Category Archives: Technical Communication

Coppola: Developing the Body of Knowledge for Technical Communication

Coppola, Nancy W. “The Technical Communication Body of Knowledge Initiative: An Academic-Practitioner Partnership.” Technical Communication 57, no. 1 (2010): 11-25.


Any self-respecting profession maintains a body of knowledge to establish where the profession came from, what current standards are, and where future growth may be possible. In this article, Coppola navigates the technical communication process through the Society for Technical Communication from 2007 to 2009, and how important the relationship between academics and practitioners is to this cause.

Coppola chronicles the development of a technical communication body of knowledge, completed between 2007 and 2009. While in the early stages the process was separated from a similar group investigating accreditation/certification efforts, this process is still invaluable for organizing information that accreditation/certification would need when developing their programs.

A distinct, vibrant, effective, and fluid body of knowledge is important in establishing technical communication as a profession. The first step, as Coppola demonstrated, is organizing a competent body of knowledge with which to assess, evaluate, and train newcomers to the profession. While Coppola recognizes that such a project that have “undesirable costs” to those who lack formal training or for training programs that do not develop critical awareness of how professionalization actually occurs, it is worthwhile as these are the types of struggles that technical communication must endure if they are to benefit from recognition as a profession.


Who should be responsible for maintaining the body of knowledge for a profession?

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Carliner: HRD Certification – Lessons for Technical Communicators?

Carliner, Saul. “Certification and the Branding of HRD.” Human Resource Development Quarterly 23, no. 3 (2012): 411-19.


Saul Carliner suggests that human resource development (HRD) is a growing professional area, but lacks official certification programs to train new HRD professionals. He uses this article to discuss what training programs are available and how these programs and aid the development of HRD professionals.

While the link between HRD professionals and technical communicators may seem tenuous, many of the arguments Carliner presents are applicable to the state of technical communication today. Carliner’s definition of a certification as “the validation of demonstrated competence in a particular field by a third-party assessor” is an important milestone. While there are numerous technical communication degree programs that allow students to demonstrate competence in many areas of technical communication, there are currently few avenues for technical communicator practitioners to establish an official demonstrated competence of their technical communicator abilities.

For technical communication to be taken seriously as a profession, certification programs need to be available and with the 2007-2009 work by Nancy Coppola to establish a broad body of knowledge, elements are in place to produce certification programs. With certification programs in place, practitioners can earn certification and are given avenues to maintain current skills and learn new skills, especially in a field as rapidly evolving as technical communication.

Carliner’s article is an example of how numerous certification programs can work together to engage the field and provide an aura of professionalization that provides authenticity and legitimacy to the profession.


Should Technical Communicators consider themselves “Human Resource Development Practitioners? Why or Why Not?

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Thomas & McShane: The Future of Undergraduate Technical Communication Programs

Thomas, Shelley, and Becky Jo McShane. “Skills and Literacies for the 21st Century: Assessing an Undergraduate Professional and Technical Writing Program.” Technical Communication 54, no. 4 (2007): 412-23.


Thomas and McShane take the outcome of a self-study of their academic department and apply their findings to the broader field of Technical Communication. Their findings have numerous conclusions that all Technical Communicators should note.

A part of many technical communication programs calls for students to develop portfolios, which they can use to secure job positions once they complete the program. With this key goal in mind, Weber State University analyzed their Professional and Technical Communication program to ensure that they were adequately equipping their students with the abilities needed to produce a compelling portfolio. Weber State academics believed that the portfolio indicated clear strengths and weaknesses for each student.

Weber State established a client-centered approach to their program. This approach took into consideration the professional and family background of many of the technical communication students and gave the institution the ability to maximize the community links the students bought with them. By encouraging students to continue to foster their professional relationships, it provided the academics with alternatives to purely academic standards. The interplay between academics, professionals, and students, encouraged the development of more nuanced grading rubrics, which helped to establish a holistic approach to technical communication education.

The result of this collaboration is better preparation of technical communication students and an improved relationship between academics and practitioners hiring graduates from the program, ensuring the viability of the course and the workplace success of the student.


Why is self-study and self-reflection necessary for program and teaching progress?

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Malone: The Beginnings of Technical Communication Professionalization

Malone, Edward A. “The First Wave (1953-1961) of the Professionalization Movement in Technical Communication.” Technical Communication 58, no. 4 (2011): 285-306.


Edward Malone writes a compelling article that demonstrates the long-term project that is the professionalization of technical communication.

Malone identifies six professionalization issues that he believes contribute to a profession’s maturation or pathway to such a status. The issues are:

  • Professional Organizations
  • Body of Knowledge
  • Ethical Standards
  • Certification of Practitioners
  • Accreditation of Academic Programs
  • Legal Recognition

In each issue, technical communication has made great strides towards professionalization, yet in other areas it continues to lag behind other professions. Malone concludes that professionalization has always been a long term project, so the set backs experienced do not diminish the scale of the achievements made so far. These achievements should be the foundation for quiet optimism despite the frustrating aspects experienced in other areas.

