Professional development training (overview)

How do I become a Technical Communicator?  That is probably the second most frequent question in this profession.  "What is that?" is the most frequent question.

Figure 1 presents a model of the relationships around the Tools, Skills (techniques) and Professional Development elements in the technical communication profession.

How do I become a technical communicator

Figure 1 - The elements of technical communication

The Professional Development and Professional Practice elements are the two areas that cause unnecessary angst in those who do not understand the profession.  So let's dispense with these misconceptions immediately.

Professional Development and Professional Practice are not the end goal of becoming a Technical Communicator – they are the starting point.  For example, the minimum entry level for the American Society for Technical Communication Certification Commission (STCCC) certification examination is either five years work experience in technical communication or an appropriate degree plus two years of work experience.  They are easy conditions.  The Commission is making sure people entering the profession are focused on taking a professional approach from the start of their working lives.  Because the goal of professional development and professional practice is to be able to consistently identify, specify, design and deliver the right product for the right price.

So how do you make a start in Technical Communication?

If you want to start from the education side first, there are many undergraduate and graduate courses available overseas from Australia.  Some as close as New Zealand.  Some courses are available through long distance learning programmes.  Some of the technical communication societies in other countries, such as tekom in Germany, have structured programmes for learning the theory side and combining it with work experience.  In some cases, these societies also offer a certification programme.  The society programmes are aimed at making new technical communicators start with a professional development and professional practice attitude.

The difference between tertiary institution courses and the society-related programmes are the instructional format, the breadth and depth of coverage and the type of recognition awarded.  An important consideration is that a degree (of any kind) from a recognised university teaches you how to think.

People often ask about Certificate courses as education alternatives to the options above – especially people who already have a degree in a different discipline.  The answer is to understand what skills you already have.  Then have a look at Figure 1 and which items cause you to wonder what they are about.  Then see if you can find a certificate course that says it covers what you think you need.  For example, learning how to create web pages in Microsoft Word or Microsoft Publisher and upload them to the web is not quite what you are looking for!  Look closely at the organisation offering the certificate.  Check carefully: there are good courses and bad courses.

For Australians wanting to become Technical Communicators, the choices could be easier or harder, depending on how you want to go about becoming a Technical Communicator.  At last check, there are no comparable tertiary eduction equivalents of most of the overseas undergraduate and graduate technical communication courses in Australia.

Your most important need is to learn the relevant essential tools of the profession so you can apply for at least a junior level job.  (Contrary to one "popular" belief, you do not have to learn Microsoft Word.  It depends on where you think you want to work.)  After you have at least a working knowledge of the relevant tools, you need to learn the necessary skills (techniques) for the type of work you expect to be doing.

You can learn the tools by attending commercial courses.  But often these are basically "walk through the menus" courses.  You can achieve a similar amount of knowledge – but with less interactivity – using some of the better on-line video courses.  Another option is the Adobe Classroom in a (e)book series.  They are comprehensive, well presented and easy to follow.  But without doubt, the best approach is to find someone who knows the tools, and the profession, who can give you a practical guide to what you need to know.  Ideally, you should find a mentor.  (Joining a technical communication society and LinkedIn technical communicator discussion groups are two ways to find a mentor.  Going to society conferences is the best way.)

Learning the skills of the profession is a little bit different.  One option is to join the Australian Society for Technical Communication.  It has an annual conference which focuses on workplace skills.  Typically you will gain enough inspiration from one conference to fill the rest of the year with topics to learn about and put into practice.  From time to time the Australian Society for Technical Communication also has day or evening sessions and meetings at lunchtimes (in the city) where you can follow-up conference topics.  But here again, there is no substitute for having an industry mentor.

Another value for money option is the Society for Technical Communication (STC) in America.  It has a vast collection of on-line training material, magazines, special interests groups and so on that can satisfy every enthusiast's desire to learn.  For example, there is a seven session Techcomm 101 International certificate course that is run at Australian-friendly times.  Travelling to their annual conference is probably not financially attractive from Australia (but that is why you join the Australian Society for Technical Communication).

So, how do you become a technical communicator?

Here is one way – and these are your first steps in your professional development because you will be making conscious decisions about how you want to manage your career:

  • Write down what you think you want to do and what you want to achieve. Decide how much time (and money) you have and how much you think you need formal education. Do you have any tertiary education? Is there an advantage in you having a tertiary qualification?
  • Study Figure 1 and write down three items you think you must know about now (because you don't know them already).
  • Talk to agencies, such as HCi and Techwriter Placements, to find out where you might be able to start in the industry and how good the job market is at that time. Find out what training programmes they provide. You might be better off biding your time. Perhaps you can be learning more of the essential knowledge before making a move into technical communication.
  • Join a technical communication society. Find out about the industry and who's who from their newsletters, magazines, conference and other meetings. Focus on people who will share their knowledge with you. (Mentors come in all sorts of disguises.)
  • Label everyone you meet and everything your hear or read using the names of the boxes in Figure 1. Think about how well each person you meet and everything you hear or read in terms of what you have gained that helps you consistently identify, specify, design and deliver the right product at the right price. (You will see more articles on those points as this web site is re-constructed.)
  • Review all the steps above, what you wrote, who you met, what you heard and what you read.
  • Modify your knowledge as needed and go round the loop again until you are ready to take a specific direction.

As this web site is re-constructed there will be some specific Technical Communicator training available under the Documentation Project Management TrainingTools and Technique Training, and Training Specifications and Course Design menus.

Reconstruction notice

This site is (slowly) being re-constructed.

If you click on a page and find no content -- don't worry, it will be there soon!

The menus give you an idea of what is coming to the site.

Thank you for your patience.

In the meantime you are welcome to contact me: