Technical Writing Tests

Subject: Technical Writing Tests
From: "Blount, Patricia" <Patricia -dot- Blount -at- ca -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 11 Feb 2003 09:18:36 -0500


This is in response to Laurie Kittle's post on tests for technical writers.

My advice? Avoid calling this a "test" - as a hiring manager, I learned that the word "test" implies certain standards and conditions that are extremely difficult to control. For tests to be legally sound (any HR people on the list, please correct me if I'm wrong), they must be repeatable, reliable, and equitable.

In discussions with my own HR experts the last time I needed to add head count, I was told "No tests." So how can a hiring manager know whether potential candidates can write at a technical and professional level, or only at a school level? Our compromise was to ask candidates to come to the interview with a sample of their writing, a sample they would write according to specific parameters we provided. We never called it a test. It was always called a writing sample. We supplied the raw content in a variety of sources and asked our candidates to write a procedure. There was no trick to it, such as the deliberate omission of key details, but did provide a vehicle for proving research and writing skills. Plus, since it was assigned before the interview, they could spend as much time as they wanted on it - no pressure.

The results were quite telling. I had a few people do no more than cut and paste the same raw content, while the more creative folks actually designed a simple polished template for the step lists, which were written and formatted consistently throughout the finished sample. We did have some candidates who never learned the word "consistent" and wrote procedures that varied from step to step.


Hope this helps,

Patty B



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