Directory-at-Large Candidate

by Hillary Hart, Candidate for Director-at-Large

Defining a TC Body of Knowledge

As a candidate for director-at-large, I believe that one of the most important initiatives STC can undertake is to define a Body of Knowledge (BoK) for the technical-communication profession. In my role as co-chair of the STC BoK committee, I am dedicated to bringing our profession into the 21st century by actually defining it, in all its variability. Why is this effort necessary?

First of all, a profession cannot be recognized as a profession until it is defined as such. Engineers, for instance, have a body of knowledge they must master before they can practice as engineers, whether structural, electrical, or mechanical. Although technical communicators may not yet want such a highly codified and subdivided set of skills and practices, we do need an authoritative place to find answers to that eternal question: “What do technical communicators do, anyway?” New practitioners need to see their professional development pathways spelled out, along with concomitant educational/training opportunities. Veteran practitioners need a means for assessing their progress and determining what additional training they may need. Or they may simply need quick access to guidelines for new techniques and technologies (structured authoring, content management, etc.). And executives, who may never have heard of technical communication, need a place to find out what it is that TCers can do for their company. That place is the web-based set of definitions, domains, and documents that will bring together a TC BoK.

Secondly, many recent studies of technical communicators show that writing is just a part (and sometimes a small part) of what successful technical communicators actually do. In my co-authored survey (see Technical Communication, November 2006), only 8 out of the 75 responses listed “writer” as a unique identifier. Our data show that communicators seem to be spending about the same amount of time on communication processes as they are on creating end-user documents or products. If we want to maximize our value to the business functions of corporations and agencies, we need a body of knowledge that will make that value clear to employers.

The BoK effort is currently being led by a team of experienced industry and academic STC members. This spring, you will be invited to look at the initial outline of a hierarchy of domains, skills, and knowledge levels. This BoK is yours to develop; the start-up team is simply trying to put together a straw site to start the collaborative effort. Some of us are usability experts; some of us manage content; some of us train and teach other TCers. What are the essential skills, concepts, and knowledge bases that unite us? When we can answer that big question, we will be a true profession.

Please look for news of the BoK project, and plan to attend the 2008 STC Summit in Philadelphia to hear about progress and to participate in developing a meaningful TC Body of Knowledge.

I ask for your vote so that this important BoK project stays on track for the next three years!

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