Screening Questions for Tech Writers and Associate Professors

Subject: Screening Questions for Tech Writers and Associate Professors
From: "Sarah Bane" <Sarah -dot- Bane -at- ProphetLine -dot- Com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2000 13:22:09 -0500

Hello all,

David Knopf made the following comments about Tara M. Charter's suggested
screening questions concerning the terms prescriptive, descriptive,
imperative, continuance, and directive:

>Maybe I'm missing something here, but it seems to me these would be
appropriate questions to ask a prospective associate professor of rhetoric,
but certainly not a technical writer. The vast majority of the top tech
writers I've worked with would be unable to answer these.<

BEGIN SOAPBOX SPEECH: Neither would many associate professors of rhetoric.
David, if you're missing anything, it is that you attribute too much
practicality to college/university hiring committees. When I was employed
full-time in academia (not at the institution named in my sig line), I was
the coordinator of a "professional writing option" for English majors. In a
department of 26, I would have been the only one who had a clue what any of
those terms meant. Too often the people in positions to hire or promote
associate professors of rhetoric are too busy deconstructing
Western-dead-white-European-male culture to care much about technical
writing. They embrace ambiguity, and writing designed to mean one thing and
one thing only is beneath their notice. The creative writers in my
department were rewarded for publishing novels or poems, but my practical
projects (including instructions for departmental equipment and brochures
used in recruiting students for the department) were considered merely
service, and I was criticized for not "publishing." Hence I got myself out
of full-time involvement in academia, and now more people will read my
manual than will see my former colleagues' scholarly articles. So there,

In any event, the real problem Elizabeth Ross faces is precisely that she
has to rely on HR types to screen technical writers. However, I'm assuming
that she is not at liberty to change the screening process and that the HR
types think they are doing her a favor by allowing her to contribute to it.
Here are a few comments, for what they're worth.

Are the screening questions limited to multiple choice? If not, a list of
desired skills/previous experiences could be put together, with the
candidates having the most yeses being ranked highest. Screening questions
also need to address qualities such as the candidate's willingness to learn,
another quality that is difficult to quantify.

If the purpose of the pre-screening is specifically to identify candidates
with *experience*, samples should address it, but these don't lend
themselves to multiple-choice tests. Perhaps a checklist could be put
together to evaluate them quickly (e.g., has the person done copyediting?
written help files? compiled survey data? designed web pages?).

Trivia questions like naming style guides strike me as minimally useful.
Let's give the candidate credit for being able to use whichever style guide
the office follows.

A nose-in-the-air Rhetoric Ph.D. born again as a technical

Sarah Bane
Technical Writer, ProphetLine, Inc.
and Adjunct Instructor, Westark College
sarah -dot- bane -at- prophetline -dot- com
sbane -at- systema -dot- westark -dot- edu

**Opinions expressed are my own and not endorsed by ProphetLine or by

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