In March 2012 I achieved a world first: I was awarded the designation of Certified Professional Technical Communicator™ (CPTC™) by the Society for Technical Communication Certification Commission. This certification is on a par with MCSE, PMP, CMC, CPA and other professional designations. It indicates that I have met the criteria for certification as an expert in my profession of technical communication.
The road to Certification for technical communicators has been a long one. Forty years in the making, we now have acknowledgement of our skills and abilities in a way that is meaningful to employers and clients. Because the profession encompasses so many aspects of technology and communication, it took a long time for technical communicators themselves to reach consensus on what capabilities should be evaluated during the certification process.
Many of us focus on one branch of the profession, such as DITA and single-sourcing for knowledge and information management. Others are more involved in technical marketing or the teaching of technical communication. We include among our ranks long-serving employees of high tech companies as well as independent contractors who move from company to company throughout their careers. We have practitioners who focus on web content development and social media, while others concentrate exclusively on software documentation. We have specialists as well as generalists, and people who do both, specializing in one facet of the profession when the opportunity suits them, but looking for any general opportunity when it’s time to move on.
With such a varied profession, it was difficult for us all to agree on what qualities described the professional communicator. In the end, we did what we do best: we synthesized all of these activities into core competencies. Those core competencies are: turning complex technical material — no matter what the genre — into content that is clear and easy to understand, rapidly acquiring knowledge of a specific subject, and developing a profound understanding of the target audience. Our key deliverable is an effective, accurate message that achieves the client’s goals.
Based on that foundation, the STC Certification Commission (STCC) developed criteria for excellence in 9 skill areas:
- Project Planning
- Project Analysis
- Solution Design
- Organizational Design
- Written Communication
- Visual Communication
- Content Development
- Content Management
- Final Production
The STCCC describes it this way:
The CPTC credential is available worldwide to experienced technical communicators who work in English and wish to demonstrate that they have the ability to meet the North American standards for practice.
Certification demonstrates the recipient’s experience in and personal, ongoing commitment to the profession. It encompasses broad areas of practice that represent the major activities performed by technical communicators. The certified practitioner demonstrates proficiency in the following areas:
- User, Task, and Experience Analysis — Define the users of the information and analyze the tasks that the information must support.
- Information Design — Plan information deliverables to support task requirements. Specify and design the organization, presentation, distribution and archival for each deliverable.
- Process Management — Plan the deliverables schedule and monitor the process of fulfillment.
- Information Development — Author content in conformance with the design plan, through an iterative process of creation, review, and revision.
- Information Production — Assemble developed content into required deliverables that conform to all design, compliance, and production guidelines. Publish, deliver, and archive.
It took me 40 hours to assemble all of the relevant materials to support my application for certification. That package of information, covering all 9 areas of competence, was evaluated independently by 2 experts in technical communication against the criteria that the STCCC had established. I met the criteria and was awarded the designation, allowing me to use the letters CPTC™ after my name.
This is definitely the high point in my 35+ year career as a technical communicator.