RE: Technical Writing Tests

Subject: RE: Technical Writing Tests
From: cpwinter -at- rahul -dot- net
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2003 18:44:33 -0800

On 11 Feb 2003, at 9:18, Erika Yanovich wrote:

> Laurie,
> Forget about the nonsense tests you'll find in the archives (I was given a
> test once for explaining to aliens how to boil an egg!).

I wouldn't mind taking such a test. ( Step 1. Darmok and Gelad at the
henhouse. Step 2. Darmok and Gelad in the kitchen. Step 3...)

No, that isn't how I'd proceed. I'd use sketches, and assume they have
a visual system like ours. I just couldn't resist throwing in a little Star
Trek humor. 8-)

But on to the main point.

> What we use here is
> company specific (so it won't help you), but the idea is that we explain
> about a simple product, give the candidate the actual product and a few
> examples of written material (data sheets) of similar products. The
> candidate is expected to write a data sheet based on the above (real work
> situation).

As others in the thread have already pointed out, this in not a real
work situation and doesn't tell you much about how the candidate would
perform in one. Also, it exposes anyone taking the test to your
proprietary product. Do you have them sign a non-disclosure agreement?

If I had the asignment of devising a technical writing test, I would get
some obscure or obsolete commercial software product, install it on a
computer in a quiet room, sit the testee down in front of it with a pad of
paper, and give them a fixed amount of time to come up with a user
manual. I wouldn't expect them to get very far; but the result would tell
me a lot about two things: their facility at hands-on learning of new
software applications, and how well they organize their written output.

(Which software product, you ask? AH ha ha ha -- Lotus Manuscript!
That be the one to shiver their timbers, arrr.)

On second thought, that would probably be /too/ diabolical.

As I read the comments in this thread, one comment frequently made
is that such tests are worthless because they reveal nothing about the
day-to-day personal interactions required on the job. And this is true, but
it doesn't make the test valueless. For one thing, if a prospective TW
doesn't know a tool your company uses, and you can't provide training,
the only way she will learn it is by trial and error. (Or to use Heinlein's apt
phrase, the way the cat learned to swim.) For another, if all the SMEs
are tied up in a meeting, such independent exploration may move things
along. IMO it is as important to be able to "talk to the hardware" as it is
to effectively interview SMEs.

Another aspect is what such a test reveals about self-confidence and
the ability to "wing it". I recall what an instructor at DeVry (Chicago) told
me about an interview he went through for an EE job. The interviewer took
the pipe out of his mouth, pointed at a pad of paper on the table, and
said "Design an FM transmitter." The candidate tried to ask some
questions. The answer was always, "Design an FM transmitter." So he
did, making whatever assumptions he wished about power output, etc.
He got the job.



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RE: Technical Writing Tests: From: Erika Yanovich

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