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Most of what you said maps well with my experience, and the rest is
A fellow writer who had come into TW after a belt-tightening in the
accounting department over ten years ago once asked me privately to please
drop my then initiative to hire local English teachers as contract editors
of the non-technical aspects of our documentation. He said he was afraid it
would affect his performance reviews. The initiative was stillborn, because
90% of the writers in the department were in the same category. About 50%
are still around, and their writing hasn't gotten any better. This baffles
me, and I can only conclude that we're stuck with the situation until
attrition and the new influx of eager college-trained writers fixes it. The
thing I've noticed about the new breed of TWer is their eagerness to perform
and to learn new things -- to treat usability testing, for example, as a
serious practical and analytical learning experience rather than a box in
the TW process that needs a checkmark. Too many of the oldtimers remain
convinced that the workd is still beating a path to their door, and they
refuse to acknowledge the competitive crises their employers now deal with.
Also, don't you think that some of the need for user documentation writers
to understand technology the way earlier TW'ers did has gone the way of the
horseshoe? To me, it's often more important to consider the implications of
writing ability and style in an increasingly competitive and cross-cultural
marketplace. I might add that students in other cultures learn "standard"
English, and TW'ers who can't keep colloquialism, vernacular, localism,
slang, dialect, and (frequently) barbarism out of their writing cause these
people real problems. And people from other cultures become a bigger chunk
of our target audience every day.
Do you know the only thing that stands between many marginal tech writers
and the right to call themselves professional? A refresher course or two in
English at the local community college (and, perhaps, a commitment to begin
reading the TW literature and sync up with the new directions of TW).
English just didn't "take" for a lot of people in high school, but it can
still be learned.
I'm sure I've offended some people here; I usually do. Sorry.
p.s. May we know who you are?
To: Multiple recipients of list TECHWR-L
Subject: Re: Certification
Date: Friday, July 14, 1995 6:33PM
When I was very active in STC, our chapter addressed the pros and cons
of certification, as well as advanced degrees. We were primarily dealing
with technical writers who work in high tech industries.
We found that advanced degress were not considered an asset in the
manufacturing and engineering sectors. Even MBAs were becoming a
drawback since people expected higher paying management positions.
However, advanced degrees were valued in the government and academic
arenas. The one exception was the pharmaceutical industry that has
a high number of scientists and they wanted their writers to have PhD's
so the scientists will more readily accept the writers into their culture.
As for certification, we found that the prime motivation for it was
to establish basic criteria for a professional profile that went beyond
conventional job descriptions. This profile or standard would become the
benchmark that all writers needed to measure up to in order to qualify
for a writing position.
Employers were intereseted in certification because the writing community
consists of a mix bag of people and some hiring managers were never certain
of what they will get when hiring a writer. Even writing samples were not
considered self-evident by these hiring managers since they had no way to
confirm if the samples were actually original work by the candidate writer
or simply high tech plagiarism.
Writers wanted certification because they worked in companies and/or
industries where they got no respect (i.e., were not recoginzed as part
of an established profession or found huge differences in job duties and
pay between various companies). They felt certification would be one
method of establishing professional credentials and increasing their
value to their employer which in turn would translate to higher salaries.
It might also restrict the scope of their work so they could simply write
and did not become a one-person production department who did graphic
arts, document layout, etc.
Writers who learned the writing business via on-the-job-training had
mixed emotions on certification. If they passed the certification process,
then it might improve their credentials. However, many lacked confidence
in their writing ability and were concerned that a certification program
might help identify substandard writers. This might lead to manditory
remedial training, demotions or dismissal. Former engineers who had lost
their technical edge and become technical writers during the last few years
of their employment (i.e., awaiting retirement) were the most uncomfortable
about the prospect and possible repercussions of certification.
We concluded that certification was a two-edged sword that might do more
harm than good. Each year, certification seems to resurface for a new
However, the majority of employers and writers seem to defer any serious
action because their are as many negative prospects as positive aspects to
certification. In addition, there does not seem to be a clear choice for a
body to set the standard and develop the testing criteria. Many industries
prefer more technical knowledge and less emphasis on English. Many colleges
prefer just the opposite approach. As a result, employers continue to look
at writer resumes for certain skills and experiences, and writers who get
hired into a particular industry become part of a very select club.