Thursday, December 10, 2015

End of Semester Reflection

I took this class to gain a greater understanding of the theory and practice of technical writing. The first half of the semester gave me a lot to think about the practice of professional writing in general. I appreciated that Cornelissen gave an international perspective. However, I felt he often avoided deep analysis of issues, more often relating stories on corporate communications without questioning the corporate perspective. He also focused almost exclusively on marketing and public relations, rarely touching on technical writing. 

The Industry Report I wrote in the first half gave me an outlet to focus specifically on technical writing. This assignment gave me a preview of the focus of the semester's second half. I found it difficult to pin down a definition of technical communication, even within one industry. My research for the report also helped me appreciate how marketing and other forms of writing can have blurred boundaries with technical writing. I had to carry this lesson into the Resume and Cover Letter assignment. All five of the job ads were for some form of marketing or journalism position, so I had to spin my own technical background into reasonable pitches. This forced me to think very carefully about how to present my experience. The ability to consider audience so carefully is a skill necessary not just in job-hunting, but in all communication.

I appreciated the deep focus on technical communication as a profession in the second half of the semester. I truly didn't know there was such a rich background of scholarship behind the profession, and the efforts to standardize it. The class responses to these readings were very interesting. While my own thoughts came from the perspective of a practicing technical writer, it was useful to see the perspectives of those with other jobs approached the same subject. I think future scholarship should focus on the realities of the 21st century workforce, which is often ambivalent, if not outright hostile, to formal certification. This is a discussion that a scholar of general corporate communication like Cornelissen can actually inform.

I wish we could have had some deeper discussion on these topics, but online classes inevitably limit engagement. I think this class managed as well as possible given the constraints. I feel like I got a good idea of my classmates' perspectives, even if I sometimes missed the nuances and depth of in-person interaction.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Kline and Barker

I appreciate how Kline and Barker's idea of professional consciousness contributes to an actual sense of professionalism among practitioners. It reminds me of Light's points about how important the desire itself for professional status is. Kline and Barker's consciousness, in this sense, is a kind of collective consciousness, shared among (ideally) all technical communicators, and technical communication academics.

However, I wonder how achievable this is when considering Carliner's delineation of approaches to professionalism. Kline and Barker use the example of a Society for Technical Communication (STC) project with both practicing and academic participants. I think it's fair to say that most, if not all, the participants could be classified as formal professionals. While Carliner notes that some quasiprofessionals may join professional organizations, I'm not sure many would be inclined to participate in the summit the authors describe.

In this case, it's likely most participants already buy in to the project of professionalism. The barrier to creating a professional consciousness among these practitioners and academics is probably lower than it would be for non-members of organizations like STC. How likely are contraprofessionals to participate in a project like this? The first part of Kline and Barker's CANFA set of characteristics is "Collaborate." The more pressing grounds for collaboration are between those not currently engaged in professional efforts and those who are—regardless of whether they're academics or not.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


After several weeks of articles about the nature of professionalization, and whether technical communication is a profession, I feel like the Carliner article clarified the conversation for me. Until now, we've mostly been considering the question of whether technical communication is a profession, or not. It seemed like you had to fall on one side of the question or the other. I think Carliner makes the point that it's not so clear.

The issue can't be so clearly black and white because, as Carliner notes, different stakeholders hold a spectrum of views. It's just not correct to say that everyone is either fully on board with professionalization, or totally opposed to it. I have a feeling the position of quasiprofessionalism fits many people's perspectives, and these views aren't fully pro- or anti-professionalization. 

Many employers may fit into the position of contraprofessionalism. Why insist on external standards when your only concern is finding someone who can do the job you want? Likewise, many organization members (especially active ones) may champion formal professionalism, and the certification it encourages. This leaves a lot of practicing communicators whose own feelings may fall somewhere in between.

