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A Monumental Day Dawns for Technical Communicators: Certification!

150 150 James Cameron

The Society for Technical Communication (STC) announced today that certification for the technical communication field has been approved. Within the next year, technical communicators will be able to attain certification in their profession.

Certification creates two enormous benefits for our profession and for practitioners. First, certification establishes a solid foundation for the legitimacy and economic contribution of technical communication. Second, certified practitioners can clearly demonstrate their expertise as technical communicators, greatly enhancing their value in the marketplace.

Practitioners will become certified in six core competency areas:

• User analysis
• Document design
• Project management
• Authoring (content creation)
• Delivery
• Quality assurance

As a result, employers and clients alike will now have a concrete idea of the expertise, contribution, and value that technical communicators bring to the marketplace. STC is developing a page on its website dedicated to promoting certification and explaining the value of certified technical communicators.

Two days ago, on 30 April, the STC Board of Directors accepted a business case from its Certification Task Force. This historic event occurred after 35 years of ongoing and difficult discussion. The Society has embraced the idea of certification for technical communicators, and in the coming months will be developing a certification program.

Certification will be based on assessing portfolios and work artifacts, not examinations. (In other words, there are no tests.) This method takes advantage of the existing methodology and infrastructure of both the publications competitions and the Associate Fellow and Fellow process. To implement the program, STC is defining assessment criteria for each of these six competency areas, then recruiting a network of examiners to review applications. In the future, as the Body of Knowledge is fleshed out, STC will look at adding an exam-based assessment as another certification method.

Once conferred, certification will be valid for three years. To ensure that competencies are kept relevant, certified professionals must become recertified for another three years. As with many other professions, recertification involves completing and participating in educational and professional activities. STC currently has a number of these opportunities available, and will be creating more in the upcoming year.

Member and nonmember certification and recertification fess are still being developed; however, these fees will be comparable to certification programs of similar associations.

To learn more, attend the “Status of Certification for Technical Communicators” session Wednesday morning, 5 May, at 11:30 AM in Cumberland KL during STC’s Summit in Dallas, Texas. The Certification Task Force will report on its process, progress, and future. You can also expect to hear much more about certification in the coming weeks!

  • This is monumental news, Steve. After 30-plus years of kicking the tires, STC has taken a definitive step toward a certification program. This has the potential to change our profession and the Society in profound ways.

    In the mid 1990s I led an extensive study of certification within STC. There were some strong emotions on both sides. But in the end, frankly, the STC board at that time didn’t have the will to move forward.

    From the ’90s to today, three key things have changed:

    1) STC is formulating a Body of Knowledge for technical communication — essential to any kind of credentialing program.

    2) The new certification program is portfolio-based rather than exam-based. We really foundered in the ’90s on the question of “What would be on the test?”

    3) Our profession and our people are at greater risk than ever of being devalued. Certification will assert our value in a way that has meaning to the people who employ us.

    This is good news for STC members. Congratulations, Steve: I know how hard you worked on this, and that this is the culmination of years of effort. Yet as you understand very well, it’s also just a beginning.

  • This is a great first step, though the categories do need further definition. I feel that this program has been a long time coming and that it shores up the business proposition of belonging to STC. It’ll be interesting to see the details.

  • Certification per se will only become relevant when hiring managers both understand what skills are represented by the certification and trust that the skills are, in fact, held by the practitioner.

  • Michael Hughes May 4, 2010 at 5:11 AM

    Walter’s comment is to the point. The motivation for someone to get certified is the expectation that it will influence employers’ choices. A certification program, therefore, becomes a power element in a strategy of “telling our powerful story” because it helps define what technical communicators do that differentiates us as professionals. One important message we will be taking to employers about certification is that it lowers their risk when hiring technical communicators by giving them a credential they can look for to differentiate true professionals from those who think they are technical communicators because they “have a knack for writing.” It also gives the technical communicator a new way to tell that story to potential employers during the interview.

  • Congratulations to the Board for making this happen. Certification was always at the top of the list at our annual conferences. Certification will add credibility to membership to the STC and to our profession.

  • Well, the sooner we get certification up and running, the sooner we can start to earn employers’ understanding and trust.

  • Love it! Looking forward to hearing more as I am not attending the conference this year.
    Thus, I assume information will be posted online somewhere. Link please?

    What/where are the indexing components?

    Thank you, STC!

  • Does the Certification comply with the ISO 26514 standard?:

    • Charso, ISO 26514 is a standard for documents. We will be certifying practitioners. But I would expect the two to be compatible.

      • Actually, Steve, ISO 26514 describes a process for developing and designing software user documentation as well as describing the minimum specifications for structure, information content, and format of such documents. As such, it would seem to be a great tool for the certification process to use in examining portfolios containing software user documentation.

        One question I have, though, is how the evaluators will be able to reconstruct processes such as user analysis and project management from the artifacts in a portfolio submitted for assessment unless applicants would need to provide all of the project documentation (document plan, test plans, project Gannt charts, etc.) along with the final deliverables. What if the individual submitting the portfolio for assessment isn’t responsible for any or all of those processes (certainly the case in larger shops)?

        I salute the Board of Directors for finally taking positive action on this matter, but I imagine that there are a lot of details that will need to be resolved to make the process work.

        • George, certainly the portfolio would include not just final deliverables, but working artifacts or discussions that addressed how things like user analysis, project management, etc were done. I believe that all communicators take part to some degree in all of the domains listed, and the evaluation criteria will have to have guidelines for minimal involvement. Devilish details, but workable.

    • Lots of overlap at the process level, e.g., user analysis, document design, project management, etc.. The standard goes into greater detail of documentation design than we list in our process domains, but those would be covered in the evaluation of deliverables.

  • Joe M Christensen May 7, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    The STC has needed this for years. So kudos on the move!

    However, I am not sure if I like the term “User Analysis.” The wording itself fails to capture the first step of any technical communications project. It is too narrow in its scope.

    The first point should be “Project Analysis.” As technical communicators, we should understand our audience. But each of us should demonstrate the ability to analyze the physical environment, technological opportunities and limitations, budget limitations, etc. during the initial analysis of a project.

    How can a technical communicator complete any other steps (show competency in the other core areas) if we don’t understand all of the environmental factors that impact the dissemination of our technical content?

  • Both Walter and Mike hit on a very important part of this process. I worked for a company – a major telecoms supplier – that has never acknowledged the existence of a technical communicator profession. They have never hired a single technical writer as a salaried staff member – only managers and production people. All writers are contractors, and they have dismembered more than one technical communication service. The mere existence of a certification programme will help raise our visibility, but with this kind of company, we will need to be more proactive to help them understand the added value they get from a proper technical communication policy and implementation.

    Related to this is the case of certain countries (Spain and Portugal come to mind immediately) where the profession of technical writer or communicator is not even recognized as existing in the repertoire of professions. This is sometimes because these countries have little R&D activity, but there are, nonetheless, people doing the job, without guidance for salaries or job descriptions.

  • Sign me up! I have confidence in a certification program from STC more so than finding one in an online ad. I am sure that employers who are unaware of technical communication will be impressed once they google STC once seen on a resume.

