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Measuring Competence with a Language

Posted by wordtex on Jul 6, 2016 7:00:00 AM

I recently read an email on a listserv from a person who supervises technical writers and she asked for suggestions of criteria to use when performing yearly evaluations on her employees. A number of people responded with the typical answers: did she meet deadlines?; was he available and willing to take on additional assignments?; did she complete her assignments well?...etc.

I responded and suggested that the manager also use competence in language as a criterion for evaluation. In other words, is the employee meeting, exceeding or falling below whatever quality standards the company has for the language these employees are required to write in? Remember, these are technical writers, so you'd think that competence in the required language would be a good thing.

Well, the manager responded to me and said that she thought that was a great idea.

I thought the discussion was interesting, so I brought it to another listserv for technical writers. I didn't receive too many responses, but when it came down to measuring competence with the written language, I heard from a manager who felt that her degree in English Language and Composition from a U.S. university  was a "guarantee" of competence and that that same level of guarantee was all that was required for her employees--a degree from a university. (And interestingly enough, she had some errors in her response. I'll be generous and assume that her haste in responding via email was the culprit.)

For me, that wouldn't be enough for an employee or a subcontractor. I've seen people who bill themselves as "expert" writers or "senior-level" communicators, etc., and they don't use punctuation properly, as an example. I mean, how many times have you wondered where the comma actually goes--inside or outside of the quotation marks? Well, depending on where you are geographically, the answer is different. But for me, if I'm hiring someone who supposedly is an "expert" in the American usage of the English language, that person darn well better know the answer!

I don't know, but it seems strange to me to not measure the competence in a language when your job requires you to be proficient in that language. And the fact that quality of writing is just not easy to quantify once you get past the nuts and bolts of grammar and punctuation.

By the standards of the second manager mentioned above, I must be proficient in English simply because I have a degree in English Literature from a U.S. university. And I guess those four years of Spanish that I took in high school and college make me darn near fluent in that language.

Fantastic! (Or should I say, !Fantastico!)

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