Re: Certification (long)

Subject: Re: Certification (long)
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 27 Dec 1995 14:05:21 -0800

If lack of certification became an obstacle in my career path,
I'd become certified. But I'm somewhat skeptical about the
certification process in general.

The STC is currently attempting to define the role of a technical
writer/communicator. How can we certify that a person is competent
to hold a position that we're not yet capable of defining? I wonder.

John Bell proposed the following minimum skill testing:
> - 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)

I'm not sure that competency in the areas mentioned above would
ensure that the certificate holder was a competent technical
communicator. Spelling, IMHO, isn't quite as important as the
ability to address multiple learning styles effectively.

The ability to use proper grammer, certainly, is important -- but
a manual could, in theory, be written in grammatically correct
third person passive voice and do a miserable job of communicating
the information to the target audience.

Writing task-oriented procedures is important, OK... But how?
Take a minimalist approach? What if I were to modularize the
information and provide few, if any, procedural steps? Would
you not certify me on that basis?

And although "organize thoughts logically" may sound like a
given, who would provide the logical model? Me, a woman who
stores grease pencils in the desk because they are for writing,
or my husband, who stores grease pencils in the tool drawer because
they're obviously a marking tool?

I'm sorry, John. I don't mean to single you out, and there is no
flame intended toward you or your ideas. They're a valid starting
point, certainly. But the certification criteria is not that easily

Even if we *could* easily define certification criteria (and I don't
think we can), I don't think we really have a handle yet on *why*
certification is important (if, indeed, it is).

Some say that certification would legitimize the profession in the
eyes of hiring managers. I dunno if this would ever happen, certification
or not. Those that believe that "anyone can write, after all, it's only
English" won't be swayed by a certificate. If anything, it'll give them
the edge they need to hire non-certified writers and pay them less.
Certification won't mean much to those who already value our

Some say that it would distinguish those who are the best in our
profession. The best writers? Or the best at taking tests???

Some feel that certification will be the magic word that gets them
professional respect, or gets respect for the profession in the job
market. But there are no magic words, and there are no shortcuts.
The only way to get the respect we want is to earn it -- to make
each product that we work on a little better than it would have
been without us.

Before we decide whether or not certification is a *good thing*
for us, we need to first decide what we are trying to certify and
why. I'll bet we realize that certification isn't a magic *anything*.
I'll bet we'll realize that we really don't need it. And I'll bet
we'll realize that it won't do for us what we hope it will.

Just a thought...

Sue Gallagher
Expersoft Corporation
San Diego, CA
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com

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