Can Content be Engineered; Can Writers be Certified?

tl;dr: We can apply engineering methods to content development, but we do not have the body of proven algorithms or known-good data to justify formal certification of communication professionals the way we have for doctors and engineers.

We talk about content engineering. I call myself a content engineer sometimes. But can content really be engineered? Is content engineering engineering in the same way that engineering a bridge is engineering, or only engineering by analogy?

This post is prompted by a fascinating conversation with Rob Hanna and others at the monthly STC Toronto Networking Lunch. The conversation morphed into something I think I can fairly characterize as: is there a uniform methodology to technical communication, one that can form the basis of a curriculum, a certification, or a toolset, or is there a legitimate diversity of approaches, roles, methods, and tools. read more

Technical Communication is Not a Commodity

The latest attempt by the STC to promote a certification program for technical communications prompts the thought that technical communication is not a commodity.

What does it mean to say that a profession is, or is not, a commodity? A commodity is any good which will provide the same quality and performance no matter which supplier you buy it from. Gasoline is a commodity. Sugar is a commodity. No matter which brand you buy, your car will run just as well and your tea will taste just as sweet.

A profession is a commodity if you will receive substantially the same service no matter which member of the profession you use. Accounting is a commodity. Your books should be substantially the same no matter which accountant prepares them. Technical writing is not like that. Ask two technical writers to write something on the same topic, and the results are apt to be substantially different.

So the question is, should technical communication be a commodity? And if it should be, can it be?