How to Create a Technical Writing Rubric
Hiring is always hard, but the more specialized your hire, the harder it will be. If you’re managing a technical blog and you want to stop writing everything yourself, you’ll need to recruit and hire technical writers to help you out.
While traditionally used in education, rubrics are a fantastic tool for hiring, and I’ve used them for years both as an engineering manager and content manager at Draft. Whether you are bringing on a part-time freelancer or a full-time hire, having a good rubric will help you objectively evaluate candidates and keep you focused on the criteria that matter for your job.
What is a Hiring Rubric?
A hiring rubric is a document that defines the criteria you use to decide whether a candidate is a good fit for your role or not. It typically includes several attributes upon which you will evaluate candidates and a few levels within each attribute that measure their skill.
To effectively use a rubric, you need to apply it consistently using measurable and observable behaviors. This means that a good rubric eliminates hiring by “gut feel” and forces you to stay focused on the characteristics that candidates display throughout the hiring process.
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The Draft.dev Technical Writing Rubric
As I started hiring more writers for Draft.dev, I began refining a rubric that would allow me to evaluate them quickly and objectively. Today, I’m sharing this rubric with you so you can use it as a starting point for creating your own hiring rubric.
Our rubric currently has ten attributes that fall within three broad categories. Each of these attributes has 3-4 levels we can use to compare writers. We use this rubric to decide which candidates to bring on during the hiring process and as an ongoing evaluation tool for our existing writers. This strategy helps us consistently provide high-quality technical work for our clients.
You can get a copy of the rubric here or read on for an explanation of how we evaluate writers using this rubric.
Category 1: Writing
Writing skills are necessary for the kind of work we do at Draft.dev, but defining what it means to be a “good” writer is surprisingly hard. Many people use the, “I know it when I see it” test, but I’ve found that insufficient. There are three attributes I look for in strong writers.
Grammar and spelling errors can be overcome. With tools like Grammarly, we can edit a writer with decent conventions, but submitting samples full of mistakes points to a problem with attention to detail. Every writer makes mistakes, but that doesn’t forgive sloppiness.
Writers who have mastered conventions will submit error-free work and may even spot mistakes in others’ work during the application process.
English is a tough language to master. As such, many non-native writers will struggle to word things in a way that native readers find natural. For example, the phrase, “Let me explain you the reasons I believe this to be true,” is missing a preposition and somewhat strangely worded. It’s not glaringly incorrect, but it shows a deficiency in language that is common among inexperienced writers.
Writers who have strong language skills use engaging words, varied sentence structure, and stylistically sophisticated vocabulary that isn’t overly wordy. It’s tough to do.
Finally, great writers have to be great organizers. While having good content briefs with outlines can help with higher-level structure, the writer will still have to decide how to present sequential information in a way that readers can grok.
To reach the highest level in this attribute, writers must create clear transitions between topics and consistent focus throughout the entire sample piece.
Category 2: Technical
As a technical content agency, Draft.dev’s writers must have specialized experience. While not every piece we produce requires deep knowledge about a specific technical topic, writers must research, understand, and speak to technical topics.
In this context, “development” doesn’t mean software development skills - it means the ability to develop and present an idea. A well-developed piece of writing goes beyond the step-by-step “how” and builds the “why” as well.
A writer who can present their main idea and strongly support it with technical evidence while keeping the “why” central to the work will get full points in this category.
Technical depth describes the writer’s ability to go beyond entry-level writing on the topic at hand. Regurgitation of the “getting started” walkthrough is not that useful for the writing we do with our clients. Writers need to show that they understand the underlying technical justification for their decisions.
Writers who display depth of knowledge usually have years of real-world experience and knowledge of the technology’s inner-workings.
Technical knowledge is spiky. A writer may know a lot about Rust, but nothing about Python, so while they can display depth by diving into the Rust compiler, if none of our clients need Rust writers, their skills aren’t in demand right now. While technical writers usually have two or three areas where they can contribute, their skills have to match up with our clients’ needs to be a good fit.
Writers with unique combinations of skills or experience that happens to match our clients’ technology stack will do the best in this category.
Finally, writers must be technically correct. This is usually linked closely to depth - if a writer can’t go deep on a topic, they are less likely to get the details right - but not always. For example, a writer might create some sample code that doesn’t work even though their explanations are on-point.
Writers will get the most credit in this category when they have no factual errors, and all their assumptions are backed up with evidence or experience.
Category 3: Work
The last category is work habits. Even great writers who are technically qualified may be a bad fit for Draft.dev if they’re not consistent team players. Each of our writers works remotely as an independent contractor, so their ability to communicate, respond positively to feedback, and work independently are important to their success.
While writing skills are evaluated in the first category, our writers must also be responsive, prompt communicators. With clients and writers around the world, we don’t have set “working hours,” but we require writers to respond to emails and requests for revisions within a reasonable amount of time.
The best writers proactively notify their editor with questions or delays as early as possible and communicate their progress along the way.
As a writer, you have to be able to handle feedback - both positive and negative. Edits aren’t a personal attack, so we look for writers who actively seek out feedback. Great writers at Draft.dev enjoy the guidance we offer rather than seeing it as a burden.
Finally, our technical writers have to be able to solve problems independently. This doesn’t mean they can’t ask questions - they should reach out proactively when stuck - but they should start projects early in case anything comes up.
We Can Help You Create Great Technical Blog Content
I hope our rubric helps you hire better technical writers, but I also hope it shows you how tough finding great writers can be. If you’re not sure about hiring your own writers, we might be able to help. At Draft.dev, we write technical content for software engineering blogs using our pool of highly skilled technical writers. We also offer content planning and editing services.
Build a Blog that Software Developers Will Read
The Technical Content Manager’s Playbook is a collection of resources you can use to manage a high-quality, technical blog:
- A template for creating content briefs
- An Airtable publishing calendar
- A technical blogging style guide