Time Required to Write an Article

I recently completed writing two articles from scratch for two different pharmaceutical companies. One was a strightforward paper reporting the results of a preliminary trial of a new drug while the other was a review of the client’s drug compared to similar drugs. I wrote the former based on a collection of tables and graphs that the company provided summarizing the results in a rough form, along with the protocol, while the latter was based on reading a whole bunch of articles. Both came in at about 6000 words total including references and abstract. What was interesting was that both took me about the same amount of time; around 85 hours. Before I start a project clients always ask for an estimate of how many hours will be required and I am interested in refining my estimation techniques. My estimate for the review was more or less accurate but I underestimated the research paper. I would be interested in hearing from other writers about the techniques you use for estimating the hours required for writing different types of papers from scratch. Thanks


The Art of the Headline: “Voodoo sex ceremony starts fatal fire, officials say” – CNN.com”

If the headline above won’t get you to read the story then you have a serious problem. In one short sentence it combines sex, religion, death and fire. What more can you ask for?
Let’s face it we all hope that someone will read, with interest, what we have wrote. Even if the audience is one person for say, regulatory documents or you’re going for a larger audience with marcom material, you don’t want to feel that you are completely wasting your time.
Headlines (or headings) should serve two purposes; convey what information is in the section and make the reader feel that it might interest them. Keep in mind however that the headline style must be appropriate to who the audience is. There are headlines that are appropriate for the New York Post and headlines for the New England Journal of Medicine.

Is This You? – People Who Work From Home Are Targets for Favors – WSJ.com

I recently came across this article:
People Who Work From Home Are Targets for Favors – WSJ.com.

Is this you?
Do you sometimes feel that people think that because you are at home that means that you aren’t working and are available for their missions?
How do I get around this problem? First of all I have no problem saying “no” if it really doesn’t fit into my plans. After all would I call somebody up at their place of work and ask them to run out and do me a favor? On the other hand I think that it is important to exploit the advantages of working from home and setting your own hours. One of these advantages is that you can help out friends family and community.
Second, if people ask me about my work I explain to them that my work involves a certain amount of traveling, so I’m not always at home and therefore not always available for missions.

How Many of Your Clients Have You Actually Met?

How many of your clients have you met? I got to thinking of this question because I recently made an unexpected trip outside of Israel for two weeks. I took my laptop with me and left my cellphone on, and I can honestly tell you that except for clients who I told that I wasn’t in the country, no one would have known. For technical writing there is usually a real need to meet the client. For documenting hardware this is a must and for software it is generally helpfully to get a face to face explanation. In the medical writing world, however I have not actually met many of my clients. It is usually sufficient that they send me material and we speak on the phone. I spoke to a colleague of mine in the States in the medical regulatory field and she said that she estimates that she has actually met only about 5% of her clients. In Israel, probably because the country is so small and about half of it is sparsely populated desert it is expected that you should have at least one face to face with the client.
To tell you the truth I prefer it this way. If I don’t get out of my home office at least a couple times a week I go stir crazy and it is also interesting to visit new companies and meet new people. I also think that projects generally go smoother and you are more likely to get additional projects if the client has a face to attach to your e-mail address and phone number.

Freelancing=Dating, Salaried=Married

This entry is continuation of an earlier post about the similarities between personal relationships and freelance writing.
In Israel, at least, many freelance technical writers work through outsourcing companies who find them projects, pay them at the end of the project and support them to a greater or lesser extent during the project. I currently work part-time as a Project Manager for one of these companies and it occurred to me that working as a freelancer through one of these companies is like dating while being a salaried worker is like being married.
Why do I propose this? Say that as a Project Manager I worked with a freelance writer on a previous project and liked the work that he did. However, for some reason he did not like working with me. The next time I call him for a project he doesn’t have to scream at me that I’m a jerk and he never wants to work with me again. All he has to say is that he is all booked up or taking some time off. After I get this response two or three times I’ll get the message. He doesn’t want to work with me. The situation could, of course be reversed, and I may not want to work with him. In that case, if he calls me looking for a project I simply tell him that none are available (This may also be true). In other words for the relationship to work both sides must give their best all the time. This is similar to dating. If I’m going out with someone (Don’t tell my wife) and she decides that I’m not the one, the next time that I call her all she has to do is tell me that she’s busy or has to wash her hair. After getting this response a few times I’ll get the message.
Being a salaried worker however is more like being married. As a worker you have to do something pretty serious to get fired and after working at a company for a while you’ll think twice before resigning and looking for another job. This is very similar to being married. Small things that may cause you to think twice before going out with someone for a second date are generally not grounds for divorce. How many of us have thought: ” So what if I haven’t showered for a week? She’s not going to divorce me over that”.

Statistics and Freelancing

I just finished listening to a book called The Drunkards Walk. A very interesting and highly recommended book about statistics in everyday life. One of the points that the author makes is that the difference between being a success at what you do and being a failure is persistence. If you have a satisfactory amount of talent your chances of success will increase the more you hang in there, from a statistical viewpoint. As an example he describes how some of the best selling authors sent their first manuscripts to 20-30 publishers before being accepted for publication. If these same authors had given up after being rejected 5 or 6 times we would never have heard of them and they would have to have stuck with their daytime jobs. How does this apply to making it as a freelancer? Marketing. The more marketing methods you use the greater your chance that one of them will pay off. For example, I had a website, blog, adsense and other avenues in place and was considering whether or not to sign up for Linkedin. I finally decided why not? and signed up. Several months later I found one of my better clients of the last few years through one of the Linkedin groups.

Another thing that reminded me of the connection between statistics and being a freelance happened last week when I was about to finish a project and it occurred to me that I had very little left on my plate. During the next two days I got two new projects from previous clients that sent me new projects after not hearing from them for around a year. It occured to me that the longer you are a freelancer, the greater your chances of getting work through returning clients.
The hard part is getting started and having the financial backing to be able to hang in there until you reach the point where the business is self-perpetuating.