Technical writing tests?

Subject: Technical writing tests?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 11 Feb 2003 08:57:29 -0500

Laurie Kittle reports: <<My company is in the midst of a search for two
technical writers. I have been tasked with creating or finding a tech
writing test.>>

My suggestion is always the same: Instead of creating an artificial test,
pick an actual writing job based on your actual product. Show the person an
example of your house style (e.g., the previous version of the manual),
provide them with a copy of your style guide, and sit them down in front of
a computer for an hour or two to document some function of the product that
you feel would challenge them and give them a chance to show off their
talents. Then pay them for their time. (Honestly... US$25-$50 is trivial.
Your personnel department probably spends more than that daily on donuts,
and surely finding a good candidate is worth the money.)

Results: For minimal expense, you move your documentation one step further
along towards completion, and find out whether the person can hack it in
your work environment rather than with a theoretical, hypothetical test that
may bear no resemblance to your actual work. Given that some otherwise
suitable candidates crack under the pressure of a test, consider having one
of your staffers present to answer questions and get them over that initial
bout of panic.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada

"Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the
earth's surface relative to other matter; second, telling other people to do
so. The first is unpleasant and ill-paid; the second is pleasant and highly
paid."--Bertrand Russell


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