  • Jason Langkamer-Smith May 14, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    Training? Technical communicators develop training materials as well as documentation. Shouldn’t training be included with the core competency areas?

  • Good point, Jason. “Document” and “documentation” are meant in the broadest sense of any communication deliverable. Training deliverables, such as courses, instructional videos, etc., would come under the same review as manuals, web sites, or any other artifact we produce. Trainers have the ISD and ADDIE models which overlay nicely with the process domains we have identified in the certification, so communicators developing training should have no problem meeting the certification criteria.

  • So, anyone who has a portfolio gets to be certified? In other words, anyone who has ever held a job. No counting those who have worked in pharma or defense because they often can’t show you their portfolios.


    • Andy, anyone who meets the requirements, pays the application fee, and submits a portfolio and work artifacts can be evaluated. That doesn’t mean they’ll get certified.

  • Annette Reilly May 17, 2010 at 5:43 PM

    The most closely related standard for STC’s new certification project is ISO/IEC 24773:2008, Software engineering — Certification of software engineering professionals — Comparison framework. This sets up a structure for what certification programs (schemes, in ISO-speak) should include. Possible modes of evaluation include examination, referee reports, interview, and employer assessment. This International Standard refines and supplements the processes for certification of individuals included in ISO/IEC 17024:2003, Conformity Assessment – General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons.
    Following is the partial TOC of ISO/IEC 24773:2008 for comparison
    4Requirements for a Certification Scheme
    5Knowledge and skills
    5.1 Body of knowledge
    5.1.1 Software engineering body of knowledge
    5.1.2 Other technical knowledge requirements
    5.1.3 Knowledge of appropriate standards
    5.1.4 Domain knowledge
    5.2 Cognitive levels
    5.3 Skills
    5.3.1 Software engineering skills
    5.3.2 Generic professional skills
    5.4 Performance levels
    6 Evaluation of competence
    7 Delegation
    8 Code of ethics and professional practice
    9 Maintenance of certification
    9.1 Renewal of certification
    9.2 Continuing professional development

  • The Phantom Writer May 17, 2010 at 5:48 PM

    So, in practical terms: they’re a) certifying the existence of your portfolio and b) probably going to turn this into a money making exercise. This isn’t really a certification program at all, it’s a “Check to see if the applicant has a heartbeat and any money in his wallet” program.

    • Phantom, we’re not talking about the same kind of portfolio you would take on a job interview. Perhaps we should change the terminology so more people don’t make the same mistake.

      • Steven, so exactly what kind of protfolio are we talking about?
        And yes, we should always clearly say what we mean, especially since we are an organization whose key role is ‘communication’. You really can’t fault people and accuse them of making mistakes just because the original message is not clear enough to say what you mean.

      • Technical Writer June 11, 2010 at 1:41 PM

        Every technical writer position I have obtained in 23 years was the result of my writing samples, after I convinced employers that I cannot show them my complete portfolio of documentation (due to non-disclosure agreements). These were six figure jobs starting in the 1990’s and so at least no me these positions represent the “gold standard.”

        My point is that if my complete portfolio of documentation as a technical writer over the course of 23 years consists of proprietary documentation, then is it permitted within my non-disclosure agreements for me to provide the STC with this documentation in order to evaluate it. (That question is based on the assumption that I would admit to saving my documentation in the first place, you know, for posterity’s sake.)

        One boilerplate answer you could give is “I would recommend you hire an attorney to answer that question.” Suppose I shelled out a few hundred dollars, and that attorney said “No”? Then what?

        My portfolio is out there in major corporations. I signed non-disclosure agreements. And I’m not supposed to even admit saving that portfolio to create “writing samples.” In hindsight (such a wonderful thing) I would have said years ago, “The STC is going to one day certify communicators based on their portfolios, so I better get permission from my employers to save my documentation and present it to the STC at some future date” (and then figure how to answer the director of engineering who asks sarcastically, “How do you even know the STC is going to one day certify its people? Shouldn’t you cross that bridge when you get to it?”).

        Well, I have arrived at the bridge, and I’m ready to cross it now. I’m asking you: Do these circumstances (pesky non-disclosure agreements and legal issues) prevent me from getting certified with the STC if I refuse to break my non-disclosure agreements?

        • “…is it permitted within my non-disclosure agreements for me to provide the STC with this documentation in order to evaluate it.”

          NO! Have you actually ever closely read the non-disclosure agreements you’ve signed?

          And if your work has been for the military or ANY enterprise that does business with and creates products for them, you are asking for very serious trouble if you get caught with such documentation. This is even if you actually wrote it. Hi Tech corporations whose proprietary documentation you may be carting around in your sample package would also probably be none too please either.

        • I direct you to the response I posted on May 18 at 11:30 am: “[T]the certification plan already involves an alternate path for practitioners who cannot produce a portfolio demonstrating skills in a given area.”

  • With excitement, I opened this webpage, only to be disappointed in the competency areas, which I’m sure will evolve as this idea develops. Seeing an editing-related competency area would surely be of benefit to editors and those that employ (and need to employ) editors. As a freelance editor and writer, being “certified” would sit well with existing and prospective clients. Also, this would be one of the easiest areas to assess, as a good editor can easily be distinguished from a mediocre editor by edited samples and competency testing. Alas, this certification doesn’t exist–a certified editor is but a dream…

  • Re: “Certification will be based on assessing portfolios and work artifacts, not examinations.”

    Please do not take the comments that follow as negativity. They are/will be very valid concerns for a fair portion of the membership.
    For those of us, like myself who has worked for close to two decades in fields and industries (military, aerospace, pharmaceutical, medical research, etc.), which DO NOT produce a document that is freely available to the general public, how do you propose to evaluate our work and certify us? Submitting a little book with our name in the credits as author/editor/etc. is completely impossible. More often than not, we sign non-disclosure agreements and the documents we produce have very clear legal disclaimers that they cannot be shared willy-nilly. And please don’t suggest that if we asked nicely… For example, I really do not foresee Bombardier agreeing to send me copies of the 100+ Service Bulletins I worked on in the last few years so that I can submit them for evaluation by a committee. Not unless you guys buy one of their jets that is!

    • Poppy, let me turn the question back on you. How can you get hired anywhere without a portfolio? Is there any other way you can demonstrate your competency?

      • Hi Steve,
        I understand the point of your question, but it does seem to minimize the larger issue that Poppy is referring to. Many professional writers work on classified material and cannot share our work even with people in our own organizations. This is very common, particularly in the D.C. metro area where I’ve worked as a writer and a hiring manager. Routinely, job seekers cannot share a portfolio. Because of this, we created writing assessments that we can give candidates as part of our interview process. While those alone are not used to determine someone’s competency, they do give us a lot of insight into their skill.

        Unfortunately, I believe that a certification process that relies solely on a portfolio excludes quite a large number of quality writers and erroneously identifies them as lacking the skills recognized by the profession and the marketplace. I’m hoping the committee rethinks this approach and finds a balance that appropriately accounts for all of its members.

