A little over a month ago, I decided to get the Society for Technical Communication’s (STC) Certified Professional Technical Communicator certification. At the moment, only the Foundation level is available, but I believe at least one of the two remaining levels will be available next year.
Here’s my review of the process.
The certification costs $495, or $250 for members (some workplaces may cover all or part of this cost). Once you’ve paid for the certification, you have a year to take the test, which is administered by APMG-International. The test consists of a 40-minute, proctored test containing 50 multiple choice questions. You have to score at least a 70% to earn the certification. There are no testing centers in my area, so I took my test online. When you register for an actual test date, you can check that your system meets the requirements. My work system doesn’t have the correct port open, so my initial plan to take it during my lunch didn’t pan out. I took it at home over the weekend instead.
The questions are pretty straightforward and taken directly from the book they chose as the basis for the course, Technical Communication Today, 5th Edition, by Richard Johnson-Sheehan. Since I’d never read this book, I decided that I’d better. I wasn’t sure how specific they’d be about process orders and steps, or about definitions. One of the practice questions referenced a team creation strategy with a specific order, though, so it looked like I’d need those details (and that assumption turned out to be accurate). I was able to get a used copy of the book from Amazon for a reasonable price, so I started taking notes. There is also the option to rent, or you could look for it at your local library.
Overall, the biggest problem I had with the book was more about me than the book. The information is intended for a beginner, just out of school and ready to start looking for that first job. I was a little impatient with it at times, but at the same time that allowed me to skim the material quickly enough to cover a couple of chapters each day during my lunch. It made it easy to take notes, too, when I started cross-referencing within them.
As an instructional guide for a beginner, I have very few complaints. While it felt repetitive to me (for example, descriptions of how to use logical mapping in almost every chapter), for someone just starting out that repetition is a good way to reinforce the information so that it sticks. It covered all of the basic information, from high level descriptions of different document types to transcultural documentation issues to how to insert an image and what kind of graphics to use.
The one complaint that I can’t dismiss by assuming the perspective of a new writer is that a small portion of the material is outdated. This edition is from 2015, but it was still a bit technically lacking in small ways. Some of it was there, but as additional information in a separate text box. For example, when explaining the appropriateness of different types of communications, the main text indicated that most communication should be paper because email is too casual, but had a side note that this is no longer the case and most workplace information is transmitted electronically. I feel it’s probably time to integrate that into the main body.
Other information was absent entirely. The section on image formats, for example, discussed .jpg and .gif, but .png was conspicuously absent. Considering that this is a widely used format (less artifacting than .jpg but more range than .gif, and transparency is an option), it really should have been included. In fact, I rarely use anything but .png’s in my technical documents. The exceptions are the rare high quality photographs and unusually simple graphics that I might need.
On the whole, though, these issues were few and far between. It’s a good beginning textbook, and it was a helpful review to make sure I had the details correct for the test. It covers all of the basics simply and thoroughly, and I think the STC chose well in making this text the basis for the certification.
The online proctoring process took a little time to set up, and it felt a little weird, but it wasn’t overly burdensome. The test went quickly, and I was able to see my results immediately. My score was lower than I would have liked, but to be honest I never did study all those notes I took. (Lesson learned!) The site says I’ll get my official results in 7-10 days and my certificate in two weeks, though I’ll have to order a hard copy if I want one.
As for the certification itself, I have yet to see if it helps me in the workplace. Since I have no intention of looking for another job any time soon, I may not have much data to share. But generally speaking, certifications are never bad and almost always helpful on your resume. I’m glad I have it, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the requirements are for the Practitioner Level.
And I have to admit that I feel a little validated as a professional. =P
*Update: The process has been much faster than stated on the site. I now have my official results (less than 24 hours after completing the test) and an email that says I’ll see my e-certificate in one to two days. I’m not certain how long it takes their list of certificants to update, or when the list on the STC site updates.