Re: Degree, certification, education clarification

Subject: Re: Degree, certification, education clarification
From: David Hailey <dhailey -at- ENGLISH -dot- USU -dot- EDU>
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 1998 10:10:12 -0700

I recently received email from an ex-student who worried that if I am so
down on Technical Writing education, why bother teaching it? (Actually, I
think her concern was why bother taking it?) My concern is not with
technical writing education but (as always) with technical writing education
that is so inadequate that our students go out and immediately drown in a
morass of technology--embarrassing themselves and their educators.

Not all colleges are guilty of graduating students like this, but clearly
enough do to give many employers a bad taste in their collective mouths when
somebody mentions a technical communications degree. Want a little proof?
Since my first posting on this topic about a week-and-a-half ago, we have
seen six or seven job postings on this list. Not one of them mentioned TW
education. Although statistically, the demand for TW education is down to
6%, I have seen whole months go by with no request for the degree at all.

Stan green points to the result of this problem with his statement, "I
believe that Technical Communications is a profession not a trade. I believe
a technical Communicator is as valuable to a corporation as and Engineer, or
Accountant; therefore, should be treated accordingly and also have core
prerequisite skills just like any other recognized profession. " I agree
with Stan. Professionally, technical communicators are often, if not
usually, working managers, but they are increasingly seen as staff writers.
Statistically, technical communications is moving away from being seen as a
profession. I lay the blame for that squarely at the doors of the colleges
that are turning out the unprepared students.

When a graduate (or non-graduate) with some C++ or Java programming is seen
as more valuable as a technical writer than a trained college graduate,
there is surely a problem with the education of the TW graduate.

Bad colleges are not universal, however. There are outstanding technical
writing programs around. You can tell them because industry is knocking
down their doors to interview their students. Our students begin
interviewing with major corporations in November for jobs they will fill in
June. We have three or four students going to on-site interviews at IBM
Boulder over the Christmas break. The same thing is true of schools such as
RPI, the University of Washington, Washington State University, New Mexico
State, Texas Tech, Michigan Tech, and a hand-full (but only a hand-full)of
others. These colleges turn out students that industry does see as

This is, I believe the core of the problem Stan points to. To be seen as
professionals, we must be seen as more than technicians. To be seen as
equivilant to engineers, we must all eventually have equivillant educations.
To do that, we must figure out what equivillant education means.

I would like to end this with a question: Discussions of the whole person
aside, looking at your day to day jobs, what professional skills do you use,
and how might they be included in a TW curriculum? Also, if the
professional skills you are presently using were to be folded into a program
for credit (in other words, if you could be given credit for your work) how
might it be done?

Sorry for the length of this.


Dave Hailey
You can contact me off-list at fahailey -at- english -dot- usu -dot- edu

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