RE: Technical Writing Certifications

Subject: RE: Technical Writing Certifications
From: Maughan Daniel <daniel -dot- maughan -at- kone -dot- com>
To: William Sherman <bsherman77 -at- embarqmail -dot- com>, "vincentpr -at- trfnova -dot- com" <vincentpr -at- trfnova -dot- com>, "kathleen -dot- eamd -at- gmail -dot- com" <kathleen -dot- eamd -at- gmail -dot- com>, "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 26 Oct 2016 14:38:47 +0000

I am a graduate from a Technical Communications B.S. program at an engineering school. The primary things of value we covered were document/UX design processes, communication strategies, and barriers to communication. There was a lot of fluff around the sides involving things like marketing and such, but we also had physics, mathematics, and engineering as core study segments. It certainly wasn't as intensive as the engineering students' study of these subjects but there was still definitely a focus on those courses.

That said, I got more than most of my peers out of it because I have an extremely high aptitude for technical subjects. Many of them I think would still struggle with understanding nitty gritty technical subject matter if asked, despite the focus our program had on it. I actually started as a mechanical engineering student before realizing I really, really hate calculus and differential equations. But, I digress.

The real benefit of the program was understanding the principles and principal challenges of communicating. That, and the expectation that you write an enormous volume of material in a variety of styles and media, which gives a lot of opportunities to work out the kinks in your writing. The specifics of a technical subject are largely irrelevant so long as you can extract relevant info from SMEs quickly and turn it into something laymen find comprehensible. I've done tech writing and editing for software, industrial machinery testing, and construction for laymen, installers/technicians, and experts, and the only real difference to me was the jargon and specific methodology employed in the process. Composition tools and technical specifics would be a foolish thing to judge someone's capabilities on because it only proves they understand those tools and those specifics, which could just as easily be rote memorization as skills.

The assessments I found most effective for judging my own competencies were those that demanded I take on a subject I did not have much familiarity with and still produce something that was actually passable content. This was a good opportunity to establish what parts of an assignment or process I struggled with.

The main thing I have seen that differentiates me from my colleagues (none of whom have a tech writing degree) is my general understanding of high-level TW concepts like content-reuse and modularity, server queries, style sheets, markup languages, UX design processes, and soft skills needed to do a good job in situations with barriers to communication. All of these are things I can specifically point to as having been improved by a good TW program.

As for assessment, which I think is the crux of your question, there isn't an easy answer. Just as there isn't an easy answer to ensuring that any candidate isn't an incompetent jackass. I don't think there's a certification in the world for proving an engineer, accountant, scientist, technical writer or any white collar worker isn't going to be a suck on your team's time and energy. There are simply too many variables in play for a standardized test to assess.

-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+daniel -dot- maughan=kone -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com [mailto:techwr-l-bounces+daniel -dot- maughan=kone -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On Behalf Of William Sherman
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2016 7:50 PM
To: vincentpr -at- trfnova -dot- com; kathleen -dot- eamd -at- gmail -dot- com; techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Technical Writing Certifications

This idea of certification comes up every so often, and has some merit.
After all, anyone can say they are a technical writer, but how does the hiring company really know? The certificate sounds like the answer.

But for a certificate to be good, it isn't enough to attend a class, or even a dozen, you need to test out to prove yourself.

Here is the rub.

What do you test?

Do you test the ability to use MS Word, FrameMaker, XML, DITA, or others?
Which ones? All? Some?

And now does that make you a _technical_ writer? Or just a writer? Shouldn't the "technical" adjective mean you actually have a technical expertise?

So now what do you test?

Your knowledge of C++?

Your knowledge of Fortran?

Your knowledge of .Net?

API?

HTML?

How a PC is assembled?

How an F22 is assembled?

How to fly an AH-64D?

How to meet medical requirements?

How to use a cat cracker?

How to set up media rooms for a company and maintain the equipment?

How to rebuild an engine? What engine, a Model T engine, a small block Chevy, an LS-6 engine, a J79 engine, F100-PW-220 engine, a Cat C-18 engine, or what?


This has always bothered me about the Technical Writer degrees. Does it teach you to write or to understand a complex technical subject enough that you can break it down for the Average Joe to understand or the well-trained individual who needs your work as reference during highly technical work?
And then, which did it train you on? Will it be the one you need?



----- Original Message -----
From: "Vincent" <vincentpr -at- trfnova -dot- com>
To: <kathleen -dot- eamd -at- gmail -dot- com>
Cc: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2016 1:08 PM
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: It doesn't look good for Tina the Tech Writer ...
OK, this makes for a good segue


>
>
>
> 2) Absolutely! Please note that earlier in this topic thread I stated
> that for PMP 'experience trumps the certification 100% of the time'. I
> believe that CPTW certification will make a difference in customer
> attitude once it has been established, accepted and promoted. But of
> course, between all-other-aspects-being equal candidates, if both were
> to be CPTW certified, and one has ample experience while the other does
> not, the experienced candidate would prevail. I am not suggesting that
> certification displaces experience -- it doesn't for ANY type of
> certification. I am suggesting that in most IT (as well as other
> industry) shops, the TW is incorrectly regarded as being a lesser
> specialist, and this perception needs to be remediated.
>
>
>
> On 10/18/16, Kathleen MacDowell<kathleen -dot- eamd -at- gmail -dot- com> wrote:
>
> Sir Vincent,
> 1) There are schools/colleges that offer tech writing tracks. How do
> you picture a certificate covering material that those students
> wouldn't offer?
> 2) I can't judge whether a certificate would make a difference in
> customer attitude. Even so, there are some skills that only experience
> can teach, and some that everyone can't learn.
> 3) I do wonder if the most skilled will end up designing interfaces,
> though, and that will undoubtedly provide more respect.
> Kathleen
> No virus found in this message.
> Checked by AVG - www.avg.com
> Version: 2016.0.7858 / Virus Database: 4664/13235 - Release Date: 10/18/16
>

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Follow-Ups:

References:
Re: Re: Re: Re: It doesn't look good for Tina the Tech Writer ... OK, this makes for a good segue: From: Vincent
Technical Writing Certifications: From: William Sherman

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