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Glorified Grammarian or Versatile Value Adder? What Internship Reports Reveal About the Professionalization of Technical Communication

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Purpose: To compare and contrast the experiences of technical communication interns over recent decades as they relate to the progress toward the professionalization of technical communication.

Methods: Exploratory thematic analysis of 15 detailed graduate student internship reports (1984–2009) based on five professionalization issues: educational background, identifiability of technical communicators, status, demonstrating value added, and professional consciousness.

Results: Interns across the entire time range faced professionalization issues. Regarding education, the need for technical communicators to possess specialized subject-matter knowledge is becoming even more essential in this age of distributed work and could be addressed within the technical communication curriculum by more consistently requiring minors or double majors in specialized fields. The study also shows a continuing lack of awareness of the technical communication skill set; the Technical Communication Body of Knowledge project is progress toward professionalizing the skill set. Additionally, status issues and the need to add value were persistent challenges for the interns. Educators should avoid conditioning technical communication students to expect low job status and help them find the right organizational fit, actively promote themselves, and be financially aware. The professional consciousness of technical communicators seems to have eroded over time, as the overlap with other fields may hinder technical communication from becoming an easily differentiable profession, although the Technical Communication Body of Knowledge project and STC's move toward certification may assist in this regard.

Conclusions: Several recommendations are offered for interns, employers, and faculty to help interns be perceived as professionals and to improve the professionalization of technical communication as a whole.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-11-01

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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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