TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
To certify, or not to certify... That is the question. And I, for one, am
still undecided on the answer.
Cogent arguments have been presented for both sides. A valid point of
concern raised by the "con" camp is how to test fairly for the extremely
diverse body of knowledge represented by technical communication.
In previous discussions on this topic (yes, I searched the archives!),
brief mention was made of the International Association of Business
Communicators (IABC), suggesting their accreditation process as a potential
model for technical communication certification or accreditation. I would
like to elaborate on this idea, because it seems to address some of the
concerns expressed in this latest TECHWR-L thread.
According to the IABC web site (see http://www.iabc.com/about/accredit/abc.htm), this organization recognizes
that business communication encompasses a wide variety of skills (sound
familiar?). They have designed a comprehensive program that includes an
application process (kind of like submitting your resume, with more
emphasis on your accomplishments), portfolio submission and evaluation, a
written exam, and an extemporaneous oral exam. This format is fair, because
it gives candidates who aren't necessarily good test takers the chance to
shine in other areas (and vice versa). Also, each item submitted in the
portfolio must be accompanied by a description that follows a standard
outline. The outline stresses objectives and results, which adds
objectivity to the portfolio evaluation process.
The IABC further recognizes that certain skills are more job-specific, so
the written exam is designed with options. The IABC asserts that "you will
not be expected to know the technical aspects of areas normally outside the
professional responsibilities of a communication generalist (such as
statistical considerations of validity in survey samples, or the color
characteristics of flexographic inks)."
Although I have not entered their program or seen the actual written exam
(there's a sample on the web site), they seem to have developed a
relatively fair approach for addressing the diversity of communication
disciplines and strengths. Of course for technical communicators, questions
such as what kind of organization would administer such a program for
technical communication and who would be qualified to judge the work
submitted by candidates are thorny issues (among others) that would have to
Again, I am not advocating or denouncing certification--I am merely
submitting more food for thought. (BTW, I am one of those non-degreed TWs
who worked my way "up" from receptionist.)