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Project Time Estimates

Posted on: October 12, 2009

How do you estimate the time needed to write a document? As an example, let’s talk about the user manual, a type of document that is long, complex and typically rather tricky to finish on time and on budget.

The first step is to get team consensus on the planning and design questions (see earlier posts). Although factors vary project by project, here are some guidelines to use in calculating your estimates:

  • How much do you know about the product?
  • How much do you know about the subject matter?
  • Who is the audience? Is there more than one audience?
  • How complex is the user manual, in terms of the product, training needs, artwork, formatting, examples, and level of detail?
  • How much production time is required to produce a finished, marketable document?
  • How much artwork (figures, tables, illustrations, etc.) is there? Who is to create it? How will it be merged into the text?
  • How many reviewers are there? How fast and thorough are they?
  • Do you have established review procedures and firm timelines?

Other issues a writer needs to address include these:

  • How familiar are you with the application package and other tools you will use to write and publish the document?
  • Is producing the document your sole responsibility, or one of many projects you must juggle?
  • How fast do you work?
  • What is your approach to the project? Structured (project statement and document outline) or more random and disorganized?

Over the years I have discussed time estimates with other professional writers. On a per-page basis, their estimates have ranged widely from 1.0-1.5 hours all the way up to three days. These per-page estimates included planning and conceptual design, information gathering, an outline, a first draft, two revisions, proofreading/editing, and delivery of the document in the agreed-upon format.

So many factors can play a significant role in estimating the time required to successfully complete a document. In general, the less experience you have, the more time you should allocate. It is preferable to finish the project within your time and cost budgets than to overrun them, so allow for emergencies and unexpected delays.

Above all: no magical thinking. Be realistic. A good document (in print or online) requires a certain amount of time and money. With experience you will improve your project estimates.

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