Defining a Body of Knowledge

by Hillary Hart
STC Director at Large
Candidate for 2009 2nd Vice-President
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STC has meant a lot to my professional growth over the past 20+ years as a teacher and practitioner of technical communication, and I want to help STC expand its educational mission for all technical communicators.

It is time our profession had a defined body of knowledge. Why?

  1. Technical communication cannot be a profession without a defined body of knowledge (BOK).
  2. We cannot define our value, to business and to society, without a BOK. The data I and others have collected show that communicators seem to be spending about the same amount of time on communication processes as they are on creating end-user documents or products. If we want to maximize our value to the business functions of corporations and agencies, we need a body of knowledge that will make that value clear to employers.

The BOK task force that I co-chair with Mark Hanigan is working hard to develop a Knowledge Portal that will make accessible, in one easy-to-navigate web-based portal, the body of technical-communication knowledge that has evolved over time.

The Knowledge Portal will fill these critical needs:

  • New practitioners need to see their professional development pathways spelled out, along with concomitant educational/training opportunities.
  • Veteran practitioners need a means for assessing their progress and determining what additional training they may need.
  • Academic and training professionals need a source of assessment criteria for their programs.
  • Executives, who may never have heard of technical communication, need a place to find out what it is that technical communicators can do for their company.

For me, the most amazing aspect of the BOK project has been seeing how productively STC members collaborate over time and distance. The BOK “map” of domains and skills received hundreds of helpful suggestions last June at the Summit in Philadelphia. And last September, when the proposed site map for this portal was posted on the STC website, over 150 STC members from all over the globe provided comments. Now we are populating the map nodes with content and will showcase our progress at the upcoming Summit in Atlanta, where we hope to gain more contributors. Such collective knowledge making is powerful indeed – imagine all 13,000 STC members worldwide contributing their piece of the knowledge puzzle.

With job layoffs, cutbacks in institutional budgets, and disappearance of companies, the one constant that cannot be reduced is your knowledge – knowledge of how to do many things in addition to writing clear documentation.

  • Knowledge of what it takes to create, manage distribute, and archive information in specific media for specific users.
  • Knowledge of the processes that enhance business development because they enhance internal as well as external communication.
  • Knowledge of the social, cultural, and even health impacts of the technologies being marketed under the name of progress.
  • Knowledge of how to help people use technologies safely and wisely.

Your knowledge is your power, in any economic climate. Stay tuned for BOK updates.

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