On a side note, I found Carliner's definitions to occupation and profession to be baffling. They're not only different from the uses we've read so far; they're practically inverted from what I'd expect. He even notes that what he calls an occupation is referred to as a profession in other articles in the same issue. While he notes that his terminology is different, he doesn't, in my opinion, justify it.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hallier & Malone

I didn't appreciate the historical context of Light's essay when I first read it last week. I was able to read it in a contemporary context. That speaks to both the continuing challenges in the technical communication field, and Light's foresight in articulating them. As I'd expect from an accomplished technical writer, he explains his topic clearly and concisely. Hallier and Malone add context by shedding light (sorry) on the author's own life.

I wonder how much Light's extraordinary credentials played into his suggestions for professionalization. Five degrees is remarkable in any fields, and in any era. His career-long focus on health sciences may speak to the importance he places on a scientific background for technical writers. Focus on subject matter knowledge, as opposed to some general standards, has been mentioned as one of the challenges to professionalization of technical communication that we've read about.

Reading Light's suggestions in a 21st-century context, I think that a scientific background is just as important as he claimed in 1960. However, I see it as less of a preparation for writing in some specific field, and more as training in critically analyzing and translating scientific information in general. Clearly explaining some of the world's most opaque and esoteric knowledge speaks seriously to a technical writer's merits.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Light & Malone

I took away from the previous articles by Faber and Savage that there was no easy way to define professionalization, and that technical communication strove for that status, but hadn’t quite reached it. The articles by Light and Malone expand on these topics. Light makes a point of emphasizing how important status—specifically “professional” status—is to practitioners. I understand how both an inner drive for success and the desire to be recognized by others’ standards can increase satisfaction. It’s not unusual that technical communicators would want a status that improves how they feel about their work.

Malone’s article elaborates on how, not just why, technical communication organizations have strived for just such a status. I take from this extensive history the lesson that the effort to attain professional recognition itself can raise the very standards expected of professionals. While I’m as much a fan of Robert Hamlett’s term “publications engineer” as Light is (which is to say, not at all), I appreciate his Code of Ethics for Technical Writers. Such an effort is hardly trivial. It forces practitioners to think seriously about the value of their work, regardless of context, client, or company. All technical communicators adhering to such standards, no matter how basic, would undeniably be a step toward professional status.

I still can’t say that technical communication has achieved professional status. There is still a serious disparity between the expectations of technical communication societies and most employers of technical communicators. While I agree with Malone that the efforts of those societies to push for professional standards has yielded achievements, the fact that the effort is still unfolding tells me that some crucial piece has yet to fall into place.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Job ad analysis

I analyzed five job ads for how their language, format, and content convey the expectations and requirements for applicants. These insights will help applicants write resumes and cover letters, and prepare for interviews appropriately for each position.

Attachment: Job Ad Analysis

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Technically professional communicators? (Savage)

Savage wonders whether technical communication has reached the level of a profession. Although he notes that progress has been made, and continues, he sounds skeptical. I have to agree. Technical communication can't be explained as distinctly as law, medicine, or teaching. Those are professions that, while one may follow a circuitous route to, have fairly distinct requirements to practice. The common practice of technical communicators entering the occupation from other fields doesn't strike me as inherently nonsensical, much less wrong.

Maybe it's useful to question why an occupation develops into a distinct profession, in addition to how. Lawyers, doctors, and teachers have responsibilities to a wider public, at least theoretically, as Faber argued. This is why we have strict licensing standards for them. It wasn't always so. Go back a century, and a degree or two may be dropped. Two centuries ago, a practitioner may have needed nothing more than an apprenticeship, or membership in the educated gentry class. The standards that we now associate with professionalization developed because society demanded it of these people, with whom we trust our legal representation, health, and education, respectively.

Is the same demand there for technical communicators? I'm not so sure. This in no way diminishes the importance of good technical documentation. As Savage notes, the dismissive attitude of simply shipping cheap, quickly-written documents can seriously damage an organization's products and reputation. But this doesn't quite meet the measure of licensing and certification that the recognized professions use. As I said in my response to Faber, knowledge is becoming increasingly specialized. If the specialists themselves don't have the time or ability to communicate as well or as receptively as they used to, society should demand that our communicators be credentialed.