Our experts can help you write many different kinds of ‘documents’ including:
- Manuals and handbooks
- Face to face learning materials
- Elearning materials
- Policies and procedures
- Quality system documents
- Software and systems descriptions
One of the most common questions we are asked is: “How long will this take to write?”. Although we’re not offering to answer that question for you (we specifically tell you that you have to estimate your writing project and manage it), this article might give you some ideas on how you can estimate that yourself.
The answer depends on a number of things:
- Where the information is coming from
- How you’re going to publish it
- Who else needs to be involved
Where the information is coming from
There is a big difference between taking material that’s already written, and writing from scratch. Often the ‘source material’ might be an existing document, or an existing course, and that’s pretty easy to work from. But sometimes writing involves talking to one or more people who have the information ‘in their heads’, and that takes longer. We call these people ‘subject matter experts’, or SMEs.
Sometimes the people who have the information are reluctant to reveal it; this might be the case where, for example, they are worried that once the information is written down they are dispensable and might be made redundant. We’ve come across this situation a few times (generally programmers who know the internals of a piece of software).
In an extreme case there may be no source material and no SMEs. For example, where one of our experts is asked to come up with a policy that complies with a particular piece of legislation.
How you’re going to publish it
If the material just has to delivered as a Word document, then that’s pretty quick. But to develop elearning or face to face learning materials takes longer.
A good rule of thumb is that in a single day, someone can generally:
- Take existing material and turn it into about 5 pages of Word document
- Create new material from talking to SMEs and turn it into about 3 pages of Word document
- Create about an hour of face to face learning materials
- Create about 10 minutes of elearning materials
Of course these are just averages, and there are whole books written on how to estimate this kind of thing (we can recommend “Managing Your Documentation Projects” by JoAnn Hackos).
Who else needs to be involved
Even if the writer can complete the work in a particular period, there are other things that can get in the way. In particular, if they need access to SMEs, then the SMEs have to be available (a good rule of thumb is about half a day of SME time for each week of writer time). If they’re not available (or not enthusiastic) then this will blow out the writing time.
Another issue is reviews. Work out who in your organisation will want to review the document, and make sure they’re available for review, and know how to review effectively.
There’s a useful way of tracking how a writing project is going. Simply work out how many documents (procedures, modules, whatever) you need to have written, and estimate the number of days needed to complete each one (based on the numbers above).
Then track the percentage completion of each document (tip: it’s only 100% complete when it’s been approved) and work out how long it should have taken to get to that percentage, based on your original effort estimate. Then total the amount of effort represented by all of that completion, and compare that to the actual effort expended.
You can use this spreadsheet as a starting point.
As long as the actual effort is less than the estimate, all is well. If you find that the actual is, say, 10% above the estimate at the start of the project, then it’s still likely to be 10% above when the project gets to the end.
To improve this, you can:
- Reduce the scope (this is called an Agile approach)
- Reduce the quality (by asking the writer to work faster)
- Reduce the reviews (because each of them requires writer input)
- Just increase your budget to match reality
How long does it take to write a manual? A good rule of thumb is that a professional writer can generate around 3 pages/day of new material, or about 5 pages/day where there is existing material to work from.
How long does it take to write a policy or procedure? A good rule of thumb is that a professional writer can generate around 3 pages/day of new material, or about 5 pages/day where there is existing material to work from.
How long does it take to write face to face training material? A good rule of thumb is that a professional can generate about an hour’s training in about a day.
How long does it take to write e-learning material? A good rule of thumb is that a professional can generate about an hour’s training in about a week.
What’s the best way to manage a writing project? Track the percentage completion of each element, and multiply that by your original estimate of how long it should have taken to develop each element. Then total that and compare it to the actual hours/days expended.