The New Certification You Really Should Be Able to Get from CompTIA
Technical writing is an essential component of information technology, and yet it is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood disciplines in the entire industry. Ask any consumer who has had to parse a poorly written product manual while attempting to set up a new all-in-one printer, or someone who has cursed at the screen while searching for an answer in a sloppy software help system. Clear, concise and targeted technical writing is a function that many IT companies treat as an afterthought, or ignore completely.
Product documentation, in all of its different formats, should serve two key goals:
? Offer users relevant, useful information about a product or service.
? Act as the first line of support for a given product or service.
Technical writers need three distinct toolkits to be proficient at their jobs. The first, most obvious toolkit is the one for writing skills. All of the nuts and bolts associated with building things with words — grammar, spelling, composition — are just as important to technical writing as to any other form of writing.
The second toolkit is the technology and methodology of technical writing. For example, there are many different authoring tools used by tech writers to create product documentation in several different formats. There is also the background technology that supports technical writing, things like source control and content management systems.
The third toolkit concerns technical writing as a business function. Tech writing has to fit into other business functions while still meeting its key goals. This is particularly important in the software industry, where the holy triumvirate of software development, software testing and quality assurance, and technical writing must collaborate and work together to meet deadlines and product release targets.
While the first toolkit (writing skills) is independent of any particular industry, the second and third toolkits line up perfectly with the IT world ... which is why CompTIA should create an industry certification for technical writing.
The argument for "TechWriter+"
There are some excellent reasons why CompTIA should consider creating an industry designation for technical writing.
First, tech writing is a unique discipline that has aspects based in other technical and operational fields, which is similar to the subjects of many current CompTIA certifications. For example, Security+ is based on a specialized discipline (IT/IS system security) that has links to several other knowledge domains, like networking hardware and software, risk management, and incident response. Tech writing is a good fit for CompTIA, based on how their certification development team likes to structure the certs in its current program.
Technical writing could use an industry-based accreditation. Yes, there are college and other secondary education degree and certificate programs for budding tech writers ... just as there are programs for PC and network techs, security analysts, and data storage managers. IT industry certifications don't take away from these programs, nor are they diminished by them.
IT certifications add a clear, industry-recognized mark of distinction to a candidate's record. They also provide early training goals for newcomers to the IT industry, and a way for technology workers to validate their skill and accumulated experience.
A CompTIA certification for tech writing would offer something significant to both candidates and employers. For candidates, an industry certification in tech writing would give them an additional way to prove their worth to a potential or existing employer. On the flip side, employers would have a standardized accreditation from a well-established industry association to identify tech writers who have gone the extra distance to distinguish themselves.
Even more importantly, a CompTIA tech writing certification could help to define the relationship between this critical function and other business disciplines. Technical writing is usually poorly integrated into an organization's structure, often because it is seen as an odd adjunct to another department. Ask any marketing or communications professional from technology companies how often they've been asked to write product manuals, or content for software help systems.
Like Security+, Linux+, and Cloud+, a new certification from CompTIA would help to distinguish tech writing as a distinct discipline that is meant to complement and support other critical functions in an organization. If you are a tech writer, what do you think about this idea? Leave us a comment and let us know if you would be interested in a CompTIA certification for tech writing.