        • Willis, your concern is well founded, and the certification plan already involves an alternate path for practitioners who cannot produce a portfolio demonstrating skills in a given area. In fact, we have in mind something fairly similar to what you deascribe.

          If you would contact me off line, we could discuss your assignment model. We can always use good examples!

      • Steve Jong asked, “How can you get hired anywhere without a portfolio?”

        Steve, I have never used a portfolio and I have never been between jobs longer than a few weeks (and even those weeks have often been filled up with freelance stuff). Without a portfolio, the way to demonstrate competency is not only through the actual work you have done (the final, static product) but also through the relationships you have built with others through teamwork, collaboration, analysis, etc. It is through the opinions and perceptions of the people you have worked with and/or for that a true reputation of the work and the worker is built. Thus, it is often people you have previously worked for/with who seek further collaboration.

      • Technical Writer June 11, 2010 at 1:48 PM

        Steven, let me turn the question back on you. How can you get hired anywhere if you get a reputation of breaking non-disclosure agreements that expressly forbids you from showing proprietary documentation to others? That is why in my neck of the woods called silicon valley, technical writers create “writing samples” from their portfolios to show prospective employers. (They pay big money in these parts for technical writers trustworthy enough to create documentation from proprietary intellectual property owned by venture capitalists, angel investors and rich housewives.)

        Now I’m not saying it’s not worth risking throwing it all away for a chance to get STC certified. 😉

  • At last! Certification – or some semblance of consensus on the identification and measurement of a cohesive set of technical and writing skills – is something that we’ve needed for many years.

    Portfolio-based certification is good for those who have a few years of experience and can release their work for evaluation. What is needed in parallel is a program of self-study (or a teaching curriculum) for entering the field. Junior and Intermediate-level is where I think certification will be needed most.

    I don’t think most senior technical writers should worry about certification. Sure, it would be nice to have a certificate on the wall saying we’re qualified to do the work we’ve been doing for decades. But I think hiring employers should be capable of assessing our experience and portfolios when we apply for senior positions. If not, then good luck to them hiring a “Certified” candidate with no experience at a fraction of the salary you or I might accept. The real advantage will come when we [seniors] are looking to add a Junior or an Intermediate to the team. I’d prefer a Junior who has taken the time and initiative to get certification, in a field full of people who who say “I never actually did this before, but everybody says I write good, and I heard Tech Writing pays pretty good”.

    I’m glad that STC has finally moved forward on this. I think it is a very legitimate undertaking, and I hope it will bring much-needed revenue to STC, while helping more and better-qualified new writers enter our profession.

  • Dick Miller, Associate Fellow May 17, 2010 at 7:34 PM

    Interesting idea, but I have to agree with others that the portfolio-only approach is not workable for a significant number of members. In my 40+ year career, I would guess that 95%+ of my work is either company private or military classified. How can one build a portfolio under those circumstances?

    As far as the value of certification for senior practitioners is concerned, it may be so that the value of such a person’s work may be better assessed by hiring managers in other ways, but the sad truth is that failure to hold a recognized certificate removes a candidate from consideration early in the selection process by those performing gatekeeper functions.

  • This is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough. Engineers don’t get jobs based on certification; they have degrees. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard and consider ourselves information engineers. I have a degree in tech communications and it makes a huge difference. Certification may work for the pool of people we have who learned on the job, but we must start encouraging new entrants to the field to get degrees. We must start educating employers to expecting a high level of education and training.

    And as so many people here have mentioned, all too often we cannot show the work we’ve done to anyone outside the company. This certification is going to be very difficult to give a lot of very well trained people.

  • I am in the same situation as Poppy Quintal and Dick Miller (limited material available for portolio assessment due to proprietary content), and I’ve not have trouble staying employed. It should be interesting to see what happens when resumes with “certified technical communicator” start showing up in recruiters’ inboxes.

  • Pamela, I too have had no problems finding work. In fact, I was hired for my current position eight months ago, which was pretty much during the height of this recession. I do know for a fact that my previous work references were contacted and interviewed. I would assume that is why I was hired.

    I do have a Bachelor’s degree, but not in tech. comm., however, I do not think anyone with a mere additional piece of paper but who lacked the years of proven experience that I have could have beaten me for this particular position.

    As to “It should be interesting to see what happens when resumes with “certified technical communicator” start showing up in recruiters’ inboxes.”, I think a lot would depend on how valued and respected the granting organization is. And managers and HR people are generally not slouches. They are trained to evaluate such things on specific criteria. So, has anyone on the board researched how valuable ‘certification’ solely based on portfolio review will be to these people?

    • Certification will not be awarded solely based on portfolio review, so your comment is moot. Also, managers and HR people are generally NOT trained to evaluate certifications.

      However, if you’re concerned about the value and respect of the granting organization, I don’t know of a better choice than STC.

      • Steve, how is my comment moot if this is a direct comment from the article that initiated this whole discussion?

        “Certification will be based on assessing portfolios and work artifacts, not examinations. (In other words, there are no tests.) ”

        How anyone can propose to grant certification, especially for a field as diverse as ours, WITHOUT some form of definition of requirements, planned study and examination is a bit mindboggling.

        • Your question is moot because the certification will not be based solely on portfolio review. The complete phrase, which you quoted yourself, is “portfolios and work artifacts.” (And there will be other things assessed as well that the blog entry doesn’t get into.) The work artifacts may well end up being more important than the portfolio.

          So far it seems that people assume the portfolio will be like an interview portfolio, but I doubt it will be. Another term for it might clear up the confusion.

  • JK Shuttlesworth May 18, 2010 at 2:24 AM

    I will be proud to have the STC Certification on my resume. I’ll be curious to see how this certification program evolves. I too work in industries where sending in a pdf of a product master file would break a confidentiality agreement, but it’s ok to show hard copies of writing samples during an interview. So preparing an impressive portfolio could be fairly challenging since the documents would be either unavailable or aged. I can imagine though that a certification program would include a fairly comprehensive written assessment with questions on how to scope out and design a project etc. And that these questions would be at a level of difficulty that would designate a proficiency – one that would set me apart, for instance, and make me proud to have earned it. Maybe the questions and scoring could be designed like an IQ test and the results could rank the competency level of the technical communicator.

  • Certification is certainly something I would consider and would recommend to my colleagues. In fact we, as a department, had been looking for some sort of qualification or certification we could encourage our writers to aim for, short of a Master’s level degree. (We do take on graduate technical writers, but the majority come from an IT background.)
    My concern with the portfolio is not that my work is confidential: it’s all published on the corporate website. The problem is distinguishing my work from that of my colleagues. We’re a team of eight developing and maintaining several versions of a 3-million-word information center and nothing is individually credited. Also, of course, most work is in modifying existing material rather than substantial sections of new writing.
    I’m not sure project management should be on the syllabus. There are plenty of opportunities to certify as a PM already, and one does not need to be a manager to be a good or successful technical communicator. I think we should take this opportunity to make the point that a technical communicator is a professional in his or her own right. As an expert programmer, say, can outrank his manager, so can an expert technical writer.

