Technical writing is a field of the IT industry that isn’t mentioned a lot, but skills in this area are quite valuable. Read about technical writing certifications and what they can do for you in this article.
What Is Technical Writing?
First of all, let’s have a look at what technical writing.
You may or may not have heard of this term before. A technical writer is someone who develops technical documentation, such as manuals, user guides and specifications, for a variety of subjects. It’s used in the IT industry a lot, as it’s a technical field. Technical writing and technical documentation covers topics such as:
- software manuals
- interface specifications
- solution design documents
- technical support manuals
A technical writer’s skills are important because they need knowledge of two main areas – writing ability and technical knowledge.
The technical knowledge would include knowledge of the hardware or software that they are writing about. You may be able to write a document on how to use an application, but to make it an effective technical document, you’ll need an understanding of how it works. Experience in the field is also helpful.
What Technical Certifications Are Available?
A common question with technical writers, and many areas of the IT industry actually, is around certifications. Are there any technical writer certifications available? If so, what are they?
There is an organisation known as STC – Society for Technical Communication. The STC offers certifications which are recommended by those in the technical writing field. The certifications they offer include:
- Certified Professional Technical Writer (CPTW)
- Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC)
However, at the time of writing (August 2014), STC has outlined on their Certification page that they have put the process for new applications on hold as they evaluate certification requirements to better serve their members.
So, it seems you can’t apply for new certifications at STC at the moment. I imagine this will re-open sometime, though.
Other options for technical writing certifications include universities and colleges. Many of them (such as MIT) offer a technical writing course or technical communication course. They should provide you with the relevant knowledge to become a technical writer.
Do I Really Need A Technical Writing Certification?
Another common question for IT professionals, which also applies to technical writers or those looking to become a technical writer, is if technical writing certifications are needed?
One school of thought is that certifications are not needed. Getting an entry level job in technical writing can be achieved with some experience in the IT industry and demonstrating that you know how to write technical documents. This is done by providing some examples of your work, which can be personal projects or contributions to open source software.
The other school of thought is that certifications allow you to increase your knowledge in a certain area (in this case, technical writing), and demonstrate that you have a minimum level of understanding. Getting a certification, and bringing it to job interviews and adding it to your resume shows that you know the material to a certain level.
My opinion is that any education is helpful, and if you have the time and money, you should look in to getting certified. Even though STC is currently not accepting new applications, a university or college can offer some education.
An article that I recently read over at I’d Rather Be Writing details this further, and that technical knowledge and experience in the industry is also helpful.
Just like with many IT certifications, getting a technical writing certification can demonstrate your interest and passion to the field, and can help you stand out from other candidates when looking for a job. It can also show your employer that you meet a minimum standard and makes them feel more confident in your abilities.
What If I Don’t Want To Get A Certification?
There are other options for getting in to technical writing without a certification, such as:
- Write manuals and guides for other software, such as open source projects. These kinds of projects are often not documented, so this gives you the benefit of improving your skills and giving you some sample work, and benefits the community who use the software.
- Write documentation for your friends or contacts. If you know someone who is designing software or needs some technical writing done, offer to help them out with some technical writing. Mention that you’d like to use it as your sample work, though, to make sure they are OK with it.