Tag Archives: estimating

Living and Learning

I firmly believe that if you’re not learning, you’re not living. With that in mind, let’s look at some things I learned in 2015:

Robot reading a book

That new technologies can tell stories — and what that might imply for the future

How not to enhance a brand — whether it’s your company’s or your personal brand

Sound advice on the art of estimating projects for technical communication (I especially recommend the two articles that are linked in the postscript)

The importance of connotations: of using words in the way your reader understands them, not in the way you think your reader should understand them (or as Mark Baker might phrase it, writing in a way that makes use of the stories you share in common with your reader)Advertisement in Swedish, with the English expression "No way!" prominently displayed

An amusing example of how languages evolve and interact with each other

The need for patience, and resisting the impulse to jump in and do it now

Pluto as seen by New HorizonsTwo essential skills for every nonfiction writer: knowing what to take out, and letting readers experience the story for themselves

Making mistakes, and learning from them


My most-read article this year, by far, posed the question What should a Technical Communication course teach? The responses to that article proved the need for a profession-wide conversation on this topic, but (alas) I don’t think the conversation has gotten off the ground. Yet.

Perhaps that’ll change in 2016 — a year in which I look forward to lots more living and lots more learning.

What was the coolest thing you learned in 2015? The most surprising thing?

Estimating #techcomm projects: More science to go with the art

Pig lizard creature from Galaxy Quest film

The pig lizard from Galaxy Quest: With any luck my cost estimate will fare better than he did.

My friend Ralph has been in the technical communication business even longer than I have. When I asked him for some pointers on estimating project budgets, he said without hesitation, “You know, it’s more art than science.”

For me, that phrase conjures the friendly alien in Galaxy Quest who said “the operation of the conveyor [transporter] is much more art than science.” That was just before the pig-lizard creature beamed aboard, inside-out, and then exploded all over the conveyor room. Have you ever underestimated a project so badly that it ended up like the pig-lizard? I have.

Although I know Ralph is right, I still wish we had more science to go with the art. I wish we had a few benchmark criteria that we could use for estimating. What that in mind, I’ve listed a few factors that, based on my experience, influence the cost of a project. I’d like your help to add items to this list.


The most reliable factor, by far, is actual cost data from previous, comparable projects. The trick is in the word comparable: is the new project similar enough to an old one to justify using the old one as a starting point?

There’s also the matter of having accurate data from the old project. We any costs hidden from the project’s final balance sheet — for example, translation costs that were borne by the engineering or marketing department?

For me, it’s increasingly unlikely that I’ll find a comparable project to use as a starting point. More and more, each project seems to be a project unto itself. So I’m left having to consider other factors….
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