Re: Pencil Test for Technical Writers

Subject: Re: Pencil Test for Technical Writers
From: Mary Anthony <mary -at- PERSISTENCE -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 12 Aug 1996 09:11:13 -0700

> Michael Wing <mjwing -at- ingr -dot- com> wrote:

>With all the discussion on certification, qualifications, correct
>language usage, and technical aptitude, and so forth, I am wondering if
>maybe a simple pencil test would help in choosing a candidate for a
>Technical Writing position.

When hiring writers, I have developed these types of tests. I found they are
very helpful in selecting good candidates. I have also taken these types of
when applying myself, so I know what being on the receiving end feels like
as well. As a candidate, I think taking the test gave me a good idea about what
a company expected from their writers. This is always good to know too.

Brad Connatser wrote:

> Moreover, the assumption that the only good candidates are those who are
>quick on their feet and can innovative is questionable.
> snip...
> Productive and effective writing is not done "by-the-seat-of the-pants" and
> "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.

This is a good point Brad. However, I can say that the tests I developed
were not
tests of writing...I used the candidate's samples to get an idea of writing
style. Instead,
I was testing for just the qualities you listed above -- approach to a
project, information
gathering, and analysis.

For example, I would give a candidate an existing "badly written" page or
source material for a particular system command. The source is maybe 1 or 2
pages. Then, I would give written and verbal instructions. Something
like, your
task is not necessarily to produce a complete document -- the goal of the
test is
to see what kind of questions you might ask or what you think needs to be
in the sample.

This can be a pencil test or, if you are testing for tool knowledge, a test
with the tool
the writer would typically use -- Word, Frame -- whatever. I've taken/given
Normally, I give 45 minutes for the test. That is the time for a typical
interview slot.
So, the candidate interviews with a docu/management person, engineering
person, and
takes the test. Works for me.

BTW, I've been lurking for about a year. I've been employed in the industry
as a writer
for about 7 years. Most of my work is programming/system administration
for the UNIX market.



Mary Anthony
mary -at- persistence -dot- com

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