RE: FW: New TECHWR-L Poll Quest

Subject: RE: FW: New TECHWR-L Poll Quest
From: "Carnall, Jane" <Jane -dot- Carnall -at- compaq -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 12 Dec 2000 17:02:01 -0000

"Giordano, Connie" wrote:
>Damien's and others' answers indicate that developers often get tested for
>proficiency--which makes me wonder why so many tech writers are offended by
>writing tests. If the development staff takes some sort of test to prove
>their proficiency, what makes writers so special? And no, I don't mean
>to tie a shoe" type tests. I mean tests that show ability to grasp the
>overall concept of the product, write some basic procedural and conceptual
>information, and ask questions that demonstrate curiosity.

Dick Margulis replied:
>I think most tech writers recognize the value to a prospective employer of
weeding >out the poseurs and are quite content to submit to reasonable
testing to >demonstrate objectively that they are who they say they are.

Up until, um, a month ago, I'd have agreed solidly with Connie and Dick. I
still do, mostly. But not that long ago I was invited to an interview and
warned that there would be a technical writing test: "Take a spec and turn
it into user documentation". (Yes, at the interview.)

The interview was for an experienced technical writer to set up a technical
writing department, and when I heard that this was their idea of a good
technical writing test I boggled, slightly, and said "They've never had any
technical writers working there before, have they?" -"How did you know?"
recruiter responds, astonished.

If I'd taken the interview (I didn't, for various reasons) I would, of
course, have taken the test.

But the test itself struck me as seriously flawed. I wouldn't normally
assume that I could produce good user documentation from a spec (unless all
that was wanted was a reference manual, and even then - ) A spec is a
starting point, not a be-all and end-all. (Though the job description also
specified "Create user documentation from specs" as one of the technical
writer's tasks, so maybe it *was* an appropriate test for the job...)

What's an appropriate response if you think the test is a poor way of
measuring your ability to do the job (but you still want the job)? I could
have asked at the interview (*after* the test) if this was how they assumed
their user documentation would get written, I suppose... <g> If that was
their plan, I somehow doubt that I would have been offered the job - but if
they saw no difficulties with the arrangement, I somehow doubt that I would
have wanted it.

Jane Carnall
Technical Writer, Compaq, UK
Unless stated otherwise, these opinions are mine, and mine alone.

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