Five Questions for Technical Writing Interviews

These questions are for experienced candidates, not aspiring writers, and are meant to reveal general attitudes and methods. You want to see how people think, and how they act and react to other writers.

Question one: tell me about a style guide decision you disagree with.

The idea isn’t to argue the point with them; it’s to see that they’re invested in their writing. If they’ve never argued with a style guide, they’ve not been paying attention.

The style guide can be a random one (Guardian, Economist, Dr Seuss) or an in-house one. It can even be one they wrote themselves. All that matters is that they show an understanding of nuance and a firm belief in consistency.

Question two: what’s the least helpful instruction you’ve ever read?

This question is their chance to show that they know at least a little bit about what *not* to do, and they should be able to explain why their example is bad writing. They might make it up, by the way, and some are very bad at hiding it; since it still shows an understanding of how not to write, pretend you hadn’t noticed.

Question three: how do you deal with editing a very badly written text, when you know that the edited or commented text is returned to the writer?

This is a good way to judge their personality. “I don’t care, if the text is that bad I hope it gets the writer fired” is a bad sign. “I won’t edit it” is also a bad sign, professionally, because the text has to be edited before clients are forced to deal with it.

Almost any answer that admits that editing is both necessary and uncomfortable in these situations is a good answer, but try to get a sense of attitude. For example, are their comments harshly phrased, or do they remain polite? How do they feel about the original writer seeing the text? How do they react if the original writer argues, shouts or cries?

Question four: do you ever discard a document that requires a lot of editing and simply start a new one?

There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, but the reasoning behind it might show you how candidates deal with revising and updating documents. You want to get a sense that documents never get out of control, that the final version is never messy and that a clear voice is maintained throughout.

Question five: what’s the best technical writing tip you ever gave a new writer, and how did it come about?

A writer’s attitude to other writers, especially less experienced ones, makes a huge difference in the day-to-day life of an office. Remember: the tip itself doesn’t matter, only the story that’s attached to it, so ask for background details. Look for signs of bullying, showing off or refusing to help; and look for signs of professionalism, kindness or at least politeness, and a willingness to give credit.

There is an element of showing off to this question that might be hard for some candidates to deal with. Try to take the pressure off them by breaking the question down and asking for one aspect at a time. If they never deliver a monologue, they won’t feel as embarrassed.

One thought on “Five Questions for Technical Writing Interviews

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s