produce any good product, you must have a plan and you must stick to it. Tech writers are the keepers of the plan.

I have been brought in on many projects to write documentation for software near completion and it is a frustrating and often unproductive task: Subject Matter Experts (SME)s have often moved on to other projects and are not avaialable for consultation. It's like closing the barn door after the horses have already escaped.
If I use a copy of the application to write a user manual, I may find flaws in the functioning, things that could have been caught earlier; with some design accountability and thorough test scripts.
My recommendation is to consult with a tech writer: define exactly what you want them to produce and work out a timeline for getting it done. From that you can calculate the approximate number of hours the tech writer might need to accomplish it. Only then can you know what the cost is going to be.

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goombieking in Davison, Michigan

75 months ago

I am glad that I am not the only one that finds this problem. People don't seem to understand that in order to write a decent document, the function and features need to be explained to the writer. People who don't write seem to think it's some sort of magic formula that appears out of thin air.

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Susolov in Houston, Texas

67 months ago

goombieking in Davison, Michigan said: I am glad that I am not the only one that finds this problem. People don't seem to understand that in order to write a decent document, the function and features need to be explained to the writer. People who don't write seem to think it's some sort of magic formula that appears out of thin air.

Oh really, I heard you pull the information out of your "ear." LOL!
But then, I'm just another one of those misunderstood, under appreciated technical writers. But I "have ways" of getting the information I need. It just takes tack and experience. I sort of act like I know something and the information flows from there. It's the old "fake it until you make it" routine.

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goombieking in Davison, Michigan

67 months ago

I understand. One time a robot programmer didn't want to explain some feature, so I went over and picked up the teach pendant and started pushing buttons. It didn't take him long after that to explain the procedure to me.

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Tim Shirey in Garland, Texas

61 months ago

The developer wants to show a bunch of features and let the customer figure out how to use the item, the customer just wants someone to explain how the item can solve an important problem. It makes things harder when the developer uses one jargon and the customer uses another. The technical writer tries to bridge the gap between those people. The number of lines of code does not have much impact on the cost of the documentation project. A clear understanding of the goals of the project and the needs of the potential customer, along with the interest of the developer, are powerful factors in determining cost.

I have written documentation by reading the code and then interviewing the developer. The code was poorly commented. I could figure out what the software did but I needed someone to explain the goals. I found three errors in the code.

Involving a good technical writer in the early in the design process improves the documentation, the product, and customer satisfaction and reduces the eventual costs.

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Joseph LeRoy in Cypress, Texas

57 months ago

You need to hire a technical writer on contract. Expect to pay around $55.00 USD per hour. The technical writer should know how to do research and interview subject matter experts to gather the information required to complete the documentation. Ensure that the technical writer you hire is capable research and the technical writer has a general understanding of your product (e.g. has documented software applications in the past).

Often technical writers will work off of a set budget, but budgets do not allow the flexability to modify your own work in anyway, and often the documentation is what suffers if the budget runs out. You should only use budgets when working with tested technical writers who you have worked with on similar projects, as then you are certain that the technical writer understands the time/cost of the project. I strongly suggest using time & materials when working with a new technical writer.

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