Frequently Asked Questions (and the Answers, obviously)

I guess I am a little unusual in how I work. So here are some common questions I am asked by recruiters and potential clients.

Q:Are you able to take on short contracts?

Yes. Unlike some contractors, I don’t always go for the highest paying gig on offer. Also, I often favour the short contracts that put the fear of God up some people because of the lack of ‘job security’. I don’t mind living on the wind…I like the variety.

Q:Can you work in London and the South East?

Er…possibly, but I would need some flexibility. By that, I mean there would have to be some working from home and an understanding that I’d need to leave for trains etc. Commuting is a waste of everyone’s time and a real pain given where I am based – but not impossible. I have animals to take care of, so staying in London overnight on a regular basis is going to be tricky.

Q:We need a technical writer who is a specialist in our industry. Do you know about our industry?

Are you sure you need an expert? If your content is aimed at pepople who are as knowledgable as your developers, then yes, you might do. But in most other cases, having expert knowledge could actually hinder the technical writer and affect the quality of the documentation. The technical writer’s job is not just to teach customers about a product or service – it is to understand customers, figure out what they want to know, and then find and present the answers in a suitable format. An expert is often unable to identify with the perspective of the reader and so the documentation fails to meet their needs.

Reconsider what you need, and then get back to me.

Q:What is the difference between a freelance technical author and a contract technical author?

Technically, nothing, but in IT circles, the difference is that the contractor usually works for an hourly/daily/weekly rate whereas a freelance job is a fixed price for the work. For that reason, freelance jobs tend to be priced higher as the tech writer has to allow for unforseen circumstances affecting the deadline.

Q:Why do you sometimes call yourself a technical author and other times a technical writer? What’s the difference?

There’s no difference. The term technical writer is used more in the USA, Canada, and Australia, whereas technical author seems to be used in Europe. I use a mix of both on the site for SEO purposes, that’s all. Normally, I would refer to myself as a technical author.

Q:Have you used Adobe RoboHelp?

I haven’t used it professionally, no. I had a quick look at the demo a while back but then threw myself into MadCap Flare. I’m told that they are very similar (the developers of Flare are the original team that worked on RoboHelp). If you need me to use RoboHelp, I can get up to speed in no time. I have seen people who have used RoboHelp get to grips with Flare quickly, so it shouldn’t be a major issue.

Q:How come you offer copywriting too? Marketing is a completely different skill to technical authoring, isn’t it?

It is a lot different, but there are cross-over areas such as understanding your audience and knowing the correct language to use. But they don’t have to be mutually exclusive – I can write a manual that promotes a product too.

The reason I offer copywriting is that several years ago, I became bored with the ‘groundhog day’ routine of my tech writing role (I was a full-time employee back then). I decided to do something about it and so took a copywriting course. Then I switched to a part-time week and started a copywriting business, which is still going strong today.

Q:The role I am looking to fill requires a lot of project documentation such as an FDS and other specs. Can you do those?

Yes, but I don’t really like doing that sort of documentation – it is for projects engineers, really. I’m more of an end-user documentation specialist.