Tag Archives: STC

Certification for Technical Communicators: Will it succeed?

Now that STC has relaunched its CPTC program, it’s worth asking: is certification for technical communicators an idea whose time has come?

Full disclosure: I studied the certification question in depth as a member of the STC board of directors in the mid 1990s. Soon after I left the board, the leadership decided not to go ahead with a program. (My own position was neutral.) When STC launched the original CPTC program about 5 years ago, I wasn’t involved in the decision or in the deliberations that led up to it.

Will anyone want certification?

cptc_foundationAt the recent STC Summit conference, someone asked me whether I plan to pursue a CPTC certification. I said no, because I don’t think it would benefit someone with my experience and reputation. However, If I were a young professional trying to make a name for myself, I might very well feel differently. Continue reading


Why is it so important that STC survive?

Mark Baker, commenting on my post about STC and its future, asked me a question:

Larry, I have to ask why you think it is so important that the STC survive per se? Is it because it performs some vital function that will cease to exist if STC folds? Or is it sentimental attachment based on time sunk into it, long time association, and long standing friendships?

I’ve pondered that question for a while.

STC logo

Yes, STC has been good to me. But that’s not the only reason I want it to succeed.

Of course part of the answer, for me, is sentiment. My experience with STC has been extremely rewarding. I don’t keep up with friends from high school or college, but some of my STC friendships are going strong after 20 or 30 years. In STC, I feel an incredibly strong sense of belonging. This is my tribe.

I understand, however, that most people don’t share that sentiment. And I know it’s not a reason for wanting STC to survive per se.

So is there, in Mark’s words, a vital function that STC provides? I think there are several — or at least there can be.

The role of a society

What’s the role of a professional society in a field where credentialling — that is, licensing — isn’t a legal prerequisite to participation?

Start with networking and information exchange. Several of the more recently formed communities, like LavaCon and Write the Docs, provide both of those. It’s because of that, I think, that people are questioning whether STC has become outmoded.

Yet a professional society ought to perform other functions as well:
Continue reading

STC: Growing in Numbers and Relevance

STC logoIn the runup to the 63rd annual STC Summit, now underway, I posted some thoughts on how the event has shrunk since the late 1990s. The post drew a lot of insightful comments about the Summit and about conferences in general. (I encourage you to read them.)

Two readers — perhaps picking up on my observation that STC membership has declined along with Summit attendance — suggested that STC itself, not just the conference, is struggling to remain relevant.

That’s the issue I’d like to focus on today: How can STC grow in both numbers and relevance?

First I’ll excerpt their comments. Then I’ll add my thoughts. Then I want to hear what you think. Continue reading

Scaling (down) the Summit

Next week, technical communicators from around the world will convene at the STC Summit in Anaheim, California.

summit16The last time the Summit was held in Anaheim, in 1998, it attracted more than 2,000 people — about 3 times the number that’s expected next week. (For that matter, STC’s total membership in 1998 was about 3 times what it is today.)

I’ve attended more than 20 Summits. I love seeing old friends and catching up on what’s happening in the profession.

Still, I can’t help noticing that the event has shrunk over the years. While the program still features some great speakers and great presentations, I no longer have the sense that in every time slot I’m forced to choose between 3 or 4 can’t-miss sessions.

I’d like to hear what you, my colleagues, think about the Summit and about conferences in general. Use the comments section to share your thoughts:

  • Will you be at the Summit this year? If so, why did you choose to attend? If not, why not?
  • Has the Summit, once the pre-eminent technical communication event in North America, been overtaken by other events? (In 1998, for example, there was
    no such thing as LavaCon— or any of the other events with “content strategy” on their marquees.)
  • Do special-interest or niche events, like DITA North America, draw people away from more general-interest events like the Summit?
  • Finally, when you look over the conference landscape and see how much it’s changed over the last 10 to 20 years, do you think things are better today? Worse? Or just different?

Technical communication in India: a story of progress

The 17th STC India Annual Conference starts on Friday, with a great program and a great list of speakers.

1350px-Flag_of_India_svgThe enthusiasm for the event reminds me of 2011 when I presented a workshop at an STC India conference. Here, paraphrased, is what I wrote then:

India’s flag features a wheel that symbolizes three aspects of the national character: self-reliance (the wheel was originally meant to represent a spinning wheel), duty and propriety as embodied in the law of dharma, and movement.

The last of the three — movement — sums up a lot of what I’ve seen so far in India. On the street, everything is constantly moving at different paces and in different directions. But it’s moving, and somehow it all works: people get where they need to go, in one piece. Movement, or more precisely progress, also describes the many new buildings and office parks that house many of the world’s great technology companies.

Amid this progress, and certainly part of this progress, are India’s technical communicators. I’ve met several of them through social networking and in person.

STC’s India chapter, and the people in it, are definitely on the move.

Since then, the progress has surely continued. Continue reading

Defining what you and I do

I remember trying to do this in STC without getting too far. Now tekom, the European professional society, has taken a stab at defining the job duties of technical communicators.

Graph showing 7 major areas of competency

Source: tekom

I think they’ve done a pretty good job.

Start with the 7 areas of competence (pictured). These aptly describe, in broad terms, the tasks associated with each stage of the content lifecycle.