    • JK Shuttlesworth May 18, 2010 at 10:31 AM

      The project I was speaking of was the writing project itself. Larger writing projects often involve careful planning in order to organize the large amounts of complex technical information. This is an advanced skill and one that is developed over time when working as an independent technical writer. Imagine being given a box of documents that show the history of a product: its research and development data, manufacturing processes, requirements documents and references, marketing blurbs, etc, and having to write a 100-page summary of the product’s life cycle. This writing project will require wrapping your arms around all this information and producing a cohesive piece of technical communication. This is not project management because who, if not the technical writer, could determine the stages of this writing project? A project manager could sift through this box and break these down into smaller writing assignments, such as ‘you write about this test,’ and ‘you summarize its timeline,’ but at least in my experience if the end result is a 100-page summary, it won’t be piecemealed. Now I’m curious to see how different is all of our opinions on the definition of the technical communicator’s skill set.

      • I was referring to “project management” as listed as one of the six core competency areas in the main article.

  • Jacqueline Caddle May 18, 2010 at 9:27 AM

    As someone who would like to break into the field, I only wish something like this had been implemented sooner. I’m very much interested in getting certification, since building up my portfolio on my own has been a struggle.

  • Just a general question: How is this program different from the certificate courses that STC currently offers? I’m wondering if those courses should be combined with a portfolio review for the certification.

    • Kristy, the certificate courses offered by STC are limited in scope; certification will be much more comprehensive. This is analogous to the relationship between a course and a degree.

      Over time, I would expect that STC’s class and certificate offerings will align along a path that leads toward certification. (If certification assesses important things, then STC should teach them.) If you lack a given skill in an important area, you will then have the opportunity to learn it.

  • This is a pretend certification program. Nothing to see here. Move along.

  • Christina Eftekhar May 18, 2010 at 1:15 PM

    I’m not quite sure how I feel about a certification; I have a master’s and, along with my portfolio, it’s all I’ve needed, even for jobs where they work with tech writers all the time. I’m not sure that a certification would mean much to future employers — unless of course, HR directors get the crazy idea it is needed to be deemed competent.

    My question is: if someone chooses the portfolio track, will there be a minimum number of artifacts the applicant must submit? I only ask because many students graduating from a TPC program may only have half a dozen artifacts to show. Had I not had a co-op during my graduate program, I would for sure only have a few brochures, flyers, PowerPoints, and mock websites to show.

    Along those lines: I wonder if the alternative professional competency “exam” will be up-to-date with what is currently being taught in academic programs (for those graduates who have small or nonexistent portfolios)?

    No doubt the strong feelings in both camps will continue to flare during those “value of STC” discussions as of late. I’m certainly staying tuned, though.

  • Here are a few things we don’t want to have happen:

    -People who have had no trouble getting jobs start to have problems because they are not “certified.” That would be disenfranchising our members.

    -Certification would be worthless because the standards are not defined, ill defined, or are set so low that anyone can receive certification.

    -Certification not be available to people who work in classified areas where they cannot share their work.

    That said, certification is a valuable idea. The value of such a program depends on the care with which it is executed and the standards that are applied. As I understand it, these are still under discussion and not yet finalized, right Steve?

    That means that the people who seem a bit querulous above might start by actually proposing how to resolve the problems they raise, so as to make the certification program better.

    I do have a concern that the “re-certification” program could become a cash cow that exists more to make money than to seriously evaluate how certified Tech Coms have evolved. I think we need to be vigilant, amongst ourselves, to ensure that does not happen. I’d also add that the APPEARANCE of rigour is as important as its reality, and for us to be successful, we need both.

    I also wonder out loud (I don’t know the answer) whether, to be useful in Europe, such a certification would need to be blessed by some European authority? This could certainly help the STC’s image over here, as we are often perceived as an American “implantation” and not European at all.

  • I am glad to see the STC is finally planning to implement a certification program. I do have reservations though.

    While having a certification from a nationally recognized organization is a valuable thing, I question whether the STC is nationally recognized, outside of the Technical
    Writing community.

    Furthermore, though it is sill in the planning stage, I question the manner in which they plan to award certification (portfolio evaluation vs. a test).

    A rigorous exam proves that an individual possess a defined skill set, and can demonstrate that skill set by meeting a clearly defined standard.

    A portfolio evaluation is highly subjective; a sample that clearly demonstrates expertise to one person could be considered a piece of junk thrown together by “someone who thinks he can write” by another person.

    I also agree with those who expressed concerns that “People who have had no trouble getting jobs start to have problems because they are not ‘certified’.”

    With a Master’s Degree and over 25 years of experience in the field with a steady progression of jobs culminating in my current position as Senior Technical Communicator, I fail to see how getting certified is going to advance my career.

    I do however see this as another screening tool to be used by ignorant HR departments to screen out otherwise qualified writers.


    • Joe, you raise an interesting point about STC’s name recognition. STC is internationally recognized as the biggest and best-known association in the field, but you question how well STC is known outside of technical communication. Well, let me turn the question around. You’ve heard of certified public accountants. Well, what is the association that certifies CPAs? Have you heard of them? How about the association that certifies estate planners? Are they legit? My point is that that closer you look, the better STC looks as the accrediting association; but then, the less closely you look, the less it even matters.

      As far as evaluating portfolios and work artifacts goes, I agree it is a more subjective approach than a test, though not “highly subjective” and by no means invalid or unworkable. Really, evaluating proficiency by actual work is even more valid and accurate than giving a test. One of the implementation issues will be how to minimize subjectivity. Ideas are welcome!

      As to your last concern, I fully expect that employers will look for STC certified technical communicators in the future. That is the point! Why else would you get certified if not to enhance your job prospects? But you know what you should do? Get certified yourself and avoid the issue. The way the system is set up now, you have a large advantage going in, so use it. Don’t get screened out–get screened IN!

      (I started to write that the day I see a job I want at a company that prefers certified writers is the day I apply for certification myself, but that’s not true. Actually, I intend to be first in line when we start to accept applications 8^)

      • Steve, I think it’s a bit disingenuous to say “get screened in, not screened out” to people with long experience.

        Every time a non certified profession acquires certification, there is always a “grandfather” period where the experienced folk who don’t want to spend time (or don’t have the time to spend) proving skills they have already proved in another fashion need to be accommodated.

        This has happened recently in Europe with the profession of “Dietitian” which was completely uncontrolled until recently. New dietitians cannot use the word without certification (“nutritionist” remains uncontrolled). People who have already been using the term dietitian may continue doing so. To ensure that there is some control, they usually need to present some educational or experiential qualifications, but that’s it.

        Could we not have a “simplified procedure” that would not devalue the certification, but permit established practitioners with well established track records to have an “equivalency” without preparing a huge dossier? There could be, for example, a cutoff period in terms of number of years in the profession, or something similar.

  • Steven, you ask: “You’ve heard of certified public accountants. Well, what is the association that certifies CPAs? Have you heard of them? ”

    Well, yes I have! Mine is certified by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA), which makes him a Chartered Accountant. In the US, it is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Most western countries have a similar organization.

    If and when the STC comes up with a certification program as well-defined and rigorous as theirs, I will be the first in line.

