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 09:03:52 -0500

>This "pencil test" could take considerable time as you have described
>it. Many
>good writers (who are in demand elsewhere) would probably tell you to
>"take a
>hike." Their time is valuable.

Then they fail the attitude test :^)

>Moreover, the assumption that the only good candidates are those who
>are quick
>on their feet and can innovative is questionable. The race is not
>always to
>the swift. Some of us like to spend time researching, thinking things
>and actually planning our work (and we also meet deadlines).

I like those qualities very much. That's why the pencil test is a
supplement to the interview and why I stated that the pencil test was to
help choose a candidate (but not be the only criterion).

>Productive and effective writing is not done "by-the-seat-of the-pants"
>"on-the-fly." Productive and effective writing involves a quality
>process. You
>cannot bypass the information gathering and planning stage of a good
>writing process and expect good writers to deliver a quality product.

And if you think of a pencil and determine that it is going to take time
to research, document, and present and can tell me why then I say you
are looking past the graphite, plastic, and eraser. You pass!

>Many organizations give writing and editing tests, but limit the test
>time to
>an hour or so. This is sometimes called "skills assessment." It can
>help you
>determine if writers have some basic skills, but given the limited
>time, it
>cannot tell how good a writer really is.


>As a senior writer, I have taken several "skills assessment" tests
>they were required for consideration for writing positions. I have
>procedures on how to do laundry and on how to change oil in an
>automobile. I
>have also edited jumbled paragraphs of "engineer-speak" to make the
>somewhat intelligible. I have answered questions about the inner
>workings of
>FrameMaker and Word. However, none of these tests measured how good I

Me too. All these tests focused on presenting the information but never
on what information to include and how to organize it. If I was an
employer, I would want a writer who closes the information gaps with a
minimum of spoon feeding. This requires innovative thinking. Maybe
just an oral test. "Tell me what you would include in a full-blown
manual for a pencil. What could you cover?" Or "You're developing an
operating manual for a product. The product is not up and running and
your contact time with development is virtually non existent. How would
you close the information gaps?"

>You find out how good someone really is after you hire them (based on
>actual performance). That's the way it goes for everyone, not just

Always the best litmus test. However, any constructive filter that I
can apply to the candidates applying for the job may lessen a
trial-and-error (or a hire-and-fire) approach.

>There is no magic wand you can wave that can circumvent this process.

Yeah, I know.

>Randy Grandle

Mike Wing

>_/ 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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