Faber article is important to the field because of his exploration of what constitutes professionalism. It is a struggle (at least in Technical Communication) that we’ll read more about the rest of the semester. In recent years, the Society for Technical Communication has undertaken two initiatives to prove, if you will, the professionalization of Technical Communication. One is the effort to provide certification. They established a test that has three levels: foundation, practitioner, and expert. This timed test covers nine core areas of technical communication and it costs over $600 to take the test (regardless of which test you take). This testing was created in much the same way that plumbers, engineers, lawyers, etc. take an certification exam. One of STC’s intentions with the certification exam is to professionalize the field. The other effort is the Body of Knowledge(BOK) project. This project, which is a voluntary collaborative effort between academics and industry professionals, explicates in one place the body of knowledge, hence its name, for technical communication. As the website states, this task is difficult in Technical Communication because the knowledge is dispersed, that is so interdisciplinary, that collecting all the knowledge in one place is challenging. Both projects contribute to STC’s efforts to professionalize the field, which is good for technical writers who must defend their field on a continual basis as well as to increase their value to employers, which hopefully also increase their salaries and prestige.
The same kind of skepticism of Technical Communication that happens in industry also happens in academia. I’ve been lucky in my department to have colleagues who respect the work that I do. But many English departments don’t regard Technical Communication on the same level as Literature, for example. Although it is happening less and less, but still does happen. Part of this disdain comes from the perspective of Technical Communication as a practical discipline, when in fact it is heavily theoretical. Faber mentions this discord in his discussion about a teaching student a rhetorical approach (democratic) to their work and the capitalistic approach of the workplace. Among the “lack of theory” perspective, I experience this challenge in two ways: in the classroom, when students tell me they are only taking my classes in order to get a better job and higher wages, but in the same breath degrades the work of a technical communicator as too practical and not as lofty as an editor or creative writer. I also experience when graduate students tell me that they want to get a job in the academic realm of Technical Communication because “that’s where the jobs are.” Yet, they don’t want to take any of my classes or learn anything that technical writers really do (like document design and deep audience analysis). They think that because they have a rhetorical degree (that is, anything that has to do with the study of language) that they can easily write a technical document. If they do actually take my classes, they are shocked when they get their first writing back with a lower grade than they expected. I once had a graduate student select Technical Communication for her comprehensive exams because she thought it would be a slam dunk because she worked as a technical writer. I asked her what Heidegger meant by “standing reserve,” which is a reading from the digital literacies course and also on the comps list. Of course, she hadn’t read it and was in fact not familiar with the comps list. These instances, which are becoming fewer, demonstrate the kind of perspective nonprofessionals in Technical Communication have toward that area. If you are getting the Graduate Certificate in Technical Communication, what inspired you to seek out this degree? How much knowledge did you have about the field before applying for admission? Is your perspective different now? What changes to the program would you suggest I consider for the future?