Technology — 07 May 2016

by

Walker Rowe

If you want quality work, you need a quality writer.

This week the top freelance market website Upwork doubled its fee to 20% plus added 2.5% to your bill for credit card fees.  This substantial price increase will cause waves to ripple throughout the market with freelancers and clients looking for alternative platforms.  So, since you are looking, here are some tips on how to pick a freelance writer to write your next blog post, white paper, web site, or manual.

Not All Writers are Tech Writers

Tech writing is not technical writing.  The latter means people who take technical material and turn it into user manuals, specs, or blog posts. You have to write all that, and they basically work as an editor. By definition that type of writer does not have a technical background.  They will not understand cloud computing, cybersecurity, networking, Python, big data, analytics, and so forth.  What you need to write your IT marketing and teaching docs is someone who has actually worked as a programmer or analyst in IT.

That kind of person is more difficult to find, as most writers are just English-major type writers.  Look at their client history. If they understand IT and that is their niche then you will be able to see that reflected in their work.

Who to Pick, How they Should Write It

That said here is some of what you should know about picking a freelancer and how your documents should read:

  • Be careful who you work with.  There are online markets where you can look for freelancers.  (I am not going to recommend any of those as the market is fragmented now.  I use Upwork, plus have clients who I have found in other ways, like LinkedIn, word of mouth, and cold calling. Plus people contact me directly having found my work on the internet.) But you should know that there are a lot of firms, particularly in Asia, who are fraudulent in what they do.  They plagiarize the work of other people. They take Wikipedia and other articles and simply rewrite those.  They outsource your work to someone you have not talked with. Sure they might write a blog post for $5, but that poor quality work will not reflect well on your business and you might have to dump it altogether.
  • When you put out a request on Upwork or other marketplace, pick the writer who bids the highest.  They are the quality writer you need.  You will not have to chase down this person to ask where your document is.  You will not have to pay another writer to fix it.  Because this writer is making more money than the low bidders they do not take on more work than they can handle.  They take the time to do quality work that is free of grammatical errors, is well-researched, and technically-accurate. If the topic is a teaching article then the freelancer should take the time to code or install whatever software they are writing about.  That could take them up to 6 days, which is time well spent if the document is to be understood by those who will attempt to follow it. The writer will not charge you for that extra time either. (See next paragraph.)
  • Do fixed price contracts instead of hourly ones. A blog post (600-1,000 words) costs about $85-$110.  A white paper (1,500-3,000 words) $250-$1,200.  A website or manual can be done on an hourly basis as it requires back and forth communications between you and the freelancer and multiple revisions.  A writer usually does not need much of your input to write a blog post or whitepaper since they know how to do research and understand the topic at hand. That document should not need any revision either if you have picked the right freelancer.
  • When you need a blog post, white paper, or website know that those are two different kinds of writing.  A website needs someone who can write snappy, upbeat sales writing.  But it must have enough technical info to sound credible and not be pure cliche-filled sales hype.  For blog posts and white papers you need someone who has a technical background so they can understand what your product does and what service you offer.
  • SEO does not work.  It’s a myth. Google knows that people are trying to game the system and ignores feeble attempts to say nothing useful and pack it with keywords. What attracts people to your site is putting up quality content every week or so and do that over a period of years. Then people will link to your articles. That is how you build traffic and attract customers.
  • Do not insist that the writer write your product into every blog post.  That often makes the writer bend over backwards to try to fit that in.  It takes away from what they are trying to say and makes your blog sound like an extensive of your sales, which it should not be.
  • Everyone thinks they can write on cybersecurity.  You need a writer who understands the technical details of browser exploits and buffer overflow attacks to explain that clearly and in a manner that is interesting and easy-to-read.
  • Keep it short.  Use the newspaper style, which means no more than 3 sentences per paragraph, with lots of subheadings and white space.
  • When you commission a manual, you need a writer who can be a subject matter expert and then a proofreader and editor, who is a different person, plus a graphic designer, who is yet another person.  So a manual is a team effort.
  • Do not let someone who has no technical knowledge edit your writer’s work. They will just waste your time asking the writer to rewrite material they do not understand.  You customers understand that, but your marketing assistant or PR firm might not.

So, in the spirit of keeping it short, here is where we end.  Those are the basics to get you started on your next writing project and finding someone capable of writing that.

Note: Walker Rowe is an American freelance tech writer focusing exclusively on IT.  He worked for 30 years as a programmer before turning to writing full-time.  Here is his writing profile on Upwork. You can contact him directly at werowe@walkerrowe.com.

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