Then look at the 27 fields of competence. For example, Content Creation — one of the 7 areas of competence — breaks down into identifying information sources, acquiring and selecting information, using tools to create content, and so forth. You can see these 27 fields in the Profiling Tool, a self-assessment that anyone can take.

Why a competency model?

All of this is a lot to digest. But by and large it reflects our jobs pretty well. In cases where I might quibble with the tekom definitions, it could be because I’m steeped in my own industry and tekom has tried to make the lists industry-agnostic.

Tekom identified four major stakeholder groups for the competency model:

  • Company managers and personnel departments, who draw up lists of job requirements
  • Educational institutions that develop training programs and curricula
  • People who want further education in Tech Comm
  • Practitioners who want to enter the field or enhance their skills

But that’s not all. Continue reading

Five reasons you have to vote in the STC election

Forgive the clickbait headline. But, dear STC member, you have to admit it worked. Here you are reading this page.

Now that you’re here, without further ado:STC Election logo for 2018

  1. In 2012 Ray Gallon was elected to the STC Board of Directors by one vote. That’s right: every single person who voted for Ray had a direct effect on the composition of the Board throughout Ray’s two-year term. Everyone who supported the losing candidate, but who didn’t bother to vote, had a direct effect too. Your vote does count. But if you don’t use it, your vote might count in a way you don’t want.
  2. In 2016 Kirsty Taylor was elected to the Board by two votes, and there was a tie for the second Nominating Committee spot¹. That’s just in case you thought the 2012 result was a fluke. A golfer getting struck by lightning while sinking a hole-in-one. No, it’s not like that.
  3. Here are the percentages of STC members who did not vote in the last five Society elections: 83%, 85%, 89%, 85%, 86%. In an organization that depends on its members’ participation, that’s shameful. Appalling. Pick your adjective. The only way to change it is for each of you to vote, one by one.
  4. I myself have recited the mantra that every candidate is well qualified, and therefore STC stands to gain regardless of who’s elected. By expressing that view, perhaps I’ve unwittingly helped tamp down the voting percentages. Why vote, if all of the candidates are equally good? Because every candidate is different. Every candidate comes to the election with their own set of priorities for STC, and their own set of experiences. Take time to learn which candidates’ views and experiences align most closely with your views about what’s best for STC. Then vote for those candidates.
  5. STC shouldn’t be one of those organizations you join just to get the membership card, just to add a line to your resume. It’s an organization where, the more you participate, the more you get back. If you’ve never participated in STC, why not start by casting your vote?

Tell me what you think in the comments. If you’ve already voted, tell me why you did.

Note 1: All election results are published on the STC website. Just search for STC election results along with the year.

Originally posted on 16 March 2015; updated on 2 March 2018

Technology doesn’t make it Tech Comm

A colleague of mine is creating a training course for new technical communicators. In it, she includes the definition of technical communication from the STC website. (It’s easy to find: right at the top of the About pull-down.)

“Technical communication,” STC says, “is a broad field and includes any form of communication that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics [emphasis STC’s]:”

  • Communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations.
  • Communicating by using technology, such as web pages, help files, or social media sites.
  • Providing instructions about how to do something, regardless of how technical the task is or even if technology is used to create or distribute that communication.

STC logoI’m good with items 1 and 3. It’s the second item that stops me in my tracks.

According to item 2, this blog post is technical communication. It communicates (at least I flatter myself that it does). And it’s published using a social-media platform.

According to item 2, every article in The Onion is technical communication. And every tweet by @A_single_bear.

It gets worse. A telephone is technology. So every obscene phone call — no matter what vile and/or creepy things it communicates — is technical communication.

STC, by assuming that technology implies technical, has given us a ridiculously broad definition for our profession.

My request is a simple one: Would someone at STC headquarters please fix that definition? Deleting the one bullet would probably do the trick — although you’re welcome to any of the ideas I shared in my first-ever post on this blog: What is technical communication?

That’s all. I don’t think I’m asking for too much. I’d just like to know that “the world’s leading organization dedicated to advancing the field of technical communication” (again, quoting from the website) actually knows what technical communication is.

Today is our day

May 13I hereby propose that we celebrate today, May 13, as the first annual Salute to Technical Communicators Day (STC Day, for short). I trust that all mayors, governors, etc., who read this will issue the appropriate proclamations.

Why May 13? Because it’s the anniversary of the last original episode of Columbo, the TV series in which Peter Falk played Lieutenant Columbo, a rumpled and inquisitive detective.

Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo

The patron saint of technical communicators

Columbo’s tag line (“Just one more question”), and the fact that he was always underestimated, make him the patron saint of technical communicators.

Who better to represent those of us who pursue every scrap of knowledge for our readers’ benefit? Who better to represent those of us who contribute so much and whose value is so often overlooked?

Why a day to salute technical communicators? Well, why not?

I’m planning some exciting activities for STC Day. Feel free to suggest others in the comments.

  • Get your SMEs to bake brownies for you.
  • Throw a book-sprint party.
  • Read that favorite manual (RTFM): We all have a favorite piece of technical documentation. Pull it off the shelf and enjoy it all over again. Share it on Goodreads, Twitter, and anywhere else you like.
  • Hang a big STC banner on your favorite freeway overpass.
  • Eat lots of chocolate. Because….do you need an excuse?
Image source: IMDB