Certification for Technical Communicators

Subject: Certification for Technical Communicators
From: "USA::MU17692" <MU17692%USA -dot- decnet -at- USAV01 -dot- GLAXO -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 22 Aug 1994 13:56:00 EDT

Anne Halsey started a new thread with

> Do you think STC (or some other "official" body) should
> be certifying technical communications professionals?
> Relevant subtopics of discussion:

> - Is TC a profession, or just a job?
> - Given the wide range of "stuff" we do as TCers, how
> would/should certification work?
> - Should/could there be "grades" or "classifications" of
> certification? If so, what should they be? How should/
> could we differentiate between skill levels?
> - What should we call ourselves (again, given the wide
> range of stuff we do and industries we do it in/for)?

This issue is a real hot button with me. In October 1992 I set up
a Carolina Chapter, STC meeting to address this issue. I invited a
chapter leader from the Public Relation Society of America (PRSA),
the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and the Society for
Technical Communication to speak about the admissions and member
development policies and programs in each of these professional

It was the liveliest STC meeting I have ever seen. People passionately
took sides on this issue. The moderator thoroughly enjoyed his job. He
had difficuly, however, staying neutral. :-)

I would like to address Anne Halsey's points one at a time:

1. Yes, STC should implement a certification program. Like PRSA, it
should not be mandatory. However, members should be encouraged to
achieve certification after ten years of membership.

Also like PRSA, STC should restrict admission to the Society by
requiring a sponsor and a one year probationary period. Only those
who professionally practice technical communication should be
admitted. (Teachers of technical communication would also be admitted.)

2. Technical Communication is, indeed, a profession. Of this, I am quite
confident. STC leaders, and others, have generally defined a profession
as an area of work requiring a four year degree or extensive experience
providing skills and knowledge comparable to that achieved through a
four year degree.

3. Certification should work in a manner similar to the way AMWA implements
theirs. STC should offer classes at the national conference and at the
region level whereby members achieve various certifications in specialty
areas and can earn a general certification.

STC members have argued that our work is too general to define any kind
of encompassing qualifications. I disagree. An ability to draw basic
illustrations, write a grammatically correct sentence, recognize common
proofreader's marks, operate a personal computer, and so forth, are
skills that all technical communicators ought to have.

4. Too many titles are handed out to technical communicators. The STC
leadership should work harder to create professional standards,
including job titles and achievement criteria.

In general, STC doesn't do enough for its membership. I am working on
changing this. The Carolina Chapter, of which I am active member, could
much more to serve its members. And the organization as a whole is not
nearly aggressive enough in promoting control of the profession.

In the coming years, I and some of my imaginative and bold colleagues
hope to bring a renaissance to technical communication in the Research
Triangle Park area. This is bold, and perhaps even arrogant talk, but the
time for apathy and modesty are over. We have been trampled on long enough.
We want professional respect and we are going to get it.

Hell, this isn't a new thread; it's a jihad!

Mike Uhl (mu17692 -at- glaxo -dot- com)
Glaxo Inc. Research Institute
Research Triangle Park, NC

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