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The Three Approaches to Professionalization in Technical Communication

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Purpose: Explores internal divisions within our profession by exploring one particular type of tension: that technical communicators do not have a unified view of professionalization for the field.

Method: Proposes that prevailing approaches to professionalization are rooted in theories of occupations, the exclusive right to perform a job. True occupations have such rights legally; aspiring occupations like ours are disciplines. Common components of an infrastructure for occupations include professional organizations, bodies of knowledge, education, professional activities, and certification.

Results: Disciplines often establish these in anticipation of becoming an occupation, but some practicing professionals interpret and use them differently, resulting in a spectrum of approaches to professionalization. At one end of the spectrum is formal professionalism, which views professionalization as a stepping stone to full occupational status. It is rooted in a worldview that values expertise and sees the infrastructure of an occupation supporting the development of expertise and controlling access to the profession. In the center of the spectrum is quasiprofessionalization, in which individuals participate in the activities of the occupational infrastructure but without the expectation of exclusive rights to perform the work. Quasiprofessionalization is rooted in professional identity. At the other end of the spectrum is contraprofessionalization, which refers to initiatives that offer or promote professional services outside of parts of or the entire infrastructure, sometimes circumventing it completely. This world view is rooted in market theory and characterized by concepts like do-it-yourself (DIY), user-generated, and subject matter expert (SME)-provided documentation.

Conclusions: The differing views suggest tensions regarding support for specific efforts to professionalize technical communication, including formal branding of the profession, establishment of certification, and support for professional organizations.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2012

More about this publication?
  • 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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