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What are my Degree Choices to be a Technical Writer?

DegreeQuery reported on the profession of technical writing in our post-10 Creative Careers That Won’t Require You to Be a Starving Artist. In this article, we will elaborate on what it takes to prepare for a career in this niche of writing.

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What is Technical Writing?

The Society for Technical Communication defines technical communicators as those who “research and create information about technical processes or products directed to a targeted audience through various forms of media.” Even in industries where the final product or service is not very technical in nature, technical communications activities make up a surprisingly large portion of the effort required to design, produce, sell, and support products.

The goal of the communication might involve using a software application, operating industrial equipment, preventing accidents, or safely consuming a packaged food. It is also a means of conveying a medical condition, complying with a law, coaching a sports team, or any of an infinite range of possible activities. If the activity requires expertise or skill to perform, then technical writing is a necessary component. Therefore, it is any written form of writing or drafting technical communication used in a variety of technical and occupational fields. These include subjects, such as computer hardware and software, engineering, chemistry, aeronautics, robotics, finance, medical, consumer electronics, and biotechnology.

What are your Degree Options?

Associate’s Degree

Technical writing programs award an Associate of Art (A.A.), Associate of Science (A.S.) or Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees. Many of these are also known as technical communications programs. An Associate degree is generally a two-year program that prepares students to research, plan, create, publish, and evaluate communication products. These include ads, articles, brochures, grant proposals, product documentation, promotional pieces, scripts, service literature, social media pages, software user assistance, and websites.

The above programs are available on campus and online. The advantage of the campus format is the ability to use the software and technology used by professional writers. Some schools have a computer lab that is equipped with a full-featured color printer. The school may also provide access to digital cameras and lighting for use in completing coursework.

Bachelor’s Degree

At the next level, most schools refer to the degree as a Bachelor of Arts in Technical and Professional Writing. In the core and elective courses, students develop professional skills for project management, research, group work, genre analysis, writing, editing production, and presentation. Individual projects explore current tools, trends, and technologies. You learn the standards and methods of designing, writing, producing technical information presented in electronic formats, such as online help, support websites, and interactive demos. Students might divide their time between regular and computer classrooms, where they acquire and develop basic word-processing, and electronic communication skills.

The General Education coursework may include strategies for writing as a means of critical inquiry. There could be a focus on writing processes and on the roles of writer, audience, and purpose as they affect writing. Many programs also include a foreign language, as well as a course in all or one of the categories of social science, humanities, and natural sciences.

There are schools that enrich the campus experience by offering student organizations. These may involve an English Club and/or a Technical Writing Club. Others may have the opportunity to join an internship related to professional writing. Regardless of the ancillary benefits, most bachelor’s degrees in professional and technical writing will give you the knowledge you need to compete for jobs as a copy editor, communications director, documentation manager, grant writer, medical writer, and related field.

Another option is an undergraduate certificate in Professional Writing. These programs are available online for students who want to hone their writing skills. The Certificate requires eighteen hours, for example. The classes may include technical writing, news writing, reporting, and writing in the sciences.

Master’s Degree

A Master of Arts in Professional Writing will expand your job prospects. You will develop the mastery to create and execute complex information strategies. These involve visual and verbal elements. As wells as media, ranging from print to online to multi-media and social media. The coursework may provide the opportunity to build a portfolio of professional quality samples. During this process, you might work on client and team projects that develop a range of professional skills.

There are graduate programs online and on campus. One benefit of the latter is the benefit of professional seminars. The seminars could involve the inclusion of practicing professionals. Writers in fields ranging from science journalism to public relations, corporate communication, marketing, print journalism, web design and information architecture lecture as guest speakers. These experts come to campus to talk informally with students about the fields in which they work. Interaction with professionals provides both workplace contacts and overviews of possible internship and career paths. Visiting professionals talk about their own and related careers, show samples of their work, and answer student questions.

Resource for Information

The Society for Technical Communication is a source of information and education. The Society and its member Chapters and Special Interest Groups produce a host of online certificate courses and live webinars. These year-round programs produce measurable value for members. They also offer multiple online Certificate courses for members.

Student members ($45.50 annual dues) receive all Professional & Academic member benefits, plus one professional chapter, one student chapter, one Academic and one additional Special Interest Group (SIG) membership for free. To be eligible for student membership, an applicant must be enrolled in an accredited university, college, community college, or technical school; taking at least two courses or the equivalent each term; and preparing for a career in technical communication.

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