© 2010 Ugur Akinci
Here’s a question TCC readers ask me often:
“Should I get a diploma or certificate in technical writing/communication?”
I’m big on education and training. But my answer to this question is always: “It depends.” Let me explain.
First off, if your current or prospective employer demands that you get a certificate or diploma then obviously you have no choice in the matter. You have to get it. Period.
However, let’s assume that no one is forcing you to get a certificate/diploma. Should you still get one?
Again, another no-brainer scenario: if you’ve got the extra time and money to commit to this educational project without any sacrifice or ill-effects on your budget, personal happiness, or family commitments, then sure, go ahead and get that diploma. It’ll only help you become a better technical writer and communicator. No doubt about that. And that’s the whole reason why here at TCC we have a very comprehensive list of Certificate Programs to help you make the best educated decision possible in that regard.
And we came to the hardest question of all that most of us face: what if we have LIMITED time, energy and cash? What if we have other serious commitments that also need our money, time and energy? What then?
Here is my honest assessment:
If you already have a good degree from a close or related discipline, and have been already working as a tech writer, then you probably do not need another diploma right away since you’ve already proven yourself by your on-the-job efforts. The kind of degrees I’m referring could be an B.A. in English, a B.S. in Communication Technology, or even an engineering degree.
But, even though you may be employed, if you feel the need to sail off to new horizons like structured authoring and DITA, you may well consider getting a certificate from a reputable educational institution since such cutting-edge topics are not covered in most of the degree programs out there.
Let’s say you’re not employed and either you do not have a college degree at all or your degree is in an unrelated field like Nursing, Hotel Management, or Accounting… then I’d say go for a Certificate, if you’re short on cash, or a full-fledged degree program at the University level, if you can afford it.
Most of the above were written with a full-time payroll job in mind. When it comes to freelancing, however, it’s a slightly different ballgame due to the fact that most freelance clients care for two things: experience and price. It’s of course your job to convince them that cheapest is not necessarily always the best. But overall, no matter how many certificates and diplomas you have, when you are a freelance technical writer out there, you need have a good PORTFOLIO to prove what you’ve done in the past. Your track record also becomes a guarantee of you can do in the future. Your diploma will usually rate second in terms of giving that kind of peace of mind to your potential clients that you can star and finish the job in question.
So, the question posed in the beginning of this article is not an easy one to answer. It has quite a few variations, as I tried to demonstrate.
Consider your conditions, budget, time, and personal commitments seriously before making a decision. Consider the payoff in the short and long run. And then make the best educated decision you can.
Good luck in your search for the best educational program to open new doors for you in the future.