Featured image: How to integrate a freelance technical writer into your product team.

Level Up Your Documentation: How to Work With a Freelance Technical Writer

I’m sure you agree that clear and thorough documentation is a must for any business. How else can you help users with problems and questions about your service or product without overwhelming your support team? But let’s face it: you may not have the resources and skills to tackle documentation in-house. And that’s where a freelance technical writer comes in!

Integrating a freelance writer into your team can be tricky, though, especially if the project requires in-depth knowledge. But with the right approach, a freelance tech writer can be a great addition to your team, delivering top-notch documentation without skyrocketing costs.

So, in this blog post, I’ll share some practical tips and considerations for successfully bringing a freelance technical writer onto your team. Whether you’re a startup looking to jumpstart your product development or an established company looking to streamline your documentation efforts – a skilled and experienced freelance tech writer is here to help.

Why hire a freelance technical writer?

Who doesn’t appreciate well-written documentation? Sure, a handful of people always see themselves above reading docs. Still, documentation is vital for most users because it empowers them to achieve their goals. 

But somebody has to write documentation, and there lies the first stumbling block. In most settings, you have the following options, and each comes with its own pros and cons:

  • Let your developers write documentation. After all, they have the technical knowledge to explain how things work and how other devs can use their project. However, many don’t like to write or simply don’t have time because they’re busy coding.
  • Hire a full-time technical writer. They have the necessary skills and passion for creating first-class documentation. However, employing a writer is often an over-the-top investment due to budget constraints and a limited number of tasks.
  • Hire a freelance technical writer. They offer the same benefits as a full-time writer but are more flexible regarding hours and pay. However, an external writer often lacks knowledge about your team, projects, and used technologies, making it challenging to create in-depth documentation.

For many teams, hiring a freelance tech writer makes the most sense. In fact, hiring freelance experts to fill temporary skills gaps has become quite common. But how can you integrate a freelance technical writer into your team and ensure they’re creating documentation that is helpful to your users?

I’ve got some tips to share based on my experiences. So, here we go!

1) Define project scope and requirements

Before looking for a freelance tech writer, you need to know what you want them to do. This way, when talking to potential writers later, you can make sure they’re a good fit for your project, and they can give you a clear idea of how they can help you.

So, first things first: what needs documentation? A technical writer can help you with all kinds of documentation, like API references, user guides for different audiences, internal process documentation, and more.

Once you know what you need, gather information about the status quo of existing documentation, associated processes, and future plans. Then I recommend you create a document summarizing the project scope and requirements.

Don’t forget to include a list of the relevant technologies, tools, and processes you use. For example, what programming language and framework do you use? Do you already have a platform to deliver documentation? And how have you created documentation in the past? What tools have you used?

At this point, you will most likely have questions you can’t answer yet/alone. Don’t worry; just write them down and discuss them with your potential tech writer. After all, they should have the experience and knowledge to help you!

Finally, consider how much time you want your freelance technical writer to spend on your documentation (and try to estimate whether this fits your budget). Do you have a timeline, or is the project open-ended? Can you already determine the number of hours you want to book per week or month? Once you have a rough idea of the workload and schedule, you can start looking for a fitting freelance technical writer for your team.

2) Chat with potential freelance technical writers

Once you’ve found some promising freelance technical writers, it’s time to pick the best fit for your project. After contacting a writer, you usually have a get-to-know call with them.

During the call, make sure to discuss the following:

Start by outlining the project scope and requirements, which you may have already sent to the writer beforehand. The writer will likely ask further questions about your company and project to determine whether they can and want to take on the project.

Ask any questions you gathered about the writer, their work, processes, and their experiences. I also recommend inquiring about how they usually handle projects similar to yours. For example, ask about their workflows and how they gather the necessary information as an external writer.

Discuss your timeline if you have one. This will give the writer a better sense of the feasibility of your plan and allow them to provide feedback. Then, the writer may already be able to assess whether they have the time to assist you properly.