  • In all seriousness Steven, and I do agree that potential certification is serious and important, no-one means to demean the great efforts you and the rest of your committee have put into this venture. But precisely because this issue is so very important, the concern is that by pushing it forward now, when the organization is struggling for financial survival and the basics to support such an effort (like a basic BOK, and the funds necessary for initiating a proper certification program) are not even in place yet, many are concerned that the primary motivation for doing it NOW is to make money hand over fist in order to save the organization. If this is the case (and the mere fact that it is proposed that people will have to recertify every three years screams CASH COW!–why on earth would practitioners in our industry need to recertify every three years? It makes no sense!), then it is disingenuous and a great disservice to the members.

  • For those who question the value of certification, remember that we often work in regulated industries whose practices can affect health and safety. Recently in France there was a case of patients in a hospital being overdosed with radiation from a radiation therapy machine. Among the items that took blame for this incident:

    Bad interface of the software
    The software was not in French
    There was insufficient explanation of the procedures involved

    Three items that we often deal with.

  • I’m not questioning that certification may not be valid, what I’m saying is ‘This is not a certification program.’

  • Poppy, all the certifications we saw expire. Can you name any that don’t, especially in high tech? And you say that certification is an attempt to save the organization like that’s a bad thing. Assuming for the sake of argument that this is true, what is your concern?

    Andy, you can say this is not a certification program, but you’re wrong. What element of certification do you think is missing?

  • “… all the certifications we saw expire. Can you name any that don’t, especially in high tech? ”

    Yes I can Steven, Board of Editors in the Life Sciences (BELS) and American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), to start.

    “And you say that certification is an attempt to save the organization like that’s a bad thing. Assuming for the sake of argument that this is true, what is your concern?”

    That is not what I am saying at all. Doing something to try to save the organization is laudable and a good thing. The only problem, as I see it, is that the ‘certification’ currently proposed leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to actual value for those who will pay for it, and it is key that when we do offer certification it is of high quality. My concern is that in the desperate rush to raise funds, STC will offer certification that is much less than it should or could be. Please tell us, based on the research that was done, which high tech organizations offer certification programs that rely solely on portfolios and work artifacts to accredit their members/practitioners? Let me assure you that the ones worth their salt offer clearly defined study programs and examinations.

    Here’s a simple analogy: I buy Girl Scout cookies to support that organization because I think it is worthwhile AND because the cookies are yummy. If the cookies were inedible, I would not buy those cookies, no matter how much I wanted to help.

    Lastly Steven, I would really appreciate it if you took the time to actually answer the questions people pose rather than just turning things around and responding with questions of your own.

    If you recall, my original question was: “Under the current plan, how do you propose to evaluate and certify people who cannot provide a portfolio?”

    We, I and others who have expressed the exact same concern, are still waiting for an answer on that one.

    • Poppy, AMWA does not offer certification; they offer certificates, which is a different (and less comprehensive) thing. BELS does offer a permanent certification. But a permanent certification is less valuable than one that requires continuing professional development, which is why STC certification has a limited lifetime.

      To the extent that “value” equals rigor, we share the aim of making STC certification valuable. The Certification Task Force looked at a range of certification programs, each with different requirements. One good example is ISPI, which has a performance-based assessment. (Mike Hughes holds this certification.) Let me assure you that we asked, and learned that performance-based certification is not only valid but more valid than exam-based certification, because it requires that you walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Also, as I have said several times in replies to this blog posting, STC certification will require a mix of things, so the premise of your question is faulty. (This is not to say that exam-based certification is invalid. When we have a fleshed-out body of knowledge, we will shift to emphasize examination.)

      Finally, you say that you wrote: “Under the current plan, how do you propose to evaluate and certify people who cannot provide a portfolio?” I answered a similar question, posed by Willis, on 18 May 2010 at 11:30 am: “Willis, your concern is well founded, and the certification plan already involves an alternate path for practitioners who cannot produce a portfolio demonstrating skills in a given area. In fact, we have in mind something fairly similar to what you [describe].” I can’t say much more about the alternate path because it’s not fleshed out, but I personally like Willis’s approach. (Read his comment for more description.)

  • I’ve been a technical editor/writer for the past 28 years.

    After getting my B.A. in biology with a minor in chemistry, and while working on my M.S. in biology, I was an English grammar and composition teacher before landing a job as a science teacher. A family emergency caused me to move half-way across the world–and the only job I could find was as a staff writer/photographer for a daily newspaper. So, I had a science degree and a journalism/English grammar background–which is what led to my first job as a technical writer for the U.S. Army Materiel Test and Evaluation Directorate. The government editor/writers encouraged me to join the STC to learn more about my new profession–and I studied every journal and newsletter that came out of this organization. I also attended the ITCCs–and learned even more about the profession.

    After working with ARMTE for a few years, I moved to a job as a technical writer/editor with the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Inspector General Office of Audits–which a few years later led to a job with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Almost all of the documents I worked on during these first 10-13 years of my career are not allowed to be shown to anyone other than those cleared to see them.

    I realized that I needed a *portfolio* — so I’ve always been a freelance writer/photographer. And I managed to get many of my articles published in newspapers and magazines–such as New Mexico Wildlife Magazine, the L.A. Times, Anchorage Daily News, Pacific Daily News, and others. These are what made up the bulk of my portfolio — proof that I could write for more general audiences.

    Also, while working at Livermore Lab, I decided that I needed to get something more attractive to Silicon Valley employers–so I attended the two-year program at University of California–Santa Cruz Extension to get a Certificate in Management of Technical Publications and Documentation. (Does this mean I’m “Certified”?)

    I went on to work at NASA-Ames Research Center International Space Station Project Gravitational Biology Facility… before switching over to a civilian software application company. It was here that I first learned about the software development cycle and how to use UNIX machines and FrameMaker and Adobe Acrobat in the documentation process.

    I’ve since worked in the telecommunications industry, the computer networking industry (with Cisco Systems, I studied for and passed my Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) exam to help with working with their equipment and software), the biotech industry, the pharmaceutical research industry, and in a retail data center (supermarket chain) documentation group.

    Although some of my work is publicly available online (in particular for the telcom and IT companies), most of my work cannot be released for anyone else to see outside the organization in which I worked.

    So, judging my work by my portfolio would be of limited value. Also, if I already have a “certificate” in management of documentation from an acredited college, does that not mean that I’m already “certified”?

    Would “certification” require also maintaining membership in the STC? I have been a member on and off with the STC since 1982. And then, to go through certification every three or so years… would that mean just sending in more bucks to keep the certification? I *DO* believe in *continuing education*–and I’m always taking classes in software applications or editing or writing at our local community colleges or through the private offerors of such classes. Would there be a board who would review these additional classes to see that we’re “staying fresh”?

    Things to consider. I like the idea, but I wonder what the value will be after so many years have gone by without it.

    • Dave, thanks for sharing your story.

      To answer your questions: The “portfolio” mentioned in the blog is not the same as a portfolio you would take to a job interview. I am thinking “package” is a less freighted term. It is definitely not everything you’ve done in your career. (it might only be one example of your work…!) not being able to show everything you’ve done should not be an impediment to becoming certified.

