Technical writers do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to creating the copy and content that covers complex topics. While a lot of content is gauged by its style, tone and creativity, technical writing is all about details, directions, schematics and communicating extremely specific information to an audience who “speaks that language”—scientists, engineers, web developers, and other specialists.

Some of the most critical writing that keeps businesses and industries going is more technical and high-level in nature, aimed at partners, peers, customers and vendors. For this complex subject matter to be to be articulated in a clear, concise, and accurate manner, we need talented technical writers.

So how much does it cost to hire a technical writer who can grasp these complicated subjects and effectively edit or write the materials you need? In this article, we’ll take a look at what goes into technical writing and give you a general framework for budgeting how much the technical writer who’s right for you may charge.

A Detailed Brief Ensures a Successful, Thorough Project

Whether you have your technical content already written—say, by an engineer at a manufacturing company who isn’t a writer by trade—and all you need is someone to edit it for clarity or a broader audience, or you need a technical piece written from scratch, the key to a successful project is a clear, thorough creative brief. This should outline all of the goals for the content you’re creating, including scope, timeline, and budget. This not only gets everyone on the same page, but should also help to filter out the first round of candidates by their availability, rate, and related experience.

What else goes into a successful project brief? Here are a few more things to consider including:

  • Background information. What is your company or business? What products or services do you provide? While technical writers won’t always have to be SMEs to work on a subject, it can be helpful for them to have experience and knowledge pertinent to your business or project. Giving background up front will attract writers who are familiar with your subject and “know the lingo.” This could be the difference between paying someone for the hours they’ll need to get up to speed vs. engaging a writer who can get up and running on day one.
  • Business goals and scope of the project. Next, clearly outline what it is you’re trying to accomplish with your content. Potential candidates should be able to read this part of the brief and instantly understand how the content they’ll write will help accomplish these goals. Here are a couple of examples of clear goals and project descriptions.
    • “Written content for a brochure for our sales team to use when describing the precision machined turbine parts we manufacture, all of our in-house equipment, our welding and kitting capabilities, and how we use CAD to deliver the best prototypes and parts to our customers worldwide.”
    • “We need a white paper that outlines and explains the results of a recent medical study of our new renal treatment drug that clearly translates the findings into terms non-medical professionals can understand.”
    • “We need clear documentation explaining how our API works that we can then publish to Github to provide guidance to developers who will be accessing the APIs services and data in their own applications.”
  • A description of the content and channels where the content will be promoted. Is this an industry white paper distributed to a network of peers, or high-level materials for customers who want to educate themselves more on your product or service? Will the technical writer be writing in-depth explainer articles that need some SEO expertise, white papers with footnotes, or more engaging training materials? Where will the content be published or distributed?
  • Specific writing styles, acronyms, or terminology they will be using. If there’s a set style or library of acronyms and terms the writer should be familiar with, mention that as well. If you’re writing medical copy, for example, you may want the writer to adhere to American Medical Association (AMA) style. This gives experienced writers a chance to show you their strengths, making it easier for you to spot the best candidates.
  • Timeline and deliverables. When creating a timeline, include time to review the copy, provide feedback, and allow the writer time for any rounds of revision. You may also consider starting with a test project to make sure their style aligns with what you’re looking for. If your project consists of many articles or you anticipate several rounds of revision, consider setting up milestones so you can tackle portions of the work in chunks.

How to Budget for Your Technical Writing Project

Technical writers not only need excellent writing skills but can also have more specialized skills, like the ability to generate technical drawings, format step-ordered manuals, or create highly organized digital interactive help tables. What you need from that writer will determine your budget, as more specialized writers can usually command a higher rate for their expertise.

On Upwork, the rates charged by top technical writers can range from as low as $15 dollars an hour to as high as $125 an hour, though most fall in the $30-60 range. Rates can vary due to many factors, including expertise and experience, location, and market conditions. Which one is right for you will depend on the specifics of your content.

If your project has a short, non-negotiable deadline, know you may have to pay a premium to get the content you need delivered on time.

That said, there are three easy steps you can take to keep your project on time and within budget.

  1. Be specific in the project brief. A few lines detailing your expectations, process, and deliverables can save you lots of back and forth emails down the line. Do you need manuals or ebooks, educational materials, product descriptions, or white papers? State this in the brief.
  2. Give plenty of background, examples, and outlines. Context helps any writer get started on the right foot. In addition to the brief, give them examples of content you’re looking for to help them get rolling with the work. The more detail, the better.
  3. Simplify the review process. Make sure it’s clear who needs to review/who will be the subject matter expert signing off on the content for accuracy. The more people who need to review and sign-off, the more likely you are to face delays.

Hiring a freelance technical writer is a great way to let you to spend more time focusing on other difficult and complex aspects of your business while resting assured your complex subject matter will be communicated clearly and accurately both externally with customers and internally among departments and partners, promoting good communication practices across the board.