How Times Have Not Changed

Subject: How Times Have Not Changed
From: Glen Strom <gjstrom -at- MYNA -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 14:04:25 -0500

I'd like to bring a different perspective to the
discussion about certification.

I'm just getting into the technical writing
field. I'm moving over from records management
(if you're not sure what that is you're part of
a large group). I've been struck by some
uncomfortable and disturbing parallels between
the two areas:

- Tech writers argue over the need for
certification; records managers have argued over
this point for years, too.
- Tech writers complain about employers who
don't understand what they (tw's) do ("oh, you
type up engineering notes, right?"); records
managers complain about employers who don't
understand what they (rm's) do ("oh, you do
filing, right?")
- Tech writers think they don't get much
respect; records managers think they don't get
much respect.

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture.
I'll make my point before Eric leaps to his feet
(causing papers and pussycats to scatter in all
directions), points at his computer and screams
in his best Dustin Hoffman impression, "You're
out of order! You're out of order!" (just
kidding Eric).

I'm not sure how healthy records management is
in the US, but here in Canada it's pretty much a
dead issue. The jobs have dried up due to
government and corporate cutbacks; there's
little chance of a comeback. This is due in part
to the perception that records management is not
a real "profession" (any clerk or secretary can
do it) and it can be cut out with little or no
loss to an organization.

I have a real fear that technical writing could
easily go down the same path. Sure, there are
jobs out there now, but that was true of records
management years ago. The inability of RM to
present itself to employers as a relevant
profession (emphasis on profession), capable of
keeping up with change, finished it off.

I'm not saying certification is the answer. In
fact, I'm not sure what the "right" answer is. I
do believe this. Forward motion is everything.

When a satellite follows the same path too long
its orbit decays. The same can be said for a
person. Or a profession. What doesn't develop,
atrophies. Records management didn't develop.
Those people have been debating this stuff for
20 years. They've become irrelevant in today's
business world, but they're arguing too much to

I don't mean their skills are irrelevant--far
from it. Those skills are needed more than ever
in the information age. The people themselves
are irrelevant, and not because they aren't
smart enough to learn new technologies and
techniques. It's because they can't convince
employers that records managers are serious
professionals with highly developed, value-
adding skills.

Do you know what's ironic? I keep hearing tech
writers talk about how document management has
become an important part of their jobs. Guess
who used to be responsible for document

Here's a point to ponder. I let my membership in
ARMA, the RM association, expire about 2 years
ago. This is something I saw in the last issue
of the newsletter that I received.

After so many years of talk, talk, and more
talk, they made a decision to do something--they
hired an outside consultant to do a 5 year study
on the direction of records management.

I sincerely hope that what happens in technical
writing won't turn out to be "deja vu all over

Glen Strom
gjstrom -at- myna -dot- com

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