Finally, you’ll want to talk about rates and hours. The tech writer may have a preferred method of charging for their work, such as by the hour or by setting a project price. If your budget is limited, the writer should suggest ways to make the most of it.

Some additional tips

As you speak with potential freelance technical writers, pay attention to the following factors as well:

  • Don’t reject a writer just because they can’t answer all your questions right away. It’s acceptable for them to say, “… it depends on…” or “I need to take a closer look into this.” Someone who can admit they need more information may actually be a better fit than someone who speaks confidently but doesn’t know all the facts.
  • Assess their communication skills and whether they could fit your team well. Strong interpersonal skills are essential as they’ll collaborate closely with you, your team, and other stakeholders.
  • Pay attention to how the writer makes you feel. If you come away from the conversation feeling positive and confident that they’ll take good care of your project, that’s a good sign. If you feel unsure or uncomfortable, consider other writers.

3) Define project processes and collaboration

So, you’ve finally found a freelance tech writer for your project! Now it’s time to get down to business and define how you will work together.

If you plan to work with the writer for the long haul, it’s crucial to integrate them into your team as much as possible. That way, you can streamline communication and ensure smooth processes that everyone is familiar with.

Here are some tips on how to onboard and integrate your new freelance tech writer:

Include them in your processes.
Make sure your freelancer feels like part of the team. If you’re working with an agile methodology, invite them to your team meetings (demos, stand-ups, planning, etc.). Naturally, meetings take away a lot of the freelancer’s time, so consider only inviting them to essential ones. For example, when your team discusses the work the technical writer is involved in or when you talk about future projects. Over time, which meetings make sense for them to attend will become more apparent.

Share knowledge.
Your technical writer must have access to a wide range of information to do their job. They should be able to ask for details anytime and receive an answer within a reasonable time so the team doesn’t block them.
However, sometimes information is confidential, and you don’t want to share it. So, have your writer sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect your company secrets.

Give them the tools.
Provide your writer with the same communication and project management tools as the rest of your team. Invite them to relevant channels on Slack, Asana, Confluence, Jira, or whatever you use. They’ll be able to communicate and collaborate with your team members just like any other employee.

Make sure everyone knows they’re part of the team.
Integrating an external team member can be challenging. Your team may have reservations about working with someone not officially part of the company. It’s up to you to dispel any doubts they may have by discussing the new hire with your team. Let them know what to expect, what information they can share, and how to collaborate with the new writer.

4) Make the most of your technical writer’s skills and experiences

When you work with a freelance technical writer, you may find that you can leverage their skills and experience for more things than you initially thought. Here are a few examples:

  • Create documentation guidelines. You probably have style guides for design and code, so why not create one for technical writing too? With the help of a guideline, you can ensure that your documentation is consistent and high-quality, even after the writer has moved on.
  • Enable others to write. If you want your team to create documentation, a tech writer can help you set up standards to ensure your technical content looks professional and is helpful. This could include documentation checklists or templates that make it easier to create documentation.
  • Get feedback on existing documentation. If you have documentation that you don’t want to redo entirely, you can ask the writer for feedback to improve what’s already there.
  • Assist with communicating technical topics. If you need help communicating a new technical feature to non-technical stakeholders, a technical writer can help you find the right words and tone.

Wrapping it up: Tips for successfully collaborating with a freelance technical writer

Hiring a freelance technical writer can be a game-changer for any team that wants to focus on its core strengths while ensuring its documentation is helpful, professional, and user-friendly.
Following the steps outlined in this article can help you establish a smooth working relationship with your writer and get the most out of their expertise and skills.

Looking for a skilled freelance technical writer to join your team? Whether you need help with documentation, implementing guidelines, or providing feedback on existing documentation, I’m here to help. Shoot me a note, and let’s discuss how I can contribute to your project.

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I’m Sarah, technical content writer and former web developer. On my blog, I share share my writing and marketing knowledge with developers like you and hopefully help. Want me to do the writing instead? Shoot me a note 🙂

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