RE: Certification

Subject: RE: Certification
From: "Anita Legsdin" <anita -dot- legsdin -at- watchmark -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2003 15:33:45 -0700

Chiming in with my $.02 worth, I have to agree with those on the list
who insist that product or technical knowledge is essential. I've run
into any number of people--ranging from college interns to those who
have been in the profession for 15 years and more--who are excellent
writers and editors, but who can't navigate through Windows if their
life depended on it. I have worked with people who, after working on a
product for more than a year, still were totally lost, dependent on
written notes that they did not understand and followed blindly by rote.

On the other hand, the possible areas of expertise for a technical
writer spans the entire globe, and covers every possible subject from
natural phenomena to computer hardware to philosophic concepts. The body
of knowledge for a physician is the human body; the body of knowledge
for a lawyer is the set of laws governing a specific state or country.
The only common body of knowledge for writers is our common language.
And yet, that is not enough. Certification for someone who wants to be a
medical writer would be different from certification for someone who
wants to write Fortran, Basic, and C# manuals (as many have pointed
out). And just because someone knows how to write a documentation plan
doesn't mean they can grasp the concept of pointers in C++.

Maybe a college degree in technical writing should require a certain
number of hours' coursework in a chosen field (such as medicine,
geology, programming). On the other hand, I don't think they teach
health insurance in college--that was the field where I began my tech
writing career.

When I first wanted to break into high-tech writing, I went to an agency
that required everyone to take a series of tests, on which we were
graded and ranked. This comes the closest, in my experience, to any kind
of certification. However, the agency was poorly managed, and rarely
placed anyone above the lowest-paid junior tech writer level. I was also
informed they had the highest markup of any agency in town. They never
called me back, and probably don't realize what they lost (if I do say
so myself). (Unrelated anecdote: the owner and founder of this agency
stopped going to local STC meetings because "I got so tired of people
coming up to me and asking for jobs.")

Anita Legsdin
Sr. Technical Writer
(425) 564-8135

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting
different results.
-Albert Einstein

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