RE: Interviewing writers

Subject: RE: Interviewing writers
From: Chuck Martin <CMartin -at- serena -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2000 11:43:24 -0800

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Anthony Markatos [mailto:tonymar -at- hotmail -dot- com]
> Sent: Friday, January 28, 2000 9:43 AM
> Subject: RE: Interviewing writers

> Chuck Martin said:
> If I were interviewing a tech writer and decided to give a
> small written
> test, and got a response that, verbally or non-verbally,
> communicated the
> message that "I didn't expect this," that
> person sure wouldn't be at the top of my hiring candidate's list.
> Tony Markatos responds:
> What you are implying is that writing skills are a primary
> determinant to
> one's being able to create highly usable end-user
> documentation. I have
> never experienced such (15 years in technical
> communications). Skills in
> end-user task analysis, documentation organizing, estimating, and
> verification - these drive quality documentation efforts.
> Writing, editing,
> grammar, and desktop publishing have a RELATIVELY minor impact.
Hm, it is interesting that this is the message that would be inferred.

Writing skills, and all the collateral skills that go into being a good
writer, are indeed a primary determinant. If someone is excellent at task
analysis, organization, estimating, and so on, and can't write a lick, then
that person is not going to be able to create quality documentation.

I should hasten to add, however, that the reverse is also true: a person who
can write well but who cannot do those other things well will also not
produce the best documentation. But to be able to communicate clearly is a
critical skill.

I had been a writer for several years before I found the technical
communication field. I had done a bit of freelance work, had covered a
couple of sports beats at my college paper, and was a jack-of-all-trades for
a few years at a small community newspaper: sports editor/writer, breaking
news and news features, photographer, columnist, occasional reviewer.

As I neared graduation I went through a bit of the on-campus interviewing.
One interviewer, a mid-level manager for a large company, comments that they
usually didn't hire people without Masters degrees. My response was to the
effect that to become a good writer, you have to write. A lot. And I had had
plenty of practice in writing, and that my writing was good.

That was not just boasting. Even before I began my formal studies in TC, I
had received feedback from more than one editor about the (good) quality of
my writing.

If you cannot communicate clearly, if you cannot organize and present the
material in a coherent, well-understood fashion (that means correct grammar
and good editing), then no matter how good the planning, no matter how
accurate the estimates, the end result will be neither clear nor useful.

In 15 years you've never found quality writing to be a critical component?

Chuck Martin
Sr. Technical Writer, SERENA Software

"People who use business software might despise it, but they are getting
paid to tolerate it....Most people who are paid to use a tool feel
constrained not to complain about that tool, but it doesn't stop them from
feeling frustrated and unhappy about it."
- "The Inmates are Running the Asylum"
Alan Cooper

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