Q: Why aren’t writing assessment tests relevant to online writing?
A. Because it’s far easier and quicker to recast a sentence than to research a problem.
Q. Can you give an example?
A. Sure. Take the title of this post:
“The Irrelevance of Writing Assessment Tests to Online Writing”
I dislike the word “of.” It makes a sentence more passive and less direct. At first thought, I’d prefer this sentence
“Writing Assessment Tests Irrelevance to Online Writing”
But I have a question with this. Besides sounding funny, “assess” too close to “tests”, I wonder if I need an apostrophe after “Tests.” Not a big wonder but a small one. Enough to leave me with my present choice.
Deciding to recast or retain took about four or five seconds. I can’t imagine the time and research needed to determine whether “Tests” requires an apostrophe. And who do I consult and whose opinion do I take? Nonsense. Recast and move on. (Besides, it still sounds funny.) This is especially important for online business writing editors.
Editors like myself reviewing blog posts and pages are not Fowler and are not working for Prentice Hall or Wiley or McGraw Hill. And we don’t have temperamental, artistic type writers so in love with their work that they debate every aspect of sentence construction.
Q. But what if I really love a sentence with a problem and want to use it?
A. That’s easy, too. Enter into Google Search the sentence with two or three variations and see how they rank. Which is used most? If it’s close, go with either. That choice may not be technically correct to a grammarian but it will be commonly accepted in the real world. Next problem!
Q. Any other problem with assessment tests?
A testing group never mention what style sheet or manual of style they’re using to validate answers. CMOS? AP? Their own? They will never say and, of course, all sheets and manuals differ to some extent. And the tests don’t recognize differences in different fields.
In The Law, we might write like this:
He had apples, oranges, lemons, and limes.
Ordinarily, we’d write like this:
He had apples, oranges, lemons and limes.
But the law is fussy and strict and it likes each item in a list delineated. Hence, that extra comma. It’s called the serial comma or Oxford comma if you want to go down a rabbit hole instead of getting your work done.
And, too often assessments tests resemble something out of an SAT or ACT. We’re not in school anymore nor are we trying to stay in. We’re out in the real world getting work done as quickly and efficiently as we can.
Difficult grammar problems are really the province of the editor and not the writer. The writer needs to get his or her assignment finished in substantial compliance with its requirements by deadline and at or near word count. It’s up to the editor and the people above to deal with what’s next.
Q: Why, then, are assessment tests given so regularly?
A. Most assessment tests are multiple choice which makes it easy for a machine to grade. Essay test are far, far more rare and require real humans to read and judge. My last employer was InFocus, a great company. I was given a writing assignment that took me 11 hours to complete and I was paid for my time. That is very professional and hardly ever seen.
Q. Why is that?
Money. Most companies pay little to begin with, no need to spend upfront when they think they can find somebody anytime they want. This speaks to the much larger problem: the person hiring a writer usually isn’t a writer. They’ve read good copy but they don’t know how the magic happens. That’s why they require unrealistic assessment tests; they themselves have not had to produce quality content with on page SEO under deadline and they haven’t managed writers doing this work.
Doctors should hire doctors, engineers should hire engineers, writers or editors should hire writers. Too many well educated people think anyone can write and this is a deluded fantasy. Same way with photography. Anyone can take a picture. Not professionally. Try producing wedding pictures that someone will pay thousands of dollars for. At a ceremony that cannot happen again and will not accommodate your mistakes.
Anyone can write. Show me. I’ll go first. (internal link)
More writing on this here (internal link)