Re: Writing Samples

Subject: Re: Writing Samples
From: Mark Baker <mbaker -at- OMNIMARK -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 24 Mar 1998 10:40:22 -0500

Jon Leer writes:

>Any writer who shows up without writing samples is hopeless. All writers
>are judged by what they write.

Not by me. If a writer shows me a manual they wrote for another company,
what am I looking at? Is it a sample of that company's house style? If so,
then it tells me nothing about the writer's style. Is it a sample of the
writer's own style? Then all that proves is that the writer cannot write to
house style. And how am I supposed to tell the difference?

I judge writers by asking them questions about language. I ask them about
the arguments they have with engineers. I ask them about users and their
needs. I look for a lively interest in language and its foibles, and sniff
out any hint of pedantry or formalism. I try to find out what matters to
them and what they are willing to fight for. (Don't tell me you had a big
fight over comma usage!) I look for a genuine appreciation of user needs and
a healthy skepticism about academic usability findings. I look for a basic
acceptance that this is business, not art.

> Regarding confidentiality, the writer can
>blot out any obvious tradenames or edit the source to change the names.

If that's is your idea of respecting confidentiallity, you are never going
to work for me. Published work can be shown unchanged. Company confidential
material must never be shown under any circumstances.

>IMO, companies that have the philosophy that the writer can't use work for
>a portfolio are treating writers as slaves, nothing more, nothing less.
>Perhaps the writer can be selective in showing work that doesn't divulge
>patent information. Ideally, the company should establish a policy that
>considers a writer's need to build a portfolio.

Nonsense. Do you imagine that any company anywhere extends that sort of
privilege to any other profession? Do you think programmers keep portfolios
of the code they have written to show to prospective future employers? Of
course not. Writers, in fact, are enormously fortunate in this regard
because much of the work they do for a company is published and therefore
can be shown to prospective employers. You have no rights in work done for
hire. None. Zip. Zero. This is a privilege, not a right.

As a hiring manager I am frankly distressed by the cavalier attitudes to
confidentiality and ownership issues displayed by some people who have
posted on this topic. If you hired a man to paint your house, how would you
feel if he said, "Of course, I'll need a key so that I can bring people to
your house to show them samples of my work."?

This is a words-for-cash business. I keep the words. You keep the cash.

Mark Baker
Manager, Corporate Communications
OmniMark Technologies Corporation
1400 Blair Place
Gloucester, Ontario
Canada, K1J 9B8
Phone: 613-745-4242
Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com

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