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What is a Technical Writing Degree?
The job of a technical writer is to convey technical information in writing. This information takes many forms.
The specific kind of material to be written varies from industry to industry and from company to company, but technical writers typically find themselves composing documents such as guides and user manuals, product descriptions, technical reports and proposals, executive summaries, strategic plans and policy statements, white papers and case studies, web content, online Help systems, user interface text, and memos and e-mails containing technical information or instructions.
Degree programs in technical writing teach students the processes involved in composing these types of documentation. Coursework covers building templates and style guides, recognizing translation issues, and formatting documents for visual appeal.
And because technical writers are the mediators between the technical subject matter experts and the document end users, programs also stress the importance of developing a communication pathway between technicians and writers.
Note: - Some technical writing programs are offered under the title of technical and professional writing.
Associate Degree in Technical Writing – Two Year Duration
The Associate Degree in Technical Writing introduces students to the discipline and prepares them for further education or entry-level roles in the field.
Bachelor’s Degree in Technical Writing – Four Year Duration
The bachelor’s degree is the most common among technical writers. At this level, technical writing majors often select a minor in another area of interest. For instance, a minor in computer science, software development, or information technology can open doors to technical writing roles in those sectors. Other minors that apply to some of the fields that typically hire technical writers are science and engineering, policy analysis, business, finance, education, and public relations.
Below are some of the core courses offered in these undergraduate programs. Obviously, the bachelor’s curriculum covers topics more extensively than does the associate curriculum, and allows more time for students to complete industry projects and technical presentations that help them to begin developing a technical writing portfolio.
- Technical Writing Style – fundamental principles of technical writing
- Technical Editing – principles and techniques of copyediting and substantive (title through to ending) editing
- Technical Writing: Definitions, Instructions, and Process Descriptions – the three types of technical writing found in most documentation projects
- Documentation Project Management – creating document outlines, budgets, and schedules; tracking and reporting project progress; managing documentation teams; copyright
- Writing for the Web – organizing and structuring information for the web versus for print
- Designing and Writing Online Help – analyzing Help user needs, designing information and visuals, indexing, testing, publishing formats
- Visual Communication Strategy and Data Representation – the connection between verbal and visual communication, the importance of color, font, images, and layout
- Writing for the Computer Industry – information typing and modular documentation (development of content in modules that are reusable in different formats, such as online and print)
- Single-Sourcing for Technical Writers – writing content that can be published to several different output formats, such as PDF, HTML, Mobile, etc., and used in multiple contexts
- Adobe Illustrator – creating computer graphics for visual effects; using art boards, layers, and sub-layers, drawing tools, and floating panels
- Microsoft Office – fundamentals of MS Word, MS Excel, MS PowerPoint, and MS Access
- Introduction to Visual Analytics with Tableau – using the data visualization tool Tableau to simplify raw data into understandable dashboards and worksheets
Master’s Degree in Technical Writing – One to Two Year Duration
Graduates with a Master’s Degree in Technical Writing qualify for most senior positions in the field. In many cases, the master’s curriculum requires a capstone or ‘culminating’ project instead of a thesis. At this level, students commonly choose a concentration. Here are examples of concentrations and coursework within them:
Concentration in Computer Industry Writing
- Advanced Writing for the Computer Industry
- Structured Documentation
- Managing Technical Publications
- Online Documentation
- Introduction to XML (Extensible Markup Language)
Concentration in Social Media
- Fundamentals of Interactive Marketing
- Online Consumer Behavior
- Digital Technologies: Strategy, Assessment, and Governance
- Implementing and Managing Social Media Channels and Online Communities
- Digital Marketing Analytics
- Social Media and Brand Strategy
- Research Methods for Global User Experiences
- Search Engine Optimization Strategies
Concentration in User Experience / Usability
- Usable Design for Mobile Digital Media
- Information Design for the Web
- Usability Testing
- Collecting User Data
- Content Strategy
Degrees Similar to Technical Writing
The field of computer science is focused on computer systems and how humans interact with them. Courses cover artificial intelligence, algorithms, and program design.
