Re: Samples vs. Portfolio

Subject: Re: Samples vs. Portfolio
From: Pirjo Tinat <ptinat -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 29 Apr 2008 06:15:25 -0700 (PDT)

Sorry for the late reaction - I'm on digest, late in reading messages.
I have been hired three times to different technical writing jobs, and never was I asked to provide a sample or portfolio. Instead, I was required to take a writing test that included both an editing and a writing portion.
The editing included a more or less real-life sample of an SME's spec, written in (poor) English as a second language, that I needed to use as a starting point for creating a functional description. The time was very limited, so no extensive re-write was possible, but it allowed for modifying some of the information to be reformatted as lists or tables, as well as making other editing/proof-reading tasks and "translating" the text to real, understandable English. The test was written in Word, and I could show my ability to use styles.
The writing assignment asked me to create a procedure for something that I do in my "normal" life (cooking or similar).
I wonder if this is not a more accurate way of assessing a potential writer's skills, rather than a sample, who's authorship cannot be checked. I also have signed NDAs that prohibit me from using my writing as a sample that I could provide.
Are these kinds of writing tests common elsewhere around the globe? Why are samples and portfolios preferred in many cases?
Background: I live in Finland and have been working for Finnish companies, but not once have I written documentation in Finnish, it has always been written directly in English and then localized, if needed, to Finnish and/or other EU languages (occasionally also to Chinese and Japanese). I have a master's degree in engineering, so that helps me in understanding technical aspects, although never in the 8 years I have been a TW have I encountered assignments that dealt with my major (water resources management). Most of my colleagues have master's degrees in English or translation sciences. I myself have no formal degree in English. I assume the writing tests have convinced the recruiters of my language skills.
Pirjo Tinat
Technical Writer
Helsinki, Finland

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