STC relaunched its Certified Processional Technical Communicator (CPTC) Foundation level program in 2016, and one of the most common questions is, “what is the difference between certification and a certificate?”
Certificate programs are often offered by schools, companies, and on-demand providers (e.g., Lynda.com and Skillshare). These programs issue a certificate that typically indicates attendance, participation, or completion of a subject. Certification, on the other hand, is based on industry standards as defined by an organization or governing body.
It uses an evaluation process to measure one’s competency against these standards and results in a professional designation (e.g., CPA for accountants or PMP for project managers). While both certification and certificates are paths for professional development, certification involves continuing education requirements to ensure one’s knowledge and skills remain current.
Where’s the value?
I earned the CPTC Foundation designation in April 2016 and became a CPTC-accredited trainer in July 2016. When asked if there is value in pursuing the CPTC credential or taking a few classes to earn a certificate, this has been my response: It depends.
- A certificate program provides value if you are getting started in technical communication and want to develop or improve your skills, whereas certification validates the skills you currently have. The path you select depends on your goals: are you new to technical writing? Do you want to start learning about the different areas of technical communication? Are you interested in focusing on one area, such as visual communication or user experience? If so, check out certificate programs, including those offered by STC.
- If you have been in the field a few years or more, perhaps your goal is obtaining credentials based on proficiency and showing you are qualified and committed to doing quality work. In that case, certification would be a better path.
- If you have experience as a technical writer, even if that’s not your job title (programmer, instructional designer, trainer, etc.,), certification is a way to earn credentials and expand job opportunities.
- Once you obtain your certification, opportunities to earn continuing education units (CEUs) will keep your knowledge and skills updated.
Is the certification class right for you?
The class I teach is designed to help candidates pass the certification exam, which assesses the nine core competencies (defined by the Society for Technical Communication) critical to working as professional technical communicator. This intensive two-day class is based on the body of knowledge textbook that supports the core competencies. The class is interactive and relies on activities and practice to reinforce material, and its content provides the tools and methods one can use to design, develop, and deliver information products.
For example, the core skill area of project analysis addresses reader and document context and rhetorical situations. The organizational design area focuses on guidelines and techniques for organizing and drafting technical documents, and written communication includes writing style, persuasion, tone, and general readability.
With this approach, the class doesn’t address “how to write a white paper” or “how to write instructions,” but rather “how to identify and assess an audience, determine the information they need and how they will use it, and select and develop the most appropriate type of document.”