      A certificate is not a certification, any more than a class is a degree. So no, it’s not that easy, sorry.

      You would not have to remain an STC member to retain your certification. In fact, you won’t even have to BE a member to become certified (although we have the option to offer member and non-member pricing).

      Maintaining your certification will require continuing education and professional activity, just as you suggest. It won’t be a matter of just sending in a check.

      And yes, there will be a certification board, charged with impartially determining just what you suggest and other things besides.

      I hope this answers your questions.

      • “(it might only be one example of your work…!)”

        Seriously? You would “certify” someone as as competent technical communicator on merely one example of their work? Could you give us an example of what would qualify as an example?

        Perhaps a book? But then, would you certify just the writer? What about the SMEs who may have contributed content? What about the editors? As one who has worked as a technical editor for the last 15 years, let me assure you that good editors do provide value and in a good collaboration with the author can greatly improve the clarity and organization of a book because they see it through the eyes of the user whereas the author may be too close to the content to see potential issues. So then, if you certify the author based on the superior quality of the book, you should also certify ALL the contributors in its creation. No?

  • This is wonderful news! Certification will indeed validate our profession. I also wanted to add that it would be helpful to include editing as an option for certification. As the categories for certification are tweaked, please consider adding an editing/technical editing certification.

    Thank you,

  • Steve, what happens in the “transition” period to deal with the problem I raised some time ago, about people who have never had problems finding work. Assuming the certification program is both rigorous and successful, that should mean that employers will seek out certified technical communicators.

    What if suddenly, people with a reputation, start having trouble getting jobs because they are not (or not yet…) certified?

    Are we prepared to say that if you’ve worked for, say, 10 years in companies that have tech com departments of recognized quality that you are “certified” by seniority? If so, how would we determine what constitutes enough years, and would we need to limit such grandfathering to only some companies? If yes, how would the determination be made?

    If my idea is totally nuts (and it might be – it’s not easy to do the things I mention above) is there another way to ease experienced people into the certification world, other than just saying “Hey – now go out and get certified” which might be a bit tough for people that have never felt the need in the past and have had a good and successful career behind them?

    I think this needs to be taken seriously.

    • Ray, we do take the situation of experienced practitioners seriously. I personally do not think we will ever see the day when someone who already has a tech comm job is asked to become certified to keep that job. And we expect that practitioners with experience will have a significant advantage when seeking certification over practitioners without. We are not grandfathering, however. The good news, though, is that it will be meaningful to everyone who earns it.

      — Steve (30 years of experience)

  • Sorry, but I’m not about to pay for certification that expires in three years, certainly not as long as I’m employed. If I were in a situation where I was looking for a job, maybe I’d consider it — if my degree, 15 years experience, portfolio, and 14 awards at the local and international level weren’t sufficient.

    People are only going to pay for something if they perceive that it has value. And they’ll only pay an amount consistent with the value they perceive. A certification with a three-year shelf life isn’t worth very much — not when you compare it to a degree, as Steve is doing. A degree is forever.

  • Technical Writer June 11, 2010 at 1:54 PM

    I don’t mean to sound critical but the corporate world takes no prisoners, so hey, why not be completely candid and blunt.

    The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) offers a similar program to the STC with one exception. Like getting a university degree, the IABC’s accreditation is for life (http://www.iabc.com/abc/) through Royal Roads University (RRU). Updating certification every three years sounds daunting. Thankfully I don’t have to update my bachelors degree every three years.

    • “IABC’s accreditation is for life…”

      … As long as you maintain your IABC membership.

  • I believe the unspoken motivations behind certification deserve airing. Is this supposed to make the technical communication field more “respected”? Or to generate more jobs? Or to reinvigorate the STC with a recurring revenue stream? As I see it, and I’ve been saying this for at least 10 years, the demand for technical communication will continue to diminish as a new generation more comfortable with technology comes of age, and as product user interfaces become more intuitive. Have you seen the video of the 2.5-year-old using the iPad? How many docs do you think most buyers of the iPad ever look at? So if you are keen to stay in the technical writing field, please continue to enhance your skills to work on developer-oriented, multimedia and web-based products. Otherwise certification may not come along in time to save your career.

  • Gordon, it’s a little bit off subject, so I won’t go into depth here, but the things you cite as diminishing the need for technical communicators probably required technical communicators as part of the design team. It’s not just manuals any more.

  • Question for Steve, or anyone else here, for that matter:

    Are we seriously prepared to say that if you’ve worked for solid companies with solid reputations for good technical communications, for a large number of years, you’re not certified?

    If we’re saying that simply because WE haven’t reviewed a portfolio a person isn’t certified, I think we risk being trivialized, and also perhaps seeming to be exactly in the position of looking for income more than serious credentials.

    My two cents anyway.

    What do you think?

    • Ray, what you’re asking about is grandfathering. Grandfathering is a not uncommon practice. But to protect the integrity of our certification we decided against it.

      (It’s nothing personal, mind you. I would be a prime candidate for being grandfathered! But I’ll have to earn it like everyone else.)

      • Yes, Steve, I hear you. I think I’m making the opposite argument, that we seem petty and perhaps, even money-grubbing, by not grandfathering.

        We will probably continue to disagree on this subject, but I’d be interested to know what other members think. If there’s a broad consensus one way or the other, that might make things clearer.

        • Ray, I think we have different assumptions about grandfathering.

          I think you think that grandfathering means a subset of STC members would find certifications mailed to them for free.

          I think grandfathering means a subset of STC members would be eligible for certifications just for sending in their application fee.

          I think my way is more money grubbing! But we’re not doing either.

        • Steve, I think you’ve got it about right – about grandfathering, that is. 😉

  • Is the Certification Task Force business case that was accepted by the STC Board of Directors on April 30th available to STC members? A well-built business case should have anticipated, considered, and provided clarification for many of the questions people are asking here.

    I performed a search for “certification” on the STC.org website, and am surprised to find so little information about the Certification Task Force and its activities (aside from this announcement thread and the many responses to it). There was a 2008 Intercom article (http://www.stc.org/intercom/PDFs/2008/20080708_11-13.pdf) pointing out the benefits and drawbacks of Certification (worth reading today). I also find it surprising that this controversial initiative has been accepted by the STC Board of Directors without first inviting general scrutiny by STC members at large, unless such invitations were directed only to select members, or to members who have the wherewithal to attend the annual conference/summit.

    If this Certification program will be rolled out within the coming year, then I for one would be very interested in seeing the Certification Task Force’s business case, supporting research, and implementation plan. Member acceptance and understanding of this initiative will improve once we have more complete details about STC Certification, and not just reactions to its announcement.

    • Marta, before we started writing the business case I searched the Web high and low for an actual business case to use as a model. I didn’t find any. Even for historical purposes, business cases aren’t shared.

      I will ask about it, but I doubt we can satisfy your request.

      • Steve, would that be because others don’t do it? If so, I don’t think that’s necessarily a good reason. Members have a right, especially in the wake of a financial crisis, to understand the reasons for initiating new programs, and for understanding how their money is to be spent.