Despite the successes and inroads made into establishing technical communication as a profession, much remains – in particular, educating the public about the profession of technical communication and being treated as such. This is one of the last remaining barriers towards the success of technical communication as a profession, and one that will not be quick to overcome. Despite reaching legal, ethical, and educational goals towards professionalization, technical communication still has work to do if it hopes to overcome public perception and for technical communicators to have a standardized answer to the question, “So what is it that you?”


Why is the professionalization of technical communication is necessary?

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Turner & Rainey: Introduction to Technical Communication Certification

Turner, Roy K., and Kenneth T. Rainey. “Certification in Technical Communication.” Technical Communication Quarterly 13, no. 2 (2004): 211-34.


In this considerable article, Turner and Rainey discuss the debate of how to best certify technical and professional communicators. Turner and Rainey position the debate as an ethical issue: a profession, if it is to be judged a profession, must have a mechanism by which the profession can be judged and held accountable for its work. All other respected professions have their crediting agencies so for technical communicators to call themselves professionals, they must have some form of certification, licensure, or accreditation. Without such certification, customers may cast doubt over the quality of work offered as there is little visible guarantee that a technical communicator can complete even the simplest of tasks effectively or accurately.

Rather than descend into a circular argument about whether certification or accreditation produces better workers, Turner and Rainey instead ask, “What does the absence of a competencies assessment say about the profession?”. They conclude that the lack of a competencies assessment “tarnishes” the profession by suggesting the profession’s leaders are irresponsible, and that by keeping the public ill informed means the public have little idea about the professional competencies of the profession’s practitioners.

Ultimately, Turner and Rainey believe that an objective, fair, and meaningful system of certification will greatly benefit the profession of technical communication as well as individual technical communication professionals. Especially when compared to other recognized professions, technical communicators owe an ethical obligation to their potential customers and consumers to show an objective, fair, and meaningful certification system.


How do you assess the best way to train technical communicators?

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Redish: Adding Value as a Professional Technical Communicator

Redish, Janice. “Adding Value as a Professional Technical Communicator.” Technical Communication 50, no. 4 (2003): 505-18.


One of the most important roles any employee has is adding value to a company’s bottom line. This value can take the form of ideas, writings, product design, marketing campaigns, usability testing, or research. As Redish states: “Our hypothesis is that even if quality work by professionals takes more resources up front, the return on that investment more than makes up for the costs”. The ongoing challenge for technical communicators is proving that they can add value. Redish suggests several avenues for how technical communicators can show added value.

Redish’s identifies four ways to measure added value:

  1. Outcome measures
  2. Ratings of customer satisfaction
  3. Projections (estimates) of value added
  4. General perceptions of value of technical communicators’ work

The key for measuring added value for Redish is the ability to reduce the development and maintenance process to key numbers, which can then be used to show how professional technical communicators can either reduce development costs through their input, or reduce customer interactions when a product is released to the market. While Redish notes the caveat that numbers are not the whole story, the ability for technical communicators to highlight where and how they can add value to a business’ bottom line is crucial for the profession. The other important caveat Redish addresses is ensuring that technical communicators claim the credit where due for the value they add.

Technical communicators are often in a position where their status and need is underestimated. By developing procedures along the lines highlighted by Redish in this article and through the case studies she presented, technical communicators can establish themselves as critical to the successful running of most businesses and operations.


Can you identify any other areas where technical communicators can add value? What are they?

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Friess: Usability Evalutors: Impacting Reports?

Friess, Erin. “Discourse Variations between Usability Evaluation and Usability Reports.” Journal of Usability Studies 6, no. 3 (2011): 102-16.


Erin Friess evaluates the differences between usability evaluations and usability reports. She investigated the usability evaluation process and compared the results against the language of usability reports and established that many usability evaluators modified the language and outcomes of the usability studies in their reports. Friess suggests several reasons for this discrepancy and calls for further research into the topic.

Friess used a comparison of language used in end-user usability participants with that of the language in the usability reports submitted by the usability evaluators. After examining her results, Friess established that:

  • 84% of findings had some basis in the usability evaluation
  • 16% of findings had no basis from the usability evaluation

Of the 84% of findings that had some basis:

  • 55% were accurate findings
  • 29% were potential inaccurate.

In each category, soundbites and interpretation were the key attributors to the evaluator’s findings. From her results, Friess suggests a number of reasons for the discrepancies found between usability evaluations and usability reports.

  1. Confirmation bias in oral reports
  2. Bias in what’s omitted in the usability reports
  3. Biases in Client desires
  4. Poor interpretative skills

In each of these categories, biases are natural and are to be expected. Adequate training should be able to correct the impact biases have. Poor interpretative skills, however, are a challenge to overcome.  Poor interpretative skills lead to biases, as those conducting usability tests will guide end-users towards predetermined conclusions if they anticipate potential issues or chose to interpret end-user behavior in line with what they expect to see. Educating usability testers on how to interpret end-user comments, behavior, and questions will go a long way to reducing the discrepancy between end-user usability evaluations and usability evaluator reports.


How can usability evaluators improve interpretative skills?

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