Two Typos and You're Out

Subject: Two Typos and You're Out
From: "Wing, Michael J" <mjwing -at- INGR -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 28 Feb 1997 08:14:30 -0600

There have been some strong points in favor of zero tolerance for typos
in resumes brought out in this discussion. Truly, a resume is often the
first impression that an employer has of you. At that time you may be
little more than that piece of paper (or two pieces). For a writer or
an editor, this piece of paper also represents a sample of their craft.
I echo the sentiment that a perfect resume beats a blemished resume
hands down.

There is also a difference in the kind of typos that may exist on a
resume. The misplaced or missing apostrophe on years', year's, or years
experience is surely less of a problem than the candidate misspelling
his/her own name. The same with the documentation that the writer
produces.

Ideally, a grammatically perfect, technically accurate, and on-time
document is something to strive for. If a written instruction is to
read 'never press this button', a 'never pres this button' typo is less
of a problem than a 'press this button' typo. As far as a customer is
concerned, a dangling participle in an instruction may annoy them.
However, a well written and grammatically correct instruction telling
them to press a non-existent button will down right tick them off. Ask
the help desk if they get more complaints about grammar problems in a
document or more complaints about inaccurate instructions in a document.

The two typos and you're out in many cases is a narrow view of the
candidate. I also don't find it realistic. Therefore, I am going to
apply it to a scenario.

The scenario is this:

I'm a Documentation Manager currently overseeing four Technical Writers,
an Editor, and a Graphic Artist. There is a new line of electronic
circuit design software scheduled to be delivered. The first of these
programs absolutely must be delivered in eight months. There is no slip
date. If the date slips, competitors will seize the market.

Let's say that I have just learned that a Programmer's guide is required
for the product. There is to be a printed manual, context-sensitive
on-line help, and an internal web page (for exchanging files,
information, and testing software). Nobody in my group has done
programming guides or context-sensitive help and there is little time
for training the new writer. Furthermore, the writer must keep his/her
contact time with Development to a minimum.

Given these parameters, the ideal candidate would be a strong writer,
have experience in designing and producing on-line documentation, know
the tools thoroughly enough to handle context-sensitivity and multiple
topic use, and so forth. Furthermore, the ideal candidate would have a
good programming background and some electrical engineering. Why?
Because this satisfies the requirement that the writer keep his/her
contact time with development to a minimum.

Now, if a candidate like this comes in, the job is theirs. However, I
may not be able to wait that long for this rare bird to apply for the
job. Therefore, I may have to compromise on my ideals. Do I take a
strong writer with weak product knowledge and marginal technical skills?
Do I take an SME with adequate but not sensational writing skills?
Where do I make my compromises? I have an Editor. However, I do not
have someone to get the writer over the non-writing challenges should I
hire someone who is weak in these areas.

If I apply the zero-typo rule, I may end up with someone who cracks over
the deadlines, technical complications, and subject matter. Yet, I may
not end up with someone like that. But I do know that if I prejudge
based on a on a couple of typos I may miss out on the best candidate.
Remember writing is just one of the skills required for most technical
writing jobs today. It's not the only one.

Let's say that if many equally qualified candidates turn in a resumes
without the typos, I'll consider tossing the blemished ones aside. But
if they don't, lets investigate the candidate with the blemished resume
a little further.

Mike Wing

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