        I remember once the Ontario legislature refused to table log books of its official aircraft because “it had never been done before.” Problem was, they were caught red-handed using the plane for personal trips. Not that I’m comparing STC to corrupt officials, I’d think that if anything, our board is more cautious and careful than ever in the current climate – but it does serve as an example of how this kind of reasoning can be difficult to support.

        If I go over the dialog in this stream, what jumps out at me is that despite an ebb and flow of discussion, the general image given about STC’s attitude is, “we’ve thought this over very carefully, done a lot of work on it, now this is how it is, we’re not going to change anything just because members ask questions or make suggestions.”

        Now, I’m not saying that this is necessarily the real attitude, I’m saying this is what seems to come out. We’re communicators, and should be communicating in an open fashion.

        Personally, in case anyone wonders, I am supportive of this certification effort, I think it is good for STC and good for STC members. And I thank you and the other task force members for the hard work done to achieve it.

        I do have, as should be obvious, some questions about details. I do think that others, who may or may not share the same concerns as I, also need a forum to express themselves, in which they can be heard and taken seriously, not just tut-tutted.

        It might have been easier to do this if the debate process had been more open to members beforehand, difficult as that may be to manage.

        • I guess this is transparency in action, then, because we have thought this over very carefully and we have done a lot of work on it. If that’s coming through, well, it ought to.

          It’s not true, however, that we’re not going to change anything. The Certification Committee is reviewing a revised business plan with additional details, and we’ve addressed comments and objections raised in this discussion; for example, how to assess packets (not “portfolios”) including proprietary material.

          And, when the Board approves the changes, portions of the plan can be shared with members.

  • It’s transparently balderdash, so yes, you’re right.

  • You really can’t be serious… Steven, surely you jest about the transparency thing!

    And portions of the plan? Which portions do you plan to keep under wraps? What’s the big secret anyway?

    • It’s funny that we are getting into this discussion about transparency; I talk about it in my current Open Mike blog. And I’m torn, quite frankly. Part of me wants to share everything, but there are some constraints that my management side has to acknowledge. In general, the raw business plan or proposal is a limited distribution document within an association because it might contain confidential financial or proprietary information. “Like what?” you might ask–as in “like what?” I DID ask 🙂

      Sometimes business plans say things like “We will fund this by eliminating the following positions…” I’m all for transparency, but that’s a card that needs to be played close to the vest. Other cases might involve partnerships where a publicized plan might be telling stuff the partner doesn’t want their competition to know. Or the plan might include the intent to release an RFP. You don’t want that getting out informally; there are specific ways an RFP must be released.

      In other words, it can be a complex landscape. So as a practice we don’t share business plans in their raw form outside of the board or the committee that has prepared the plan. We will be publicizing the relevant details as Steve’s committee firms them up and the board approves them.

      Thanks to everyone who’s been participating in this thread.

      • Mike, I would hope that anyone who is participating in this discussion is already sufficiently sophisticated as a professional to realize that certain things need to stay confidential. There are, of course, ways of dealing with that and still being transparent. I note that you have referrred to “business plans in their raw form” and that is probably the operative principle. Perhaps sharing everying in raw form is not possible, but the rationale, the thinking that goes into something, indeed, the hard work that is done, can and should be shared.

        Sometimes, all of us in leadership or management positions have a tendency to want to discuss these things (possibly contentious) in a more restrained group. My experience shows almost 100% that this is a mistake – when decisions come out, you just end up revisiting them again, and sometimes again, and again, and again.

        What a good association (which is, after all, not the same as a corporation) needs, is a way for discussion to be carried out in the open, respecting what needs to remain confidential (which ougtht to be very little) and also that has a recognized procedure for coming to closure, so the debate doesn’t go on interminably.

        When all this happens up front, i.e. before decisions are announced, things usually go smoother, and although concensus is not always easy to find, at least the disgruntled can recognize that the process was respected and their opinions were heard.

        All this helps when the going gets tough (like last year) 😉

  • Quite honestly, the idea of certification for Technical Communication scares me. Since the scope of technical communication is so broad, many people who are currently experts in niche areas will be marked as unqualified. Labelling people as uncertified will result in fewer opportunities for technical writers in general not more. What this certification program will do is create a small group of elite writers (mostly consultants) who will dominate this space. STC has been struggling with expanding its membership and presence for years. Perhaps STC would be better off plunking dollars into marketing programs…

    Good luck STC…It’s because of things like this that I refuse to be a member.

    • Ben, thanks for you comments. I’m pleased to see that non-members follow our blog; it shows we have influence outside just our membership. I promise you that we will never label someone as “uncertified.” I’m not sure which niches you are referring to. Writers who do not analyze user needs, do not design the communication before sitting down and banging it out, do not check the quality in terms of accuracy, completeness, usability, etc, do not follow good authoring practices (language, layout, etc), do not know how to generate a usable, distributable output, or who can’t give an estimate of what the effort will take and track progress against that estimate? I hope that most professional technical communicators will be able to meet those criteria to some reasonable degree, otherwise, what differentiates us from non-professional technical communicators?

    • Technical Writer June 29, 2010 at 6:23 PM

      Ben, as an STC member myself since 1999, I share your concerns. However, I’m one of those idealists who believe in having his cake and eating it too. As I mentioned above, I’m also a member of International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and show the STC and IABC on my resume accordingly. As I pointed out earlier, the IABC offers a similar program to the STC with one exception. Like getting a university degree, the IABC’s accreditation is for life (http://www.iabc.com/abc/) through Royal Roads University (RRU). Updating certification every three years sounds daunting.

      Membership in the STC has its ups and downs, for sure, but I decided to go with the premium package this year as a form of “career insurance” since (a) it looks good on the resume especially since I’m a senior member, (b) the STC does have its “moments” and illumination through its publications and web site, and (c) it augments the IABC and other certifications (such as XML) for a good resume conversation starter. Finally, as for (c) it really worked! I have been a contractor at a start-up company since late 2009, and have been told that I will likely get offered a fulltime position within the next month or two with good stock options, generous salary, and benefits.

      Now if even a passing glance by the interviewer at my STC and IABC affiliations got me this job, these affiliations were worth their weight in gold and paid for a LIFETIME of dues for both!

      I guess my real point of popping in here, is that through my comments I’m hoping the STC will humbly take a peek at the IABC’s certification, which is sustainable and without ongoing “maintenance” overhead. In the interim, although I think the STC has a hard road to hoe, I’m certain they will end up on top of the technical communications heap!

  • Ben makes a good point about niche areas. What documentation will we need to include in the packet to show proficiency at project management and user analysis? I don’t think those things are provable by looking at the end product. In certain environments and industries, those processes may be formalized. In others, they aren’t.

    The question isn’t whether professional technical communicators should be able to do those things. The question is how they would prove it to the certifying body under the current plan. More information, please!

    • Andrea, it seems to me that your question touches on a much wider point: The task force has recommended a “what” – certification based on work packages.

      The “how” part – procedures, criteria for judgement, what needs to go into the work package, etc. – still remains to be determined.

