Core Competencies (was: Writing Test)

Subject: Core Competencies (was: Writing Test)
From: "James Barrow" <vrfour -at- verizon -dot- net>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2006 14:33:12 -0800

>Pro TechWriter wrote:
>In my 20+ year career, I have only been tested twice. I don't usually test
>technical writers when I have hired them (I've been a manager several
>times), but instead talk about:

I hope this information helps anyone considering becoming a tech writer or
are interviewing for a tech writer position. PTWriter's approach is not
only an excellent way to assess a tech writer's strengths and weaknesses,
it's also precisely what I was asked recently.

>What is [your] approach to writing, and what are [your] methods?

The answer that has impressed most interviewers is when I tell them that I
typically produce a document that contains a great deal of information up
front. This process allows reviewers to do just that: review (instead of
filling in large chunks of information).

>I look at their samples, and then I show something that we've done and ask
>what they think? What do they like, what would they do differently?

This separates the tech writers from the experts. A good tech writer can
follow directions and produce what's asked for. A great tech writer will be
able to identify gaps and make recommendations.

>What are their grammar pet peeves?

Run-on sentences, but that's just me.

>How do they feel about working from standards, and have they participated
>in writing any?

This is a very important question. If you ever interview with a company
that says that they have never utilized a tech writer, hiring someone who
creates and/or follows standards/best practices instills confidence.

>Do they have a favorite reference, or several favorite references?

Saying the Microsoft Manual of Style usually produces a satisfied smile.

>What do they use for a "final say" if they need to make a decision about
>style? What about negotiating with other writers on style matters?

If you answer this question correctly, you could be a manager:^) When I
have shown that an agreed upon set of verbiage standards made documentation
projects go more smoothly, the grins were generated.

>Can they edit other's work? Can they self edit? Take suggestions from
>another editing their work?

And be prepared to state how you felt when someone went a little crazy with
a red pen. Seriously.

>How do they handle getting information from subject matter experts,
>especially the balky ones?

This question will always come up. My best answer (and I'm open to new
ideas) is to say that I would be willing to work around a SME's schedule to
get the information needed.

>Have they ever worked on a joint writing project where all the writing had
>to look like it came from one person? How did they handle that?

This question came up for the first time last week. I told the interviewer
that I took charge of making sure that all of the documentation followed the
same standards and had the same 'flavor'.


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