Re: Engineering approach to certification

Subject: Re: Engineering approach to certification
From: "Wing, Michael J" <mjwing -at- INGR -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 14:05:56 -0600

> I don't think this is a general point of agreement at all. As I've pointed
> out before, business communicators, trainers, project managers, and others
> much like us have conquered this diversity dilemma, and there is no reason
> to believe that we'd fail where they've succeeded.
I don't believe for a moment that you have conquered the "diversity
dilemma". However, I believe that you would like us to think you have.

> > How fair is a test on the minutia of grammar and usage for
> Technical
> >Writers who have switched careers from a technical or scientific field ?
> Very, just as certification tests for technical fields insist on math and
> science knowledge even if the poor applicant was a liberal arts wonk like
> me. To be a true professional, you need to know the rudiments of your
> craft,
> which in this case starts with grammar and usage. Pleading technical
> expertise while producing unreadable dreck is no tradeoff.
No one is talking about the basics of grammar and usage that would
produce the "unreadable dreck" of which you speak. The danger is in a test
that would require a background concentrated in the study of language arts
to the point where only those who entered the field via the language arts
path could pass it. Even if an initial certification exam required only the
basics, it is my whole-hearted belief that the following revisions would
progress toward meeting the language-arts/humanities agenda.

In your opinion the craft starts with grammar and usage. In my
opinion it also starts with innovative thinking, synthesis of information,
an ability to discern and disseminate information, organization and
efficiency of presenting the material, and ability to grasp the concepts of
which you write (to name a few). These qualities do not show up on a test.

Aren't you the one who said that they viewed the profession and
yourself as an "abstract"? However, you argue for "concrete" measurements
as a filter of "true" technical writing abilities and pass off the
"abstract" qualities as moot.

> > How fair is a test on interface design for a writer that has been
> >writing banking and insurance literature for 10 years?
> Actually, I think every professional must keep current with the basics of
> his or her profession. We now know a good more about interface design than
> we did 10 years ago, and I think it beholden on anyone who waves their
> "technical communicator" banner to demonstrate a passing knowledge of it.
Oh yeah? How current does a heart surgeon stay up on the latest
techniques in podiatry? How current does a corporate tax lawyer stay up on
the latest family law rulings? As we can see their are thousands of
disciplines that use technical writing. Am I a slacker because I don't
follow them all?

I have been concentrating on writing programmer's guides the past
few years. Am I not professional because I do not keep current with the
trends of producing medical documents and reports? or the history of
chunking information? or writing for the forestry industry? I do keep
current with the trends, techniques, and tools for writing for on-line. You
know what? I do this without the incentive of maintaining a current
certificate or trying to prove to others that I am professional! Any ideas
as to why I do this? I certainly don't have a certificate to show for it.

> Again, why should lawyers, doctors, accountants, trainers, psychologists,
> realtors, PR writers, project managers, manufacturing engineers, human
> resources people, and many others expect to periodically demonstrate
> updated
> knowledge, yet we need not? Why should we be given special dispensation to
> be ignorant, to the detriment of our profession, our brethren, our users,
> and our unknowing employers? Or, more appropriately, why should we not
establish a plateau of accomplishment that says to the world "I'm
not lazy,
uninformed, or a dilattante, but rather a committed professional?"
The means
exist to keep updated and informed, including STC publications and
books. If
a practitioner chooses to be outdated, that's her concern, but I
will argue
that the mass of committed and up-to-date practitioners should be

Are you campaigning for office or something? My stand against
certification means that I feel that people should stay ignorant of trends
and developments??? My not picking up an STC journal drags everyone down?
Please, spare me the rhetoric. I stay current with the trends that affect
my job and interests the most without impetus from a governing committee.
In fact, I have set a few trends for documentation in our company. All
without a certificate.

You want to show the world your not lazy? Let your work speak for
you not a certificate from a committee of your cronies.

> A simple recognition program does not eliminate or close anything. No one
> is
> seriously proposing licensure of technical communicators.
Not yet. A certification program is step 1.

> There are many technical trainers who aren't certified. Ditto PR writers,
> business writers,
> and many others.
I have trouble imagining how they get by, let alone prosper.

> The push for recognition is not to close the profession, but to place a
> clear and publicly announced line between those who are demonstratably
> capable and willing to reach a standard, and those who pretend to have
> reached it.
Let's see. Certificate = reaching a professional standard. No
certificate = not a professional. I can't follow the logic here. I still
see it as "lets thin the herd and remove some of the competition". I still
see it as "now that we are in, let's close the door". I still see it as
"lets make the mold fit my current shape and make others fit my shape also".

> It honors and pats on the back those who truly do pour their
> lives into the pursuit of ever greater technical communications. It also
> encourages less accomplished practitioners to excel, by providing a target
> for them to reach. And it sets a mark for the rest of the world to judge
> us.
Help, I'm drowning in the hyperbole. A certificate is now going to
stop persecution of Technical writers the world round. A certificate is
going to keep the world from judging us. A certificate is going to
guarantee that I will be a better writer. And a certificate will give the
Scarecrow a brain!

> We're judged today of course, but according to nebulous standards set by
> those not familiar with our profession. It's all very well to argue that
> "The best of us do well anyway" but that's not really true. Even the
> largest
> companies often remain in ignorance of what they need, and what skills we
> have that will help.
I'll take it back, this is not an election speech, it's a crusade.
A certificate is now going to change the hiring practices and mindsets
forever. It will tell a department manager that they no longer need a
writer who knows some programming languages or other subject matter, instead
they now need a writer who only knows gerunds.

> And more to the point, whether or not a fortunate few do well is not the
> issue; what's at issue is the profession as a whole, and the ability of
> those who come after us to see the peak they're expected to reach, and the
> well-marked path to the top.
Yep, be all that you can be! Wait a minute, that slogan is taken.
A well-marked path that someone else has set the standards for. Is this
your path? That's not soaring, its' tailgating.

> What's at issue is the question...are we a profession, or aren't we?
If answering according to your description and agenda, I'll gladly
say no!

> Not "Well, are, sort of..." but simply and clearly, are we capable of
> thinking of ourselves in the aggregate as a true profession?
Once again, a "true profession" as defined here seems to be "led as
sheep to some committee's standard of what the profession should be
regardless of what diverse subject matter you handle or background you come

> Are we simply a gaggle of individuals who don't care about others'
> well-being?
Translation = "Agree with me or you are selfish". I think I'll take
my spot roosting with the other birds.

> Or are we really a profession, a group of those who recognize each others'
> committment to a cause?
I don't know about the rest of you, but I write technical manuals.
I advance my techniques and knowledge. I refine my writing. I am a user
advocate. I expand past nominal writing duties (program, web development,
training) and past my job description. I mentor new writers. But according
to Tim, I'm not professional.

> Tim Altom
Mike Wing

Michael Wing (mailto:mjwing -at- ingr -dot- com)
Staff Writer
Intergraph Corporation; Huntsville, Alabama

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