TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Bill DuBay wrote:
> The primary reason for certification is to enable members of the profession
> to define who they are, what are the skills that make them unique, what
> contributions they make to industry, etc.
The primary reason for certification is to enable OTHERS to trust the
certificate-holders' assertion that he/she has some special competency.
A certificate has no intrinsic value to the holder; its value comes from
OTHERS recognizing that it has value. In other words, it's a market
Some professions have exams. Doctors get a license to practice medicine
based on a program that involves formal schooling and years of
experience in various programs that might loosely be categorized as
internships. Lawyers get a 'license' to practice law by passing the
bar. Accountants get a 'license' to interpret tax codes by passing the
exams required for the CPA designation. In California, psychology
majors get a license to do counselling by a state-endorsed combination
of academic work and internship, and realtors have to take some classes
and pass a test. However, plumbers and electricians get their 'license'
only after a trade-certified program, and nobody has called them
People who do technical writing do work that varies highly, ranging from
ultratechnical specs, testing plans, API inteface explanations, etc. to
user docs for consumer goods to marcom to training materials to online
Help files. There is no way a single exam could "certify" one's ability
to perform well in any one of these specialties, yet the idea of
"certifying" technical writers assumes that a single program would make
the market safe for those taking the exam. Balderdash!
> Without that identification of what the skills are and the ability to
> decide who has those skills, there is no profession.
Again, I disagree. Where there is consumer risk, government steps in
with licensing procedures. Note, for instance, that you can't get a
license to teach in most states without completing certain coursework.
However, in most of these states there is no exam for becoming a teacher
- surely, if there were, you'd flunk if you couldn't spell, and there
are far, far too many examples out there of teachers who consistently
can't spell (and THEY don't have/use spellcheckers the way we do!).
It used to be a matter of consensus that if you had a BA or BS, you knew
more than the average bear, and therefore were worth more on the
market. These days, a BA or BS can mean just that you put in your time
and paid tuition, not that you got 'educated' in the process. About the
best that can be said for a BA or BS these days is that it starts you
out, in general, on a rung higher than those without the degree. But it
doesn't confer any particular 'certification' status on you any more.
I am - and have been for a long time - a professional writer. I don't
have to point to any certificate to justify that. I have a list of
former clients on my resume that can be contacted to verify that,
indeed, I did what I said I did. I also happen to have a long list of
published books that can be verified by checking Books In Print, or by
looking at my own copies. That stack alone qualifies me as a
"professional writer," by most market standards. But there's no exam I
could have passed, no educational program I could have taken, no
licensing procedure I could have suffered through to dub me a
'professional' at what I do. Yet the market recognizes me as a
professional without any such certificate on my wall.
Let's revisit the whole concept of just why the market would value
certification. First off, if you say you're better than the average
writer, and you are using this assertion to make the case that someone
should hire you over someone else, or pay you more, then you're going to
need to prove that there is a greater demand for people with your skills
than for those with fewer skills. This demand is strictly a market
function, not a function of what some academic program deems necessary.
Secondly, if you passed an exam of certain skills two (or more) years
ago, and the demand for familiarity with tools has changed in the
subsequent time, what good is the fact that you passed that exam?
(Think, for instance, about knowing how to construct online Help, or how
to create web pages - neither of those skills was common three years
I remain vigorously opposed to certification efforts by STC. I flatly
reject any notion that STC is a recognized arbiter of technical writing
skills, or that it has any right to set itself up as a professional
judge of same. It does NOT represent the technical writers of the
world, and that can be easily demonstrated by a quick look at the
proportion of STC members who are working writers vs. the estimated
number of technical writers in the world. The most charitable view is
that STC is a group of wannabes and academicians who have formed a
self-help group in the hope of improving their status. The notion that
this group is a source of reliable judgments about what constitutes high
quality professional writing is truly a sick joke, in my opinion.