Technical Writing Master's Degree & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's degree in technical writing? Find out degree requirements, online options and info on courses and technical writing programs.
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Study Technical Writing: Degrees at a Glance

Technical writers take scientific, technology-based and training materials and create documentation to help communicate complex subjects to readers. A master's degree in this field can be helpful for those who do not have an undergraduate degree in English or a related field who want to move into technical writing. Those with an English undergraduate degree who wish to learn more from a technical standpoint may also find this graduate program beneficial.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), employment for technical writers is expected to increase by 17% between 2010 and 2020. This is about as fast as average for all careers, but much faster than other writing positions.

Master's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to enter the technical writing field from a different field
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary) - Technical editor ($60,000 - salary common for 1-5 years of experience)*
- Technical writer ($67,000 - salary common for 1-5 years of experience)*
Time to Completion Two years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Coursework
- Thesis or research project
- Portfolio
- Qualifying exam
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Minimum GPA
- Graduate-level exam, such as the GRE
Online Availability Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degrees in Technical Writing

Master's degree programs in technical writing, such as the Master of Science in Professional Writing or Master of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing, are available at many universities. Technical writing may also be offered as a concentration under a broader writing or professional writing degree. Students are expected to already be proficient in writing. Some programs may even require the submission of writing samples as part of the application process.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • There are a number of technical writing programs available
  • Developing skills in technical writing can be applicable to various fields
  • Positions are expected to be stable as the technology industry grows*

Cons

  • Many positions only require a bachelor's degree
  • May have to work in the evenings and on weekends
  • You may need experience before securing a technical writing position

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Master's degree programs typically require somewhere between 30 and 40 credit hours. These credits are generally divided between core courses, specialty/concentration courses, electives and thesis or project work, if one is required for the degree. Additionally, some programs may require a portfolio and/or qualifying exams as a graduation requirement.

Although programs vary, common course topics include:

  • Research techniques
  • Rhetoric
  • Professional communication
  • Technical editing

Online Degree Options

Most degrees offer at least part of the degree online, though what percentage is available varies by school. Some programs may be offered completely online, with or without a matching on-campus program. If a school offers both, the curriculum and requirements tend to be identical. Some courses may also be offered partially online. Online programs cover similar topics related to technical writing, which means you'll receive the same training that you would in a campus-based program.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Technical writers need to have a good understanding of both writing mechanics and technical content, so having experience in a specific area can be helpful. These areas can include engineering, computers or health care. Additionally, you might consider joining a professional organization, such as the Society for Technical Communication (STC). A professional society can offer you networking opportunities, an up-to-date look at the field, job opportunities and continuing education to help you stay current with changes in technology.

Degree Alternatives

If you like the idea of working with technology, but think you'd rather be more hands on than a technical writer, you might consider becoming a computer programmer. Most programmers have a degree in computer science, and they create software programs. According to the BLS, as of May 2011, computer programmers make an average of about $76,000 a year. Alternately, you might consider a degree in engineering, if computer technology is not the field you want to go into.

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