Re: Tech writer job descriptions & hiring ESL tech writers?

Subject: Re: Tech writer job descriptions & hiring ESL tech writers?
From: "Peter Neilson" <neilson -at- windstream -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 02 Jan 2014 11:00:59 -0500

On Thu, 02 Jan 2014 10:08:45 -0500, Hannah Drake <hannah -at- formulatrix -dot- com> wrote:

So I've been asked to create "levels" of progression for the tech writer

After a bit of perusing, I've seen titles such as Junior and
Senior, and also I, II, III.

Does anyone have a good break-down of what it means to be in either of
these categories?

Done there, been that, long ago. We defined three Superman levels, and put them in terms of how one would leap tall buildings. The entry-level writer needed much assistance and several scrambles to get to the top of the building. The accomplished writer could leap tall buildings in a single bound and could assist others. The senior tech writer was a guru who could sail to heights thought unattainable, and could easily teach others the art of bounding.

One of the writers prophetically defined a fourth category: Ex-technical-writer. "Sits at desk while buildings bound over him. Ignores considerable assistance from above and below." Four of our supposed writers promoted themselves into that category. He was one of them.

This search began because I've gotten approval to hire an additional team
member to our overseas location -- which brings me to my next question, any tips for hiring ESL tech writers?

My biggest goal is to find someone with a mastery of the written English
language, as you might imagine -- how do I go about testing that?

We (the team at the Superman place) found one. She had worked as a writer and announcer at a radio station in her native country, and was now in the US. She was hoping to find a job coding COBOL, of all things. We decided that the ability to put together ideas for presentation to an audience outranked the nitty-gritty grammar aspects, and brought her in as a writer. She was perfect! Her writing needed editing, of course, but so did everyone's.

A major difficulty with some ESL writers appears in their how-to manuals. They can describe the product itself and the buttons to push, but not the thinking that goes into understanding how to use it. Grammatically, the writing is perfect, if you don't mind passive voice. In tone, it is exceptionally polite. In conveying the knowledge you need, though, it never addresses how you will solve your problems. Do Not Hire someone who merely passes a grammar test or who has good grades in English. Oh, and I've even seen similarly unfocused material made by "EFL" writers.

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Tech writer job descriptions & hiring ESL tech writers?: From: Hannah Drake

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