Re: Pencil Test for Technical Writers

Subject: Re: Pencil Test for Technical Writers
From: "Wing, Michael J" <mjwing -at- INGR -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 12 Aug 1996 08:45:49 -0500

>: Re: Pencil Test for Technical Writers

>Who on earth would the audience for such a manual be?

Anyone who uses a pencil!

>Technical writing exists to inform readers of techniques.

There are techniques to using a pencil. I, for one, tend to grip the
pencil too hard. Had a manual been available, I might have refined my
techniques :^).

>I have difficulty imagining
>someone who can read English but is unfamiliar with pencils.

That's the point of the test! By picking a familiar object, the testee
is not a disadvantage by being asked to describe something with which
he/she is not familiar. The focus is not the pencil, it is whether the
writer can see past the plastic, graphite, and eraser to provide more
information than is readily observable. If the Writer can do this about
a pencil, most likely they can assimilate, disseminate, and transcribe
information of more complex items/services without having an Engineer,
Product Planner, or so forth spoon feed them every piece of information.
Therefore, when information is disjoint or lacking a writer who is
innovative focuses their questions, digs deeper into specs/code/white
papers, and restructures their work to compensate. The non-innovative
writer asks the Manager what they are suppose to do and/or whines that
Development does not have their act together.

>To write
>a proper manual for them, the nature of what they are and are not
>already familiar with would be necessary.

Who cares about the pencil? How about a toaster? The manual as a
marketable product is not the test, it's the candidates associative and
innovative thought processes that shows through in producing a manual
for some innocuous item that really never needed a manual (except if you
too, grip too hard), that is the test.

Can this candidate close the information gaps or am I as a Manager going
to have to prod them along. "Come on now <fill in writer name>, I know
the product is not 100% stable and you can't operate through it's full
gamut of functionality yet. Have you looked at the specs? The
Marketing literature? Can you display the forms/dialog boxes
independent of the application and work from there? Are there modeling
diagrams? Can you sit in on some of the Development meetings? Can you
work on the part that is running? Can you extrapolate from other
sources how it is going to run with out having to see it?"

>Creating a manual with no target audience is bad technical writing.
>Creating a manual that contains nothing of interest is bad technical
>writing.

No kidding! I never said the interviewing company produced pencils.
Can't expect the candidate to come in and write a repair manual to the
company's atomic clock during the interview. Maybe I should state the
target audience consists of anyone who uses a pencil (including people
who only sharpen the pencils) or anyone who wanted to know more about
pencils.

> Thus, I don't think much of the Pencil Test.

No Soup for You!

> -- Robert


>_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/
>_/
>_/ Michael Wing
>_/ Principal Technical Writer
>_/ Infrastructure Technical Information Development
>_/ Intergraph Corporation
>_/ Huntsville, Alabama
>_/ (205) 730-7250
>_/ mjwing -at- ingr -dot- com
>_/


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