Looking for bad government writing
August 1, 2006 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Help! We need to hire a manager who can edit, but I can't find an appropriate editing test online.

I work at a state agency, and my department is looking to fill a managerial position. Although the previous manager was not an editor, she was really good at looking at convoluted government documents and figuring out how to make them better. My superiors want to hire someone with this talent and have asked me to find an editing test that assesses content editing skills. What I'm looking for is a test with maybe three or four very poorly written paragraphs that need to be simplified, reorganized, etc. I've only been able to find copyediting tests online. Using existing material from our office isn't an option because we'll have some internal applicants. I could try to write something awful, but it won't come close to the gloriously messy stuff we deal with daily.

Does anyone know where I could find such a test? Online is preferable, but if you have something on hand, that would be great, too. Also, if you've seen some really awful government prose that could be adapted to a test, let me know. Thanks!
posted by lunalaguna to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
It might be worth browsing around on Brainbench to see if they have anything that looks right.
posted by MsMolly at 9:41 AM on August 1, 2006

Could you ask another office in your agency for some pre-edited prose?
posted by occhiblu at 9:44 AM on August 1, 2006

Check out the Plain English Campaign (UK). Their website lists the winning entries for their Golden Bull awards for the last 20+ years, and although most are fairly short, you could use a combination of them, or use them for information.

Example (Kent County Council, winner in 1986): 'As there has been some misunderstanding of the legal position in the past, it is pointed out that the duty of the Authority to comply with parental preferences does not apply if compliance with the preference would prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources, or if the arrangements for admission to the preferred school are based wholly or partly on selection by reference to aptitude or ability and compliance with the preference would be incompatible with selection under the arrangements.
posted by athenian at 10:20 AM on August 1, 2006

Almost any recent textbook used for a university level businesss and professional writing course would have examples. But if you are looking for a quick and dirty assessment of content editing skills, where you plug in a writer and get a scaled number as a result, you are probably out of luck.
posted by mrmojoflying at 10:46 AM on August 1, 2006

I know you said using existing material from your office isn't an option... but it should be, since that is exactly the sort of material you want to see edited.

If you draw a paragraph or two from each of several examples, and do some further minor changes, it should be a fair test for anybody.

I'm assuming that an internal applicant wouldn't have necessarily seen every single thing that went through the office, and even if they were familiar with the example, you would be able to tell if they had just memorized and spewed back the previously-done revisions.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:17 AM on August 1, 2006

I completely agree with what Artful said, as that's what I was going to suggest.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:00 PM on August 1, 2006

There's certainly plenty of terrible prose that makes it into, e.g., federal regulations. Not as accurate a recreation of your reality as work that has never seen an editor, but still in need of a lot of help.
posted by jewzilla at 1:17 PM on August 1, 2006

I too agree with Artful. Just mix, match, and throw in some curveballs of your own. It'll be great. (I used to work for a guy who created what he called the "Peshawar Test"; it was humanly impossible to get 100%, and it was great fun to watch people struggle with it.)
posted by languagehat at 5:55 PM on August 1, 2006

American Scientist has an article where they do exactly the process you mention - take a poorly-written paragraph and correct it for style and content - but they do it for scientific writing, not governmental. It should provide a template for what you're trying to do.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:07 AM on August 2, 2006

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