FAQ on white papers and related technical writing
The Internet Press Guild
[IPG] frequently fields questions on professional practices such as
bidding, pricing, and so on. In the course of one of these
conversations, IPG charman
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
While I haven't done a reviewer's guide, I have done white papers.
The problem as a freelancer is you don't know just how much time a
company's management will take on a project. Your contact often
doesn't know either. With some companies, the contact acts as a real
editor and stands between you and the layers of marketing staff and
the executives above them. In some cases, I've received 'fix this'
notes from up to half-a-dozen people all along the management chain.
(reproduced with permission--well, it will be as soon as SJVN gives me it)
To avoid this, I find it helpful to make it clear that 1) You'll only
do corrections sent to you and vetted by the contact person. 2) Any
work above and beyond a set amount of time and/or revisions will be
paid for at an additional rate. If you don't include the latter, you
may find yourself, as I once did, doing dozens of revisions on an
assignment, which went from being extremely profitable for my time to
one that was almost a waste of my time.
The problem spring from the managers' need to put their fingerprints
on a project. And, that annoying belief by non-writers and editors
that anyone can write and edit. So it is that their thoughts on how a
piece should read is every bit as good as a writer who's been
practicing his or her craft for a decade.
In short, the customer is always right in this kind of project.
Unfortunately, in corporate writing you may be working for multiple
customers and never know it until after you've turned in your first
A short time later, Curt Franklin offered these wise details:
Eventually, other pertinent material should make its way to this page.
Feel free to mail me.
- I tend to price them the way I'd price a review of the product, plus a
time factor for the interviews, product research, etc. Don't sell
yourself too cheaply.
- I build the process into the proposal. I have the customer gather all
comments on version 1 into a single comment document which then comes
back to me. I do version 2, which should then be vetted for the smallest
of changes, and that's it. I sell this as a process that is considerate
of their staff time, and have had no one balk. I make it clear that a
change process that differs from this has two consequences: (1) I'm no
longer responsible for the deadline, and (2) I start charging my hourly
rate. Again, I haven't had any trouble with customers on these.
- Make sure that you build the process for determining format, graphical
style, etc. into the process. I make sure that we have a conference call
with all marcomm stake-holders at the beginning of the project so I know
format before I start writing. This will save an incredible amount of
time later on.
- I get 50% of the fee with the signed letter of understanding or
contract, with the remainder due on delivery of final product. Once
again, I've had exactly zero companies balk at this. It does two good
things; First, it helps my cash flow. Second, it gives them some
"skin in the game" so they're more likely to see getting me the
info I need on a timely basis.
Laird's FAQ on white