Re: How To Choose A Good TW Was Re: Giving a surprise test to interviewees?

Subject: Re: How To Choose A Good TW Was Re: Giving a surprise test to interviewees?
From: doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 20 Mar 2005 15:46:04 -0800

On Sunday 20 March 2005 14:56, adf1972 -at- yahoo -dot- com wrote:
> Al Geist wrote:
> > As I've said before, there is nothing wrong with giving a writing test
> > to writers, but make sure you are testing for the a writer and not an
> > editor.
> But I think that a good tech writer has the ability to edit along with the
> ability to write. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive qualities
> by any means. In fact, I'd say one supports the other.

In a downsized world, this is the usual requirement for a tech writer, but
will a test, especially one that is divorced from the context of production
tech writing, reveal the real skills you're asking for? Maybe...


The truth of the matter is that one can be a fine tech writer without the
slavish attention to copy-editorial details. In fact, some tech pubs groups
provide a wide range of editorial support services--I've worked with a group
that had graphic artists, developmental editors, style editors (responsible
for all formatting), copy editors, technical editors, and of course, the tech
writer who slams out textual content for eventual delivery in half a dozen
formats (online book, help, html help, print, ...).

Anyway, tech writing is often treated as an accretion of skills in design,
editing, publishing, subject matter expertise, user education, usability and
cognitive psych, .... Many of us can do it all and wouldn't draw the line
anywhere, but we're essentially polymaths, not tech writers per se. Still,
even when several of these skills are present in one writer, it is far from
given that the writer will be able to effectively shift gears betwen tasks,
as from writing to editing. A cogent test would be writing samples--you'll
find many fine tech writers with editing skills who stagger under the load of
trying to edit the final draft of their own work, which they can probably
recite from memory, with a fresh editorial eye. I can write and I can edit,
but I'd rather take out my own appendix than try and read 200 pages of my own
work with attention to *everything*.

I'm not trying to lower our standards, but if it mattered a great deal that
our output was letter perfect (for example, if we write for an audience of
consumers of our commercial software), we would certainly employ more
editors, or work with less intense deadline pressures than we do in IT (where
I'm coming from).

Ned Bedinger
Ed Wordsmith Technical Communications


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