RE: Breaking into the tech writing job market

Subject: RE: Breaking into the tech writing job market
From: "topsidefarm" <topsidefarm -at- mva -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 11 Aug 2006 06:52:17 -0400

"Elizabeth J Allen" wrote
I ran MS Word's spell checker and found out that my document
currently at an 8th grade level. I'm documenting
semiconductors and I
*know* a 12-year-old cannot comprehend it.

Perhaps folks are confusing "6th-grade level" and "cognitive
abilities of a 12-year-old". Many adults read at a lower
grade level,
but that doesn't mean that their cognitive abilities are
to a 12-year-old's.

As a home-schooling parent, I just want to provide you with
a little warning: never make assumptions about what you
*know* a 12-year-old's cognitive level is. They understand
far more than you may think. Based on my experience, and
that of other parents in our support group, the least
understood issue concerning the tween years is that their
cognitive skills suddenly, and quite rapidly, outstrip their
language skills. This is why tweens so severely misuse the
conventional language and develop so much slang. They don't
have the language skills required to express what they know.
This is not something to worry about as the two seem to come
back into sync in the mid-teen years.

The impact this has on us, as "technical communicators", is
that we have to be aware of both issues within our target
audience. For starters, there are a great many people for
whom reading skill level and cognitive reasoning level are
fairly closely matched. Then there are those with cognitive
reasoning skills that are above (sometimes far above) their
reading skill level. This appears to be the majority of us.
Finally, there is a group of individuals who have advanced
reading skill levels, but low cognitive reasoning abilities.
These include people with certain developmental
disabilities, as well as people who just lack skills in
certain areas like mechanical trades or art. They can read
and comprehend, but they can't apply the knowledge.

Again, we come back to "know your audience," and it's not as
simple as applying a single number to the group. It is a
very complex issue.

Jason A. Czekalski


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