samples again

Subject: samples again
From: Miki Magyar <MDM0857 -at- MCDATA -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 13:14:50 -0700

The best samples/portfolio solution I've found is the before-and-after format. I save the raw, crude, red-lined, hashed-over starting stuff, and the final version. I put them side by side in a 3-ring presentation binder (which is itself something I designed) so that anyone looking at it can see what I started with and what I did with it. I have one- and two-page selections from as many different kinds of stuff as I can collect. It's been easy to find non-confidential pages that I can use to demonstrate skill in editing, page layout, specific technical domains, graphics, etc. I can pick examples from my collection to target the people I'm talking to.

I've shown this to tech pubs managers and HR people who weren't quite sure what a tech writer is. Both seem to understand what's being shown. In fact, for some contracting clients, it's been an excellent tool for teaching them just what they're asking for.

All the examples don't have to be from paid jobs. That's the beauty of it. You can re-write your VCR instructions and impress a potential employer (assuming you do it well!).

When you start looking for things to collect, look for the ugliest stuff. Look for examples that clearly demonstrate a particular skill. For instance, I have a page of code overlaid with the programmer's cryptic notes and sketches of how the system displays data. The finished page is clean, well organized, has a table showing the options, and so on. Yes, this person can talk to programmers and translate their stuff into clear English.

Be prepared to explain how and why you made the changes and choices you did. Cite research and talk about the audience you were writing for. If you sound confident about the process, you'll come across as knowledgeable and competent.

If all this sounds like a reprise of what I've said about how to break into tech writing, it is. I'd like to hear from some of the people who hire; am I right on this? Would this type of portfolio/samples be sufficient? Can we extrapolate from my experience to a general statement of usefulness?

mikim -at- mcdata -dot- com

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