certification and the profession

Subject: certification and the profession
From: "James M.Lockard" <norton -at- MCS -dot- NET>
Date: Sun, 7 Jan 1996 21:39:58 -0600

Tech Writers,

I've noticed a few posts about certification that show what I believe is a
flawed notion of what it means to be a technial writer. Although I've
already deleted the posts, the common question between them was, "How is a
certification test going to test my ability to write about the software or
hardware or what ever?" This question, and those similar to it, demonstrate
a misconception about what a technical writer does.

Similarly, in Intercom a recent letter to the editor made the same error.
Nicholas Klasovsky writes, "Good manuals are written by _technical_
writers, not technical _writers_." Klasovsky also suggests quite directly
that technical writers without "adequate technical knowledge" cannot write
good manuals. Hogwash.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't mean to say that a technical writer doesn't
need to understand the product and its technology. A technical writer needs
to understand the subject matter at the same level the intended audience,
but only as it applies to the specific product the manual supports.

A good technical writer communicates technically complex information using
terminology and style appropriate for the target audience. That is the
essence of the profession. To say a writer needs a computer science degree
to write about a program or programming is ridiculous. Likewise, to say a
technical writer who writes about hardware cannot write about software is
nonsense. Clearly, a certification test would test your skills as a
technical writer, not your technical knowledge. The test would ostensibly
be certifying your skills as a writer, not as a technician.

James Lockard
norton -at- mcs -dot- net

"I love being a writer--what I can't stand is the paperwork."
--Paul De Vreis--


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