Subject: Certification
From: Melissa Hunter-Kilmer <mhunterk -at- BNA -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 5 Jan 1996 13:45:17 EST

On Thu, 4 Jan 1996, Karen Mayer wrote:

> My observation is that most of the professions that require
> certification are those in which an unqualified person practicing in
> that profession could potentially cause harm to others: doctors,
> lawyers, teachers, etc. Even mechanics could endanger lives if they
> didn't really know what they were doing, perhaps to a lesser extent than
> doctors, but still.

First off, these professions require regulation as well as certification. In
other words, the state takes an active role in saying who can work as a doctor
and who can't. Regulation is very different from plain old voluntary
certification, which would not prevent any employer from hiring a non-certified
worker. I am not sure that certification would do anything other than give
those of us who are certifiable a piece of paper, suitable for framing and maybe
not much else. Lots of employers either wouldn't care about certification or
care only about hiring employees who would work for less -- probably without the
piece of paper.

Second off, if we _were_ regulated by the states (which I think will happen on
some Feb. 31 in Clinton's sixth term), what would that mean for us? Let's start
a list of regulated professionals and see what they have in common. I think
we'll find that we just don't fit the pattern. Here's a start:


It's practically impossible to become one of these professionals without having
gone to medical school, nursing school, or law school or having a degree in
accounting. But those of us on this list demonstrate that you don't have to
have a degree in TW to be a tech writer. (For example, I majored in Greek and
religion. The Greek has come in very handy.) IMO, on-the-job training is still
the most important step in the making of a tech writer. And where this is true,
it becomes harder to regulate. It doesn't work to require a degree in TW, so
that shoots that requirement.

These professionals also take a certification exam. Okay, we've kicked that
around. But we can't agree on what should be on the test. Different tech
writers document different things, and we work with different tools in different
environments. We weren't all trained to be general tech writers and then
specialized, as happened with the aforementioned professionals.

That leaves experience. Some states require some work experience before a
professional can be certified. (Some don't.) If we want certification at all,
maybe we need to work on a two-tier plan: a tier for apprentices, recent grads,
and those in career transition, and a tier for more experienced tech writers.

What do y'all think?

Melissa Hunter-Kilmer
mhunterk -at- bna -dot- com
(standard disclaimer)

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