Subject: Certification
From: John Bell <jbell -at- TELE-TV -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 26 Dec 1995 12:05:52 EST

Tim Altom wrote a very powerful reply to Bonni Graham.

One of Tim's statements inspires me to reply.
> I would suggest, in fact, that rather than polling tech writers
> about certification, we poll employers and clients to see if a
> certificate would mean anything to THEM. They're the reason
> we're here, after all.

I am a manager of technical writers and an STC member. I favor certification
if it can properly identify those who have attained a basic level of
writing skills. I need to know if a writer can:
- spell (I've met a few who rely on spell checkers!)
- use proper grammer
- organize thoughts logically
- write task oriented procedures
- research (knowing what questions to ask is important)

There is probably more to add to this list, but it hasn't popped into my
head just yet.

Writing samples and interviews do NOT always tell the whole story. Many times
I've seen the same writing sample from different writers. They both happened
to work on the same project and quizzing them both about who wrote what is
not a skill I'm sharp on. Undoubtably one (if not both) of them is lying, but
I'm not a judge.

Even in relatively simple cases one can be deceived. A good writing sample may
only show that the writer had a good editor! Earlier this year I let go a
writer who never improved her writing skills, even after some considerable
amount of editing on my part. She continued to make the same mistakes as she
did when she first started. She can show samples of her "writing" to others
to get a job, but she cannot reproduce that writing - she hasn't the skill.

An independant test could serve to identify those who posess the basic skills.
Lack of a certificate does not mean that someone doesn't posess the skills,
just that they are untested.

If I could be certain that the test is effective, then as an employer I would
then look more favorably on a certified tech writer than an uncertified one.
It satsifies one of the many criteria I need to see in a candidate to make a
hiring decision.

I like the method used for auto mechanics. I know several mechanics who are
ASE certified.... It is NOT an easy test. ASE mechanics are not common. Look
in the yellow pages to see how many repair shops boast of ASE certification.
Not many. Knowing how difficult it is to pass, I seek out ASE shops for the
repairs on my cars.

If tech writers had a similar certification, then employers and agencies
would learn to trust our certificates too.

As writers we need to police ourselves. Too many companies do not know how
to interview tech writers (case in point: my new employer. No one asked to
see my writing sample! When I offered it to each interviewer, they each
declined to read it, saying that someone else would do that!). They end up
with writers who failed out of other companies. Not until they get serious
complaints do they realize their writer has poor skills.

It is not enough to believe poor writers will quickly get fired as soon as
their lack of talents are discovered, and by that process we rid ourselves
of the chaff. I've seen resumes and writing samples from these writers,
and many of them have 8+ years of experience. They get hired by desperate
project managers and don't get released until the project ends or a better
writer shows up who will work for the same money. It is writers like these
who give our profession a bad name. Not only do I not want to hire them, I
do not want their lack of talents affecting my chosen profession's reputation.

If certification can effectively identify those who posess basic writing
skills (basic for tech writers, that is!), then I favor certification.

Of course _*designing*_ such a test is a massive challenge. But that's
a different topic!

--- John Bell
Documentation Manager, TELE-TV
jbell -at- tele-tv -dot- com

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