Desktop and Web Publishing
Programs in desktop and web publishing teach the design and layout of printed and digital documents. Coursework includes web design, multimedia design, writing, and editing.
In English degree programs, students read, study, and write about the literature and culture of the English-speaking world. Coursework also includes the history, linguistic structure, and use of the English language.
The goal of graphic design is to produce visual concepts to communicate messages. The discipline uses layout, color, and other creative concepts to design logos and branding packages that inspire and captivate consumers.
Illustration degree programs teach students how to tell stories and communicate ideas visually. They cover traditional manual drawing, digital art technologies, and art and illustration history.
Some programs may include painting classes or offer concentrations in a specific kind of illustration, such as book illustration, fashion illustration, exhibit drawing, animation and cartoon drawing, and medical illustration.
Journalism degree programs teach students how to report, write, and edit articles for broadcast or publication. They include classes in broadcast news writing, copyediting and design, reporting, and media law and ethics.
Mass Communication and Media Studies
Degree programs in mass communication and media studies explore the many facets of the field, from the way individuals communicate with one another to all forms of mass media: television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet. The typical curriculum includes courses like communication theory, cross-cultural communication, rhetoric and persuasion, organizational communication, the psychology of communication, and free speech.
Degree programs in public relations (PR) teach students how to deliver information from a business, organization, government body, or individual public figure to a target audience. Public relations courses focus on how to achieve image management, generate publicity, and earn positive media attention through press releases, press conferences, blogs, and a social media presence.
Speech Communication and Rhetoric
Degree programs in speech communication and rhetoric focus on the study of human communication. Students of the discipline examine how we communicate one on one, within organizations, and in the larger contexts of politics, cultures, and societies. Coursework includes public speaking, speech writing, and analysis and criticism of examples of persuasive speaking or writing.
Skills You’ll Learn
Appreciation for Graphic Design
Technical writers and graphic designers share the common goals of observation and communication. And increasingly, the technical documentation about their products and services required by many industries is as much about illustration, graphics, and formatting as it is about clear and concise language.
Technical writers produce documentation in various formats. This means that they learn how to use computer software applications and tools – a skill that is transferable to many different fields of work.
Core Writing Skills
Of course, this is the indispensable skill that every graduate of a writing program brings to the job. Throughout the course of their studies, they learn how to write clearly, concisely, and grammatically, with the appropriate style and tone.
Discipline and Creativity
Writing technical documentation calls for both discipline and creativity. In the technical writing field, discipline means abiding by rules and guidelines and paying unrelenting attention to detail. Creativity means identifying the best way to convey information and instructions while remaining within the rules and guidelines.
Interest in the User Experience
Technical writing is validated by the user experience, the confirmation that the product works exactly as the documentation says it works.
Interviewing and Collaboration
Technical writing students quickly learn that a technical writer’s greatest resources are the subject matter experts. Asking these experts the right questions can be the difference between accurate and inaccurate documentation.
Learning and Adaptability
Technical writers are typically lifelong learners. Even if they write for one single company or industry, products and services evolve and often become more complex. And freelance technical writers generally must pivot between multiple industries and sectors and continually adapt to their specific requirements.
What Can You Do with a Technical Writing Degree?
Technical writing graduates are most likely to be employed by the companies that use their services. But some are self-employed and work on a contract or assignment basis.
These are some of the industries which most consistently need technical writers:
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services
- Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
- Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
- Employment Services
- Software Publishing
- Scientific Research and Development Services
- Aerospace Products and Parts Manufacturing
- Navigational, Measuring, Medical Equipment, and Control Instruments Manufacturing
- Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishing
- Biotech and Pharmacy
- Energy and Chemical
- Financial Services and Insurance
- Supply Chain
These are some of the titles that technical writers may hold:
- Content Developer
- Content Strategist
- Content Writer
- Documentation Specialist
- Information Designer
- Information Developer
- Manual Writer
- Policy Writer
- Technical Communications Specialist
- Technical Communicator
- Technical Editor
- Technical Illustrator
- Technical Trainer
- Usability Specialist
- User Experience (UX) Writer
- Web Writer
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