What is a Writing Degree?

A novel you can’t put down. A poem or a song that makes you cry. A biography that inspires you. A catchy corporate slogan or tagline. An eloquent op-ed piece in your local newspaper. A product manual that walks you through a technical maze. An ad that moves you to make a purchase. A speech that leaves you speechless. Every one of these creations is the work of a writer, the product of a wordsmith.

Degree programs in writing teach students to be wordsmiths of many different kinds and in many different arenas, from the arts, media, and entertainment, to business, education, and science. They teach budding writers to create new worlds and compelling characters, to use the intricacies of language to produce texts across a range of media, and to find ever innovative ways to capture and interact with readers.

Program Options

Certificate in Writing – Varying Durations
Certificate programs in writing are short-term programs which in general focus on a particular niche. Examples include speechwriting, technical writing, grant writing, screenplay writing, and television writing. The curriculum is often targeted at individuals seeking basic knowledge before committing to a degree level education, or in the case of more advanced certificates at continuing education students.

Associate Degree in Writing – Two Year Duration
At the associate level, the emphasis of writing programs is typically either creative writing or general writing. The creative focus provides students with introductory skills in genre writing. The two primary writing genres, commonly called literary genres, are fiction and non-fiction.

Fiction genres include children’s, action and adventure, crime and mystery, fantasy, horror, romance, comedy, science fiction. Non-fiction genres span academic, biography, creative nonfiction, essay, journalistic writing in areas such as the arts, fashion, and politics, reference work, self-help, travel, and true crime.

The general writing curriculum aims to foster an understanding of the processes of writing and composition, the purposes of texts and their audiences, and the language which shapes the meaning of texts. Students analyze literary texts and develop fundamental skills in composition and editing, business communication, and informational or factual writing. Program modules may cover grammar essentials, avoiding plagiarism, and conducting research.

The pillars of associate programs in writing are the four basic types of writing:

  • Narrative Writing – presents connected events and characters to tell a good story; can be a narrative essay, a biography, or a novel; examples of narrative writing are novels, short stories, epic sagas or poems, and anecdotes
  • Descriptive Writing – the writer evokes the reader’s senses by drawing vivid details of a place, person, or thing in the reader’s mind; examples of descriptive writing are poetry, fictional novels or plays, descriptions of nature, and journals and diaries
  • Expository Writing – explains, describes, or informs; it does not assume that the reader has prior knowledge or prior understanding of the topic being discussed; examples of expository writing are text books, how-to articles, recipes, news stories, and business, technical, and scientific writing
  • Persuasive Writing – attempts to persuade the reader to adopt a certain point of view or take a particular action; examples of persuasive writing are cover letters, op-eds and editorial newspaper articles, advertisements, letters of recommendation, and letters of complaint

Bachelor’s Degree in Writing – Four Year Duration
Bachelor’s degree programs in writing vary greatly. Some take a wide lens look at the discipline and combine courses from both the creative writing and professional writing subfields. More often, however, programs take a narrower approach and focus on one area or perhaps two related areas within either the creative or professional sphere.

Because the content of bachelor’s degree programs in writing differ significantly from school to school, it is not possible to present a truly typical curriculum. The following, however, are some common writing concentrations and sample courses offered at the bachelor’s level:

Creative Writing Concentrations

  • Creative Writing – Fiction
  • Creative Writing – Nonfiction
  • Creative Writing – Poetry
  • Creative Writing – Screenwriting
  • Creative Writing – Playwriting
  • Creative Writing – Children’s Literature

Sample Creative Writing Courses

  • Story Fundamentals: Character
  • Story Fundamentals: Plot
  • Story Fundamentals: Revision
  • Introduction to Scriptwriting
  • Writing Comics and Graphic Narratives
  • Writing Science Fiction
  • Elements of the Biography

Professional Writing Concentrations

  • Professional Writing – Business and Technical Writing
  • Professional Writing – Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations
  • Professional Writing – Media, New Media, Emerging Media, and Social Media
  • Professional Writing – Editing and Publishing

Sample Professional Writing Courses

  • Argument and Critical Thinking
  • Writing for Digital Media
  • Topics in Editing and Publishing
  • Magazine and Feature Writing
  • True Stories: Writing Creative Nonfiction
  • Citation and Documentation
  • Researching Information for Content
  • Researching Marketing Trends
  • Writing according to Brand Guidelines
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Analytics
  • Writing in the Disciplines (discipline-specific ways of thinking, researching, and writing; examples: business, finance, health sciences professions)

Master’s Degree in Writing – Two Year Duration
Graduates with a Master’s Degree in Writing often go on to become authors or teach the craft of writing at the college or university level. This is particularly true for those whose studies were focused on creative writing. The professional writing master’s produces writers with the skills to lead companies and clients through writing projects that have measurable impact on target audiences. The emphasis of master’s studies in writing is to build a quality writing portfolio.

