Why would a technical writer consider a certification? Well, they have a few things going for them:
- They can offer chances for you to improve your current skills
- They can help you develop and hone more specialized skills
- They can aid in setting you apart from others
Certifications are surely no end-all-be-all, but they’ll give you a professional edge that’ll help along the way to becoming a well-rounded technical writer.
Technical writing is not like riding a bike. It’s not something you learn once and occasionally return to.
Technical writing is like sculpting.
Dull tools need to be constantly sharpened so you can turn a marble block into a masterpiece.
In the same way, practice, through certification and self-started motivation, are the whetstone you’ll need to keep yourself sharp for your writing efforts.
Let’s look at certifications together.
Should I Do It or Should I Not?
Only you can answer this question, but there are some considerations that may help weigh your decision.
- Technical writing certification programs are a good place to start, especially when you’re looking to grow your general knowledge and improve your overall proficiency.
- Technical writing programs offer different routes of specialization. Whether this applies to different writing tools, software platforms, or writing standards, specialization is always valuable in technical writing.
- Certifications can offer a way to set you apart from other technical writers. It’s rare that a technical writer went to university for technical writing, so a certificate in technical writing can give less experienced writers a boost when just starting out in the field.
- There’s no technical writing equivalent to studying at Oxford or Harvard or wherever. Many technical certification programs cost money but lack the political strength that a degree program has.
To make something perfectly clear, there’s no certificate that can replace diligent practice and a quality portfolio. If you’re interested in technical writing as a career, it’s best to begin by sharpening your writing skills in the areas you wish to focus on. Get out there and write!
Build a technical writing portfolio whether or not you pursue a formal technical writing certification.
If you want to be a technical writer for a software company, get a trial version of your favorite software and start documenting it. If you’re passionate about documenting the inner and outer machinations of toasters, buy your favorite toaster and document it, you lover of partially singed bread!
The point is, to become a better technical writer you have to want to become a better technical writer. Then you have to act on that desire. Intention and action are irreplaceable parts on the technical writing journey, regardless of whether that journey chooses a certification or not.
Let’s look at a few worthy options that will help you orient yourself on your technical writing journey.
Top Technical Writing Certification Programs
The Society for Technical Communication
The STC is an organization full of like-minded people. We’d recommend considering the STC whether or not you want a technical writing certification. There is a league of resources, events, advice, and — most importantly — people to help technical writers of every skill set. The community is the most common reason technical writers join the STC.
The STC does have a certification program that’s highly respected in the technical writing community. It includes three levels: foundation, practitioner, and expert.
You do need to pay for the course, but it’s among the most lauded certification programs in the technical writing landscape. That said, the rate is reduced for STC members.
For more information about the Society for Technical Communication, membership, and certification courses, visit their website: Society for Technical Communication
STC also has local chapters established all around the globe. Many members find that the greatest value is in the local community, so check out their community page and see if there’s a local chapter in your region.
This is a totally free educational resource that you can do at your own pace. It offers a foundational overview that isn’t tied to any specific writing tools. It is, however, a technical writing course that focuses specifically on DITA, one of the top standards in the technical writing space.
Many of the lessons would translate into a useful understanding of component content management systems, structured content, and information architecture, but it’s wholly focused on the DITA XML standard.
Learn more about Learning DITA here: Learning DITA: Free DITA Training
I noted that there isn’t a technical writing equivalent of the widely envied Oxford or Harvard degrees, but there are collegiate and post-baccalaureate programs for technical writing. Each of these programs — it should go without saying — requires admission applications and tuition.
- Oregon State University: Offers a four-week, online technical writing course.
- Bowling Green State University: Offers a year-long graduate-level technical writing certificate.
- California State University, Dominguez Hills: Offers a year-long, online technical writing certification course.
- Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies: Offers several levels of non-college credit-earning technical writing certifications through their partnership with TechWriter-Certification.
- Basic Certificate in Technical Writing (90 hours)
- Certificate in Writing for Current Technical Writers, Editors & Designers (90 hours)
- Technical Communication Industry Certificate – Mastery Level (160 hours)
- Certificate in Professional Technical Communication (140 hours)
- Certificate Course in Structured Writing for Technical Documentation (30 hours)
- Writers at Work Certificate Program (40 hours)
- Arizona State University: Offers a graduate-level online technical communication certificate.
- University of California, Santa Cruz – Silicon Valley Extension: Offers a technical writing and communication certificate.
The National Association of Science Writers
Technical writers and scientific writers share a lot of common ground. The NASW is a diverse organization of professionals and students all dedicated to developing educational materials that inform people about science, technology, health, and engineering.
There are lots of mentoring options and ways to further professional education. The community bears a small annual fee that’s vastly eclipsed by the benefits of membership.
Learn more about the NASW here: The National Association of Science Writers Inc.
American Medical Writing Association
The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and the Medical Writing Certification Commission (MWCC) collaborated to create the Medical Writer Certified (MWC) credential.
Different from the standard course for technical writers, this credential is specific to technical writing in the medical field. It’s a professional certification that requires a bachelor’s or advanced degree in any field and at least two years of professional experience in the medical communications field.
Learn more about the AMWA and MWC credential here: AMWA: Medical Writer Certified
Summing It All Up
It takes more than a piece of paper to make a technical writer, but you already knew that. These are some certification options to help sharpen your skills throughout your career. Whether you’re just starting your technical writing foray or you’re deep into your career, there’s always something to learn. All it takes is some research and willingness to grow.