Outsourcing in Technical Writing: Pros and Cons
Any company owner would like their business to be self-contained. This means a fully balanced process using human, financial and material resources of its own. Such a company would have one great advantage — it would be fully independent of external factors, like procurement, staffing, creation of intellectual property, etc., or these factors would be reduced to a minimum.
However, this model is ideal. In reality, you will hardly find a company that relies entirely on its resources. This is probably, possible only in the case of small (family-type) or medium-sized businesses.
Whenever there is growth, there is a lack of resources, and business owners have to face the problem of increasing the internal staff or outsourcing some of the functions.
State-of-the-art technologies require increasing volumes of technical documentation. The volumes are growing daily, and the more products the company produces, the more documents it needs to support the products.
The diversification of production is not the only reason behind the technical writing boom. Recently, a new mode of producer-customer communication has emerged. It is based on direct communication without intermediaries. A consumer can go to the company site, survey the products, and order the necessary ones.
This mode has become applicable in any field, from software development to machine building. Companies no longer need a marketplace and the traditional producer-wholesaler-retailer-customer chain. The chain has now been shortened to producer and customer.
In this situation, the burden of information dissemination is fully on the producer, who can no longer rely on retailers first learning about the product themselves and then explaining to the customers how to use it. Customers, in their turn, can no longer consult retailers on the details of usage. They have to turn to the producer.
This has resulted in a boom in information support and the related increase in the volumes of technical documentation supplied with the product. At present, it is not only the traditional specification or manual. New types of technical docs have emerged, such as white papers, troubleshooting guides, QSGs, etc.
This has caused a high demand for technical content creation. Companies have faced a new dilemma: Which would be better, to hire more writers and work internally or to order writing services from contractors?
This blog will help you make up your mind about what documentation practices to choose.
Reasons to Outsource Technical Writing Services
Today, the scope of services that can be outsourced is immense. A company can outsource practically anything: design, engineering, accounting, translation, PR and marketing, IT, management (like supervising services), etc. The scope is not limited by intellectual products (non-production-related processes). Even manufacturing, i.e., the creation of material products, can be outsourced.
In this blog, the focus is on outsourcing in technical writing. Below are the reasons in favor of the outsourcing practice.
- One of the reasons why organizations outsource technical writing is the positive experience they have obtained from outsourcing other functions, like the ones enumerated above.
- The second reason is, on the contrary, a lack of experience. Some companies have never had the positions of technical writers or technical writing managers on their staff. Technical documents were usually developed by engineers, and these docs were good for internal use. Still, when a document has to be focused on customers, technical jargon is not the right language.
- Another reason is that there is a disproportion between the size of the company and the amount of documentation to be issued. Too much documentation is to be developed, and too many writers have to be hired to complete this scope of work. And keeping a large staff of writers in-house can be very costly, especially for a small or medium-sized company.
Outsourcing technical writing services is a good solution in this case. It allows the company to expand the writing team at a much lower cost. The company will have to pay only for a specific project. This is less costly than paying a number of specialists monthly, even without relevant projects.
- The absolute advantage of outsourcing is that the outsourced tasks will be completed by professionals with the proper education and expertise in technical writing. When the work is done by subject matter experts, it is a guarantee of getting high-quality documentation that cannot be ensured in-house.
- Saving time for higher-priority tasks is another reason for the remote onboarding of technical writers. In-house employees will no longer lose their time working on technical writing assignments instead of engineering, software development, or other professional tasks.
- One of the by-effects of outsourcing is the increased morale of the onboard team members of the company. They will be sure that the managers will not burden them with technical writing tasks and will look at them as professionals in their field. The employees will feel important and respected by the managers. The ability to concentrate on the core competencies will definitely help to enhance the productivity of work.
- Global cooperation is also worth mentioning. Outsourcing is key to the scalability of your business. Outsourcing to companies based in other countries in different time zones helps to accomplish more tasks than the in-house staff can normally do during an 8-hour working day.
The list of the reasons above is far from being exhaustive. The more you work, the more advantages of outsourcing technical writing you will find. Among the most unexpected ones is sharing experiences. When your staff contact people globally, they develop their writing skills, learn about new cultures, and adopt a habit of looking at things from different standpoints. This is very important for increasing the creativity of your team.
Key Challenges with Outsourcing
- One of the main challenges is the text quality that does not always correspond to your vision. You may be disappointed in the quality of the language of your documentation in the case when you outsource the tasks to non-native speakers. Their level of language mastery may be good, but still, it may not be good enough for you, as you are used to better wording and style.
A good solution to this problem is editing. However, it means additional expenses and, most probably, outsourcing (again!), so, in the long run, it will reduce to zero the economy you planned to get from outsourcing technical writing.
- A time zone difference can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. Remote workers will get updates from you later because of the distance; they will be hard to contact, so holding an online meeting can become a problem. As a result, inaccuracies in documents can occur.
- Cross-cultural communication is also a challenge. There are cultural differences that are hard to overcome. They are often on the level of instinct, and even if you understand them, you will hardly be able to get used to them.
For example, in India, you can often see people nodding slightly from side to side when listening. Europeans always take it as a sign of agreement or confirmation. However, for Indians, it just means that the person you are talking to respects you and your position, but it does not mean agreement. If you are unaware of the cultural differences, you can have problems when discussing the terms of cooperation, as well as in other situations.
Tips to Implement the Outsourcing Process
Usually, companies either outsource all documentation development or keep the technical writing in-house. Both these polar approaches have advantages and disadvantages.
Outsourcing all documentation can result in a gap between content writers and technical specialists. Ideally, content writers should cooperate with the technical staff to understand the ‘tricks of the trade’ or, at least, be able to consult with an engineer in case some complex issue arises.
Keeping content writing in-house usually results in a gap between documentation developers and the target audience. Technical specialists are so deeply immersed in everything that concerns the product that they often cannot ‘walk in the shoes’ of the consumer. They cannot explain things in simple language. They often start to explain issues that are unnecessary for the user, like the physical or chemical processes behind some technology. The user simply does not need to know this information.
A trade-off decision would be a combination of both approaches. It would be best to have an onboard group of content writers with the possibility of enlarging by adding one or several remote specialists. This way, the quality of the text will be optimal, and the scope of work will be completed on time.
When it concerns technical writing, many business owners try to do without subcontracting. They are sure the writing is better done using the company’s own resources. In-house specialists understand the company’s products and services much better than subcontractors.
Remember that this position is often the cause of poorly written (though technically correct) documentation. Effective documents should be focused on the reader and speak the reader’s language, not the jargon used by technical specialists. This is the key to the product’s marketability.
Take these reasons into account when deciding whether to outsource content writing or not.
Good luck with your technical writing!
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices
Originally published at https://clickhelp.com.