How much does it cost to create technical documentation?

“What are the actual costs of creating technical documentation?” This is a question we're often asked at Lexsys. It is, of course, understandable; after all, our customers want to know how expensive this type of investment in their company will be.

And we're explicitly talking about investment here, because the value of technical documentation goes far beyond explaining how a product works. Your technical documentation: 

  • Has a significant impact on the user experience, 

  • Contributes to your brand image and 

  • Is your company’s calling card on the international market.

Substandard, mistake-ridden, or poorly translated technical documentation can damage your reputation, leading to high costs as the result of more service requests, product returns and, in extreme cases, even claims for damages. 

In this article, we discuss the costs you should expect, the common billing methods for technical documentation, and the factors that influence the price of creating technical documentation. 

Billing methods for technical documentation 

Of course, no two projects are the same. However, reputable service providers usually bill according to the following two approaches: 

  • Billing by the page 

  • Billing by the hour 

Below, we give a brief introduction to these two methods and explain which system we prefer at Lexsys.

Technical documentation: billing by the page 

With billing by the page, a rough flat rate is set for each page of documentation created. This rate is based on the respective provider’s experience and depends on whether a page needs to be researched completely from scratch or whether an existing document, for example the manual of a previous model, simply needs to be updated. 

What are the disadvantages of this system? If the provider hasn't budgeted enough time for a page, errors or ambiguities may creep into your technical documentation due to time and cost pressures, which will subsequently lead to more enquiries to your customer support. 

With this billing method, less scrupulous providers might also try to spread the content unnecessarily over several pages.  

Technical documentation: billing by the hour 

At Lexsys, we consider billing by the page to be opaque and no longer appropriate. That's why we offer our customers billing by the hour.

Because we use modern authoring tools, such as a Component Content Management System (CCMS), we no longer talk about individual pages. 

Instead, we create technical documentation based on small building blocks that can be output in various formats by the software – for example, as a printed user manual or an online help page. 

This saves time and reduces your technical documentation costs

What factors determine the price of technical documentation? 

Technical documentation costs greatly depend on the product and the associated legal requirements. Different requirements apply to a simple household appliance, such as a microwave, than to a CNC machine. 

Consequently, the following issues also determine the costs of technical documentation:  

  • How complex is the product? 

  • What are the market requirements for the product? 

  • Who is the technical documentation for and how many documents are required? 

  • Does similar documentation already exist? 

  • Are a lot of illustrations needed? 

  • Are additional services required, such as linguistic software testing or localization into other languages? 

At Lexsys, you therefore always receive a customized quote for your needs. We take the following six factors into account: 

  1. Target audience

    Your technical documentation’s target audience is a key cost factor, because the more complex the subject area, the higher the technical documentation’s value – and the greater the demands on the technical writer.

    So, when preparing a quote, the important questions are: Is your technical documentation for an end user, a software developer, or an engineer? Is in-depth research needed? And what are the product’s legal requirements? 

  2. Deliverables

    The price is also influenced by the deliverables required. Will you take care of the editing, layout, and production yourself, or would you like to outsource these steps to a service provider like us? 

    What format should the technical documentation be delivered in? Do you need a print-ready PDF, or files in HTML, or an ePUB format? Do you use a modern editorial system? 

  3. Source materials

    The more information you can provide us with in advance, the more efficiently we can create your technical documentation. These source materials include: 

    • A list of product functions 

    • Functional specifications 

    • Access to a trial version of your product 

    • Access to your company’s technical specialists 

    • Your corporate design, such as branding (logos and other design elements), tone of voice, etc.

  4. Turnaround time

    A tight schedule or delayed provision of the above materials can drive up the cost of your project as well as compromise the quality of the work. 

    That’s why we recommend that our customers allow sufficient time for the preparation of their technical documentation. This is particularly important if additional services, such as translation into other languages, are required. 

  5. Fact checking

    Factual accuracy is a fundamental requirement for technical documentation. Errors in a user manual can cost manufacturers dearly, as they are liable for any misuse that arises as a result.

    For this reason, review and approval processes are an integral part of our quality process. But the more cycles of feedback and correction your project requires, the more expensive it will be. 

    You therefore need to ensure that the documents you provide us with are already checked and factually correct. 

  6. Translation

    If you wish to sell your product outside your home market, you may be required to translate the technical documentation into the languages of your target markets, or it may provide an important market differentiator. 

    As a full-service provider, we're happy to support you with this. The additional costs incurred are calculated based on the following:

  • The number of languages required 

  • The word count of the source text 

  • The required delivery date for the translation

 For translation, customers are usually billed on a per-source-word rate. The exact price per word depends on the complexity of the text and the language it's translated into. 

Translating the user manual for a common household appliance from English to German, for example, is cheaper than translating the installation instructions for a complex production machine for the automotive industry from German to Japanese. 

As a technical translation service provider, we work primarily with experienced specialist translators, and the pool of qualified translators may be limited depending on the language combination and the subject of the technical documentation.

What can you expect from Lexsys? 

As you can see, the question of the exact costs of technical documentation can only be answered once all the factors above have been clarified.

However, investing in your technical documentation is much more than just a cost factor. You're not merely paying for a user manual; you’re also investing in your company’s reputation and your customers’ experience.

The result? Fewer support requests and more satisfied customers – and lower costs and higher profits as a consequence.

When choosing a provider, therefore, look at more than just the price. Consider the whole package.

At Lexsys, we use modern authoring systems based on the DITA standard. The advantage is that we can produce your source data in different file formats, which ultimately saves you money.

As a full-service provider, in addition to creating your technical documentation, we can also take care of linguistic software testing and the localization of your documentation into other languages. We're also a certified SAP partner.

Our international team of native English and German speakers will be happy to assist you.

Would you like to find out more about how Lexsys can support you with your technical documentation? Contact us today to set up a consultation. 

About the Author

Carl Isaac

Unit Director Technical Documentation

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