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I'm writing a technical book about one programming technology and would like to compare how much time other authors spend on one page (on average). I rarely write a page and am done with it, quite usually there is a lot of restructuring, refining and formatting going on after that.

I'd say I spend about 1.5 - 2 hours on every page, that time being roughly divided this way:

  • ~1 hour writing (creating the original rough content)
  • ~0.5h refining and improving style
  • ~0.25h formatting (applying styles, creating screenshots etc.)

What are your usual times?

EDIT: I feel that the question has been misunderstood or possibly not very well written so I'm adding these points:

  • I'm interested in your experience, not estimates.
  • I'm interested in the average time - a single number, hopefully with some insights into how that time is split. You've written a book with 300 pages and it took you e.g. 1000 hours - that's what I'm after.
  • Where I live, the page is defined as 1800 characters with spaces but it doesn't matter. See the point above.

Thanks for all who answered so far, although this question has quite a few downvotes I am still interested in your experience.

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closed as off topic by Ralph Gallagher, HedgeMage May 4 '11 at 1:33

Questions on Writers Stack Exchange are expected to relate to writing, copywriting, publishing or editing within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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You've skipped the 3 hours you need to rewrite the whole thing, after you found out 4 weeks later how awful it is. –  John Smithers Dec 1 '10 at 10:35
    
Sometimes very true :) –  Borek Dec 1 '10 at 21:04
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The voting here baffles me, so I asked about the down-votes on meta. –  Dori Dec 2 '10 at 2:17
    
I'm curious as to how/why my comment saying "Vote to close as a poll the community question" got deleted. –  Ralph Gallagher May 3 '11 at 16:18
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Closed as off-topic: this is a Q&A site, not a place to take surveys. Perhaps you can reformulate your question in a way that doesn't violate the guidelines in our FAQ. –  HedgeMage May 4 '11 at 1:35

5 Answers 5

Sorry, but about all I can say is: it varies.

Is there a particular publisher/series this is for? That would help me give a general estimate. For instance, it should take less time to (imo) write a page for a Dummies book than a Head First book.

In addition to your list, I really tend to burn up hours in two other areas:

  • Research
    What do people commonly want to know about this particular topic?
  • Tasks/Examples
    For programming books, I need code to demonstrate usage and syntax—so add on time to invent examples, and then code and debug them.

I've found that these can take up as much time again as all the actual writing parts put together.

And of course, what's one page in a word processor will only occasionally translate into one printed book page.

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Hi Dory, I've updated the question, it may not have been clear enough when I first wrote it. Although I appreciate your general comments I'd be interested in real numbers. If you don't know them that's fine - I'm also giving only rough numbers. –  Borek Dec 1 '10 at 21:29

What is a page? These days, unless you're doing layout, too, a manuscript page can be any length.

I agree with Dori in that creating and documenting examples is probably the most time-consuming part of the writing process. (It's killing me on a book I'm working on now.)

On books that are strictly how-to, without having to provide tutorial-style exercises, I can run through a printed page of a Visual QuickStart Guide (with layout) in about an hour.

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Yes, but that's after how many VQSs? ;-) I know I can write a VQS page a whole lot faster now than I could ten years ago—and you've done a lot more of them. –  Dori Dec 1 '10 at 6:24

I don't work in pages, and don't know many technical writers that do. They work in sections, which can vary. I think that on average I probably spend an hour or hour and a half on a page writing/rewriting. After that, post copy/tech edit, it can be higher.

This excludes research/ screen shots.

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Would you spend about the same amount of time again for the research, per section, @wayoutwest ? –  martin f Jan 11 at 21:51

1 page = 1 hour

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Billing by time for technical writers is an important aspect of the work. At IBM we used the following guidelines:

  • 1 page is 250 words (this reflects the fact that "page" is an outmoded concept but is still widely used for billing)
  • 1 person-day is 8 hours
  • 1 person-week is 40 hours
  • 1 person-year is 2000 hours (useful for salaried employees being billed out or paying contractors; this includes an assumption of 2 weeks vacation)

We then determined writing stage (research-only, new content, rewrite, update) and assigned a number of pages per work day based on that. (Again, "page" was used as a generic term describing sections of online help or other output.)

In most projects that I was involved with, we were doing new content for an existing product, and we ended up with an average of 2 pages per day. That's essentially 4 hours per page, which seems incredibly unproductive, but if you take into account research, testing, editing, and production, it's not as crazy as it sounds. Also, it is not all the same person's time (editors, testers, and production assistants are often separate from the writer). I think the environment in which most tech writers work would:

  • be more productive due to fewer policies and procedures
  • reflect a solo effort where the writer is doing all the tasks (leading to greater efficiency but perhaps a need for more downtime in the calculation)
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I should also point out that use of graphics was on the rise throughout the time I worked there, and I loved when these calculations were supported by an artist spending two days creating a picture that was literally worth a thousand words. –  djmmuir Feb 21 '11 at 15:03

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