Certified Professional Technical Communicator: The Foundation Exam and Its Nine Areas of Competency

By Craig Baehr | Associate Fellow


The Foundation level of STC's professional certification addresses key terminology, facts, concepts, and techniques in nine areas of disciplinary expertise. These areas encompass a broad range of processes, practices, strategies, and roles that comprise the work of technical communicators and teams they serve on and manage. Foundation-level professional certification in technical communication is designed for entry-level individuals who are involved in technical communication and informational projects or products, who possess working knowledge of the key principles of the profession, and who understand the basic terminology used and theories behind specific practices.

Foundation certification is required to progress to higher tiers. Practitioner and Expert-level certifications will be available in the future.

What are the nine areas?

The nine areas of professional certification in technical communication include: project planning, project analysis, content development, organizational design, written communication, visual communication, reviewing and editing, content management, and production and delivery.

How were they created?

These certification categories build on the previous research and work of task forces and committees, including the STC Certification Commission. The effort included a comprehensive review of the Technical Communication Body of Knowledge (TCBOK) content to determine areas of expertise within the profession. As a collective and collaborative knowledge resource drawing from nearly 600 content topics, it represents a breadth of technical communication knowledge.

A job task analysis survey of STC members was also developed and conducted by an external entity to reach a broader profile of professionals in technical communication. Drawing from the results of the TCBOK comprehensive content review, the survey asked participants to rank the importance of knowledge, skills, and abilities related to process management, researching, design, development, review, and production. It also focused on tasks, importance, and frequencies related to their job responsibilities and knowledge of the profession.

In addition, several panels of subject matter experts were involved throughout the process tasked with the responsibility to review and comment on content related to the nine categories. As a final task, a group of subject matter experts were involved with updating and writing objectives for each category.

What does each area measure?
Project Planning

Project planning focuses on the work involved in planning and managing technical communication work teams and documents through a lifecycle process. It includes process planning, goal setting, progress tracking, and strategic planning activities.

Project Analysis

Project analysis involves the work of identifying readers and document contexts, including the development of reader profiles. This includes identifying types of audiences, users, readers, and their preferences regarding document use and readability. It also focuses on the analysis of document contexts, including working in global contexts and rhetorical situations.

Content Development

This category focuses on the development of content and technical information products. It addresses technical genres, their content, and use, including: memos, technical descriptions and specifications, instructional content, proposals, activity or status reports, and analytical reports. It also focuses on researching, including finding source materials, defining the scope of research questions and methods, and documenting sources and intellectual property concerns.

Organizational Design

Organizational design focuses on guidelines and techniques for organizing and drafting technical documents. It covers organizational patterns and rhetorical moves for introductions and conclusions to technical reports, as well as patterns for specific technical genres including memos, technical descriptions and specifications, instructional content, proposals, activity or status reports, and analytical reports.

Written Communication

Written communication covers general guidelines for composing content and communicating in written and electronic forms. It covers writing style, persuasion, tone, and general readability. It includes techniques for writing sentences and paragraphs for both print and electronic documents, and in global contexts.

Visual Communication

This area focuses on general visual communication principles and practices, including using graphics, data displays and other kinds of information graphics, such as bar charts, line graphics, tables, pie charts, flow charts, etc. It covers the use of design principles, such as balance, alignment, grouping, consistency, and contrast. It also addresses the use of visual information and related technologies when giving presentations.

Reviewing and Editing

This category addresses reviewing and editing processes and guidelines, and general usability. It encompasses the various levels of editing, including revising, substantive editing, copyediting, and proofreading. Additionally, it covers common grammatical and mechanical errors.

Content Management

This area focuses on managing content of information products, as well as the management of information development teams. It addresses Web content development, including the basic features of Web sites and general guidelines for developing Web-based content. It also covers the uses of social networks, wikis, blogs, microblogs, videos, and podcasts in working settings. From a teaming standpoint, it covers the roles and practices for managing content and roles across a work team.

Production and Delivery

This category focuses on the production and delivery of information products, specifically how project outcomes relate to and inform the development of final production deliverables. It also addresses the importance of setting objectives for final deliverables and using them to measure effectiveness and outcomes of technical information products.

What is the exam format?

The Foundation-level Certified Professional Technical Communicator exam covers each of the nine areas and is based on content from the 5th edition of Technical Communication Today, by Richard Johnson-Sheehan (www.mypearsonstore.com, ISBN–10:0134419391). Additionally, the Technical Communication Body of Knowledge (TCBOK) content (www.tcbok.org) is an informative secondary source for the exam.

The purpose of the Foundation qualification is to measure whether a candidate has sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the technical communication text to act as an informed member of a technical writing or a technical communication team within their professional work or in their organization.

The Foundation exam format is:

  • 40 minutes
  • 50 multiple choice questions
  • 70% pass mark
  • Closed book
What are the continuing education requirements?

Continuing education requirements include a wide range of STC-related activities, including attending STC Summit sessions, webinars, and other educational offerings, as well as successful completion of college accredited courses related specifically to technical communication.

Currently, continuing education points may be obtained the following ways:


As the Foundation program matures, this list will expand to include other activities including non-STC activities hosted by other associations or institutions.

Further Information

You can register to take the Foundation-level Certified Professional Technical Communicator exam by visiting STC's website at www.stc.org/education/certification/certification-main. STC members can sit the exam at a discounted price by entering their valid STC member ID at the time of registering for the exam. If you have additional questions about the exam or STC's certification, please visit www.stc.org/education/certification/certification-main or email stc@stc.org.

CRAIG BAEHR (craig.baehr@ttu.edu) is an STC Associate Fellow and professor of technical communication at Texas Tech University. He serves as Director-at-Large for the STC Board of Directors and Chief Examiner for the Certified Professional Technical Communicator program. He also serves as chair of the Technical Communication Body of Knowledge committee and faculty sponsor for the STC Texas Tech University Student Chapter. He is author of Web Development: A Visual-Spatial Approach, Writing for the Internet: A Guide to Real Communication in Virtual Space, and The Agile Communicator. Previously, he worked as a technical writer and trainer for 10 years for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

1 Comment

  • A warning — the book has no binding and two-holes that do not match anything in the office supply store. Other than that it’s a well-written book.

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