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Online Writing Schools and Colleges: How to Choose

Although the most common writing programs available online are master's degrees in creative writing, various institutions also offer technical writing certificate programs. Continue to read to learn about these and other considerations when choosing an online writing school.

Students who are interested in enrolling in online writing programs should do their research before committing to the idea, as it may be challenging to find online programs in an area that suits your specific interests. You may want to consider whether the program is offered entirely or only partially online and whether or not there is a residency requirement.

How to Select an Online Writing School

The majority of writing programs offered online lead to a certificate or master's degree. These programs are available at various colleges and universities throughout the nation. When deciding on what program to attend, students should consider the focus of the degree as well as the delivery method of the program.

Degree Focus

When selecting an online program in writing, students should first choose the type of writing they want to specialize in. Most genres of writing, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry and screenwriting, fall into the creative writing category. However, those interested in using their writing skills for a career in science or technology can earn a certificate in technical writing.

Program Delivery

Students should find out whether programs are fully online or hybrid. Hybrid or low-residency programs usually require individuals to take specific courses--or a specific number of courses--on campus, as well as attend workshops and seminars in person. The majority of low-residency creative writing MFA programs include one to two summer residencies during each academic year that can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks.

List of Common Online Writing Programs

Online Certificate in Technical Communication

An online technical communications certificate program prepares writers that are interested in entering the field of telecommunications. Technical communicators are responsible for translating complex information into text that can be easily understood by everyday people. From finance to pharmaceuticals, technical writers can work on documents like statements, reports and instruction manuals. A background in journalism or visual arts can be beneficial to those completing a technical communication certificate program. Courses can include:

  • Developing online help
  • Technical editing
  • Visual design for technical communication
  • Information architecture principles
  • Document design with FrameMaker

Online Certificate in Technical Writing

Earning a certificate in technical writing trains writers for entry-level careers in the field of technology. Through this type of program, individuals will learn the different types of technical writing, how to write for specific audiences, the responsibilities of a technical writer and how to apply different research methods. Students might take courses like:

  • Technical writing for publication
  • Occupational technical writing
  • Proposal writing
  • Graphics in technical writing
  • Technical editing

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing

The creative writing MFA program is designed to assist graduate students in fine-tuning their writing skills, as well as provide instruction in different genres of writing. While curricula include courses in genres like fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry and screenwriting, the majority of creative writing MFA programs allow students to choose a concentration in one of these areas.

Fully online creative writing MFA programs do exist; however, most programs require attending certain courses and workshops on campus, which usually take place during a 1- to 2-week residency each year. Students then complete the rest of their work, along with a thesis, remotely. Specific course topics in a creative writing MFA program can include:

  • Narration theory and poetics
  • Forms and techniques of fiction
  • Literary translation
  • Advanced cinematic writing
  • Politics of narration

Schools with Online Programs in Writing

For students seeking online certificates in writing, the may want to check out the Technical Writing E-Certificate offered by Louisiana Tech University. This program is comprised of 15 hours of study which students can complete entirely online. The goal of the program is to instruct students in how to write better for business purposes. Graduate students, as well as working professionals, are eligible to apply for this program.

Another option is the online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Writing offered through UC Berkeley Extension. This program is designed for students who have completed a bachelor's degree and are interested in becoming professional writers and developing their writing portfolio. UC Berkeley also offers a certificate in professional writing, for which a bachelor's degree is recommended but not necessarily required. This 6-course program may be of special interest to professionals who are interested in improving their writing skills without a huge time commitment.

For students interested in a master's degree, the University of Texas - El Paso offers an online MFA in Creative Writing. This program consists of 48 hours of courses plus an additional 6 hours of thesis work. No residency requirement is necessary for this program, but applicants are expected to submit a writing sample during the application, as it is the goal of the program that every student has a book complete and ready to publish by the time they graduate. UTEP also offers a graduate-level certificate program in technical and professional writing, which takes 12 months to complete and is offered entirely online.

When students are looking for online writing programs, they need to take many factors into consideration, like what type of writing they want to study and what degree they want to obtain. Doing the research is likely to pay-off when students do select the right program for them.

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