Applying for STC Certification as a Certified Professional Technical Communicator™

For the benefit of my students and others who plan to apply for their Certified Professional Technical Communicator™ designation, I thought I’d write about the process.

First, the ™ is a bit disconcerting, I know, but the STC Certification Commission is trying to maintain ownership of the CPTC™ initialism, at least until it’s as well known as CPA, PMP, and PEng, so they’ve asked us to ensure we use the trademark. As writers, helping organizations protect their intellectual property is one of our responsibilities.

I achieved a world first, along with Cheryl Taylor; we were both approved for CPTC certification on March 18, 2012. That first group swelled to about 8 by the time of the announcements at the STC Summit later that May. I jokingly say I’m grabbing that first spot due to age and alphabet, but the reality is that all 8 of us deserve to celebrate that “first”.

My Background

I began with technical writing back in 1971 when I joined the Canadian Armed Forces and they discovered I could write, as well as explain things to people. In addition to my job as a telecommunications specialist, they put me to work writing procedures and documenting equipment. A few years later I was involved in testing the SAMSON communications network, a computer-based system that replaced our old teletype system.

So my career in technical communication has spanned 40 years, off and on as I did other things while raising a family. That means I had a great deal of material to choose from when putting together my submission for CPTC.

The Application

It took about 40 hours to assemble and prepare the material that I would submit. I began by analyzing what was required. Essentially, I applied good techcomm principles to approaching that project. I think that’s key; there were a few times during the process when it occurred to me that the submission procedure itself was a tech com “test”.

Of all the examples of work I’ve done, some were more suited to particular competencies. The submission procedure asked applicants to  demonstrate proficiency in 9 areas:

  • Project Planning
  • Project Analysis
  • Reviewing and Editing
  • Organizational Design
  • Written Communication
  • Visual Communication
  • Content Development
  • Content Management
  • Production and Delivery

In addition, I was asked to provide project summaries and written commentaries of the sample I presented for each area. Each competency had prompts to help formulate the commentary.

There were strict requirements for assembling the submission packet, and like grant proposals or RFP submissions, a mistake in any area could mean the submission is not considered. Since most technical communicators are detail oriented, this wasn’t a problem. I just carefully read and followed the instructions. (insert your preferred statement of irony here)

Putting it Together

I read through the requirements for each competency area and developed a preparation schedule. The first CPTC applicants were offered a discount to apply by a deadline, so that was my milestone for the project deliverable.

For each competency area, I determined which of my past projects best illustrated the principles of that competency. With a broad career under my belt, it was relatively easy to select the right project for each area. For those of you with a more homogenous history or fewer completed projects to draw upon, you may certainly use the same project for more than one competency area. Ensure that the aspect of any project you select speaks directly to that competency area. Don’t fall into the trap of repeating material or being too general. Ultimately, I had 9 different projects that I submitted.

It was a very pleasant walk down memory lane as I revisited those projects for the purpose of writing about them and highlighting the work I had done. In the commentaries, I felt it was important to point out the obstacles and challenges, as well as the successes. Since technical communicators are inherently problem solvers, much of the work we do involves handling challenges and delivering quality work despite any setbacks. I think that’s where our skills are truly demonstrated.

Keeping within the stated document lengths for each project required me to be succinct in my commentaries, and present only the most relevant material — again, a techcomm skill in itself.

Revealing details about what is asked for in each competency area would expose the intellectual property of the STC Certification Commission and I’m not going to be the one to do that. You can get information about the process from the STC website at http://stc.org/certification.

In summary, I managed the submission as a project like any other, adhered to all of the instructions and page limits, and presented pertinent details about my representative work.

The Value of CPTC

Is getting one’s CPTC designation worth it? Absolutely! While it is still too early to expect employers to fully recognize this professional designation, it is an individual accomplishment that validates your career and your skills. That alone is extremely valuable. As more of us achieve CPTC status, word will spread that having someone with demonstrated and assessed skills gives the employer a known quantity and a competitive edge.

Contact me if you’d like any additional information or insight.
–Beth Agnew, CPTC™

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