      The answer to “how” will have a lot to do with the real value of the program. Probably, we won’t get everything right on the first try. That’s not a problem if we aren’t too proud to adjust, and hone it until we do get it right.

      Then, we need to keep an eye on changing trends and make sure that it stays right. If we are going to ask people to renew their certification every three years, we should be renewing our certification criteria (or at least evaluating them) also at least every three years.

      Are we prepared to do that?

      • The Body of Knowledge Task Force considers its work of compiling the BOK never-ending, in that the field is dynamic and steadily changing. Since the BOK underlays certification, we know we will have to change along with it.

  • >I’m pleased to see that non-members follow our blog;

    Just out of morbid curiosity.

    > it shows we have influence outside just our membership.

    Yes, ex-members looking in because someone sent the link for shock value.

    • Great! Even better! Love to get a second shot at getting former members back. Beats being ignored. You know, when an ex girlfriend keeps hanging around, you just gotta hope there’s still a bit of the old fire burning deep inside 🙂

      • Hi Mike, love your “You know, when an ex girlfriend keeps hanging around, you just gotta hope there’s still a bit of the old fire burning deep inside”. I may have to use this reference sometime.

  • You’ve had your second, third and fourth shot.

    It’s a bit like trying to tear your eyes away from a train wreck.

  • Are there previous cases (in other occupations) that the Certification Task Force has looked at in choosing a portfolio-based approach? Or barring that, what expertise in evaluating expertise are is the Task Force drawing on?

  • Do you have questions about STC’s certification plan? The Carolina Chapter will be hosting a presentation by STC Certification Chair Steve Jong on August 19. You are invited to join live or online (the event will be broadcast live).

    Please see http://www.stc-carolina.org/STC+Certification+-+Aug+2010+Chapter+Meeting for details and registration information.

  • I was wondering if the certification will be open to both Canadian and US STC members? I am not a member myself, yet – but this would definitely increase the draw of becoming one!


  • I’m sorry to see the cynical tone of some of the posts for this article. As a member of STC and professional technical communicator since 1986, I see this as a promising step forward.

    • I agree with you, Jeffrey. I am looking forward to seeing the details about this certification program. I also appreciate the countless hours that these volunteers have devoted to researching, debating, and drafting the program.

  • Elaine Firestone August 6, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    This is, indeed great news. I have a question though, and frivolous as it may seem at first… it’s not. Will technical communicators who are certified through STC have initials to put after their names? Something on the order of “CTC” (Certified Technical Communicator)? I’m certified as an Editor in the Life Sciences and as such am entitled to have “ELS” after my name. Those certified in other professions, such as CPA for accountants, are also entitled to use it.

  • Elaine Firestone August 6, 2010 at 2:49 PM

    I posted a little bit ago saying what a great thing certification is for STC, but after reading **all** of the postings here, I’ve got more questions and a lot of concerns. It seems like only those involved with actually writing documents will be eligible for this certification. How about those, like myself, who have been editing highly technical and scientific documents for almost 25 years? I’ve done some writing, but in that because it isn’t the major thrust of what I do, would my portfolio be any less viable for certification than someone who writes user manuals? Or how about those folks who have been doing technical illustration? We are all technical communicators, but where does this leave us on the certification ladder? High and dry?

    One thing I definitely want to comment on is a statement Steven Jong made:
    “BELS does offer a permanent certification. But a permanent certification is less valuable than one that requires continuing professional development.”

    Says who? BELS accredits editors in the life sciences who demonstrate that they are competent manuscript editors … this isn’t copyediting folks. Why would someone need to keep demonstrating this every few years? Yes, for some professions it’s valuable and even advisable… electricians, people who use toxic chemicals (as in pesticides), and anyone whose profession is constantly changing in fundamental ways, but if you have already demonstrated competency, then that should be that. Ray Gallon’s example of a piece of equipment where the software wasn’t in French and there was bad interface of the software (there was one other, but it doesn’t matter) doesn’t have anything to do with technical communication. Yes, a tech comm person would probably have flagged all these, but ultimately, these were management snafus. How does anyone know that a competent tech comm person *didn’t* flag these, but management didn’t pay any attention? Food for thought.

  • Stephen Jong, you are a very patient and persistent person. Thank you and all of those involved in this effort.

  • I don’t understand why “certification” is such an issue or even desirable. It’s not like state licensing boards will require practitioners to be certified such as they do for professional engineers. What value does this “certification” add other than the clearly apparent and predatory financial opportunities for STC.

    Whatever has become of being recognized for your value-added capabilities in the free market? Why do we need to have the STC provide certification?

    Are there hordes of unqualified and incompetent technical communicators running around and creating havoc? Does the public need to be protected from these deviants? Of course not. I guess there are those who apparently think that this will benefit the profession, yet I can’t see how.

    It’s interesting to note that many advocates think being “certified” will bestow a form of recognition. Why not just let the market recognize those who are competent and discard those who are not?

  • I question the validity of a portfolio-based assessment. I know several professional tech writers that will never be eligible for such a cert because of NDAs / clearances and other legal reasons they cannot show some of the coolest things they have ever worked on. These are incredibly talented people who will never be recognized on portfolio alone.

  • How will the technical communication help us improve our career prospectus. A detailed info will be very helpful. Thanks in advance.

  • A year later… where are we? Is there any sort of update planned?

  • I question any certification program that lacks a corresponding body of knowledge to which people can study. That combined with the portfolio-based assessment gives me the impression this is a “we can’t define it, but we know it when we see it” situation.

    Perhaps that body of knowledge will be published once the application and scoring process has undergone all necessary testing. I’ll try to give STC the benefit of the doubt. However, it’s a concern.

    • I could not agree more! I have heard this concern raised a few times now by those around me.

      STC likes to use the PMI as a model, but as someone VERY familiar with the PMI (I am a past member, and have 5+ years of Project Management experience before switching to the Technical Communication career path) I would like to point out one other fundamental difference:

      The PMI prioritizes on the job experience, institute learning modules, and a written exam based on the PM BOK over formal education. The education suggested is general (you meet the requirements with any recognized degree) and even someone with only a high school diploma can become PMP certified if they demonstrate competency via their resume, learning modules, and written exam.

      Converseley, STC pretty well leaves anyone who didn’t set up for Technical Communication right out of high school in the lurch. Want to switch career paths? Go back to undergrad studies, or take your chances on one of the college graduate programs that “might” qualify. No promises. This is especially so for Canada, where we have much less choice by way of programs.

      I feel that if STC wants to promote a certification program, then they must realize the very real impact it could have on everyone in the profession. The PMP was unimportant two decades ago. Now, you can’t get a good Project Management role without it. That COULD be the case for Technical Writers, too. As such, I feel it is the responsibility of the STC to be as inclusive as possible. Those that have changed careers (thus don’t necessarily have the educational background from the undergrad level that STC would like to see) as well as those that have unconventional Technical Communication roles, should not be left unable to certify.

  • After years of working in the private sector, i am in the beginning stages of freelance work. Looking for input in this area, please. Much appreciated

  • I believe earning a certification shows a committment to your field of practice.

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