Degrees Similar to Writing

Degree programs in advertising are made up of courses that demonstrate how to develop a brand and communicate it through the various advertising channels of print, television, radio, and online media.

Broadcast Journalism
Students of broadcast journalism learn how to report, produce, and deliver the news for television, radio, and other broadcast media. Their studies typically include communication theory, electronic media production, mass communications law, and media and society.

Creative Writing
In creative writing programs students analyze how prose and poetry are constructed and also write their own works. Typical classes include American poetry, fiction writing, the contemporary short story, and the creative process.

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.

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.

Liberal Arts
An education in liberal arts is broad and diverse. Therefore, students who pursue a degree in the field can choose courses from several subject areas. Programs encompass coursework in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and mathematics. This degree equips students with a well-rounded, foundational education that can be applied in almost any occupation.

Linguistics explores the nature of language variations and dialects, how language evolves over time, how it is processed and stored in the human brain, and how it is acquired. It is the scientific study of language and communication, both within a single language and across language groups.

The primary sub-areas of linguistics are phonetics – the study of the production, acoustics, and hearing of speech sounds; phonology – the patterning of sounds; morphology – the structure of words; syntax – the structure of sentences; semantics – meaning; and pragmatics – language in context.

This degree field is focused on activities undertaken by businesses to promote the buying or selling of products and services. Students study advertising and promotion, marketing communications, international marketing, marketing management, sales and sales management, consumer behavior, marketing research, and marketing strategy.

Mass Communication and Media Studies
Mass communication degree programs examine the history, laws, institutions, and cultural impacts of mass media.

Public Relations
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. The curriculum differs from that of other communication sciences.

In advertising and marketing programs, students learn how to design and develop communication pieces that clients seek out and pay for. 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.

Technical Writing
Degree programs in technical writing teach students how to convey technical information in writing. Coursework covers building documentation 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.

Skills You’ll Learn

Learning to write grammatically, smoothly, and creatively fosters other very transferable skills:

  • A world view that is broadened through exposure to diverse opinions and philosophies
  • Ability to absorb and summarize new information quickly
  • Ability to collaborate and debate
  • Ability to construct original ideas and arguments
  • Ability to disseminate information accurately
  • Ability to document, analyze, and report on research
  • Ability to make judgements based on research and data analysis
  • Ability to read critically and understand subtext
  • Ability to tailor oral and written messages for different audiences and media
  • Ability to understand, connect, and evaluate complex ideas
  • Attention to detail
  • Cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary sensibilities

What Can You Do with a Writing Degree?

Opportunities for writers exist across many different industries – because words and communication are everywhere. Here are some examples of jobs available to writing grads:

  • Author
  • Acquisitions Editor
  • Advertising Executive
  • Biographer
  • Blogger
  • Book Critic
  • Book Publisher
  • Columnist
  • Comic Book Writer
  • Communications Professor
  • Content Writer
  • Copy Editor
  • Copywriter
  • Creative Writing Professor
  • Creativity Coach
  • Editor
  • Essayist
  • Fact Checker
  • Fiction Writer
  • Freelance Writer
  • Ghostwriter
  • Grant Writer
  • Graphic Novelist
  • Greeting Card Writer
  • Historian
  • Humorist
  • Journalist
  • Legacy Writer
  • Lexicographer
  • Lyricist
  • Marketing Associate
  • Medical Writer
  • News Writer
  • Playwright
  • Poet
  • Proofreader
  • Public Relations Executive
  • Publicist
  • Reporter
  • Researcher
  • Screenplay Writer
  • Script Supervisor
  • Short Story Writer
  • Songwriter
  • Speechwriter
  • Staff Writer
  • Story Editor
  • Teacher
  • Technical Writer
  • Travel Writer
  • TV Writer
  • Video Game Writer
  • Writing Coach

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