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What Do Technical Communicators Need to Know?

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What is the essential knowledge that all technical communicators must possess? It surely isn’t knowledge of FrameMaker, RoboHELP, or Word, despite the fact that job advertisements, at least in the U.S., seldom list any other specific knowledge as a prerequisite for candidates.

As I’ve said before in this column, I believe that what sets technical communicators apart from word processing operators and desktop publishers is not our ability to use software but rather our ability to communicate technical information effectively. That ability depends on our knowledge of communication concepts and techniques, and on our knowledge of one or more technical domains. It is this knowledge of communication and of technical subjects that constitutes the body of knowledge that differentiates our profession from others.

The term body of knowledge has a very specialized meaning in many professions. It is used to define essential information of which practitioners must demonstrate mastery to be certified as professionals in that field.

Now I don’t intend to get into a debate about certification here. That’s a question that evokes strong reactions pro and con, a question that the Society for Technical Communication and its members have wrestled with several times in the last 25 years. Regardless of where you come down on that issue, however, you ought to support the definition of an essential body of knowledge if you’re serious about being considered a professional by those with whom you work.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2000-05-01

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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