The Society for Technical Communication, an organization to which I’ve devoted a good bit of volunteer time, has always prided itself on being a professional society. STC has taken the lead in developing and promulgating those things that define a profession — for example, a code of ethics, a body of knowledge, and most recently a certification program.
Hmmm….Could that explain why STC had such a hard time building its body of knowledge? Maybe. But I’m not convinced.
Could that explain why, after decades of hand wringing in STC over whether to launch a certification program, demand for the program has fallen far short of expectations? I doubt it. (I think that technical writers, who aren’t particularly well compensated, simply balk at paying the relatively modest fee when it doesn’t seem to have much bearing on whether they land a job. But that’s a topic for another day.)
At around the same time as the LinkedIn conversation — but independently of it — Mark Baker published an article on his Every Page is Page One blog comparing jobs to bricks and mortar. A brick job, he explained, has a predefined shape that doesn’t change from project to project. Technical communication, however, is a mortar job: it changes shape to fit the circumstances of each project. Mortar jobs offer flexibility in terms of how the job is done and in terms of what qualifications the practitioner needs to have.
By way of illustration Mark noted that when a company engages the services of an accountant, it knows that the accountant will work in a certain way — and if necessary it adjusts its expectations to match. But when a company hires a technical writer, the writer adjusts to the company’s expectations.
That’s true up to a point. But, as Mark readily admitted in response to my comment, technical writers still operate — or should operate — under a set of principles that don’t change from project to project.
Here’s our opportunity. If we’re professionals, let’s codify that set of principles. A few to get us started:
- We serve the audience: we know who they are, and we provide the information they need to meet their objectives.
- We provide value — tangible, ROI value — to the people who employ us, and we can articulate that value.
- We understand the overarching purpose of communication (which Mark deftly defines as “to change behavior”) and we work within the context of an overall communication strategy.
What principles or best practices would you add?