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Technical Writing: Overview of Adult Education Programs

Technical writers are the people who use their expertise to create documents such as assembly instructions, catalogs, proposals, marketing materials, user manuals, part's listings, content for websites and many other types of written material. Read about academic programs in technical writing, including course requirements and skills learned, as well as get job information.

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With rapid changes and growth in media and communication, adult education programs in technical writing offer many opportunities to learn about writing, designing and communicating information for different types of companies. Bachelor's degree and certificate programs in technical writing can be found online or on campus and often offer different specialties for students.

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Program Information

Many colleges and universities across the country offer bachelor's degrees in technical writing or technical communication. Some schools offer bachelor's or certificate programs entirely online to provide flexibility to adult learners. Fewer institutions offer graduate degrees, but usually an undergraduate degree is all you need to obtain an entry-level technical writing job. These programs help writers learn to gather or create information, streamline it and present it in a way that is useful to users. This could apply to writing professional documents, such as manuals, websites or business plans. Professionals who obtain a bachelor's degree in technical writing can go on to write and edit for many different types of organizations and businesses.

Many bachelor's programs have a wide variety of elective classes so technical communication students can tailor their education to specific aspects of technical communication. Students gain a background not only in writing, but also in multimedia and technology. They learn to write and edit a variety of materials, including manuals, instructional materials and websites. These programs usually end with the development of a portfolio or a final technical writing project. Certificate programs are typically geared towards writers with some experience who want to develop more specific knowledge of technical writing.

Below you will find details about the programs.

Programs at a Glance

  • Bachelor's degrees typically take four years to complete, and programs are offered in on-campus or online formats.
  • Online certificate programs require an internet connection and access to a computer. They are typically geared towards adults with some professional experience, although if they are non-credit they may have less stringent requirements. They can range from 1-3 courses and may be self-paced or on a semester schedule.

Course Topics

Course requirements include general education, communication and technical courses. Bachelor's students may complete internships. Some sample courses are English composition, computer applications, multimedia writing principles, technical communication principles, visual communication, computer programming, document design, technical editing, and website design.

Some colleges, like the University of Minnesota, offer different course paths depending on what side of technical writing you choose to focus on. For example, technical writing students focusing on IT would take courses in web design, media production and message design, while a student focusing on biological and health sciences would take courses in medical writing and communication relating to biomedical technology. Carnegie Mellon also offers two tracks in technical writing--one in Technical Communication and the other in Medical and Scientific Communication. Courses are specialized depending on your track.

Certificate program courses are not as broad because they are shorter and do not offer as much specialization. They may cover topics such as principles of technical writing, writing for a specific audience, production techniques and writing for your portfolio.

Skills Acquired

Graduates of technical writing bachelor's programs are prepared to work in careers that require writing, editing or formatting documents. There are also other career options in training, information design and publications management. Some of the skills acquired include writing materials designed for a specific audience, properly formatting documents, efficiently drafting and editing technical documents, following accepted laws and standards for technology, and working with information retrieval tools.

Career Information

Technical writers, also known as technical communicators, provide many different documentation services for a variety of corporations, government entities, scientific and professional societies, non-profit organizations and other institutions. In a nutshell, technical writers serve as mediators of language -- they translate technical information into forms usable by others. The 'others' may be Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who already are knowledgeable with the technical information, such as engineers, or they may be generalized readers with little to no technical background on the product or subject.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), technical writers can expect to have good job prospects as companies need more professionals to make technical publications accessible to a wider audience. Many technical writers will also be retiring, which will result in openings. Over the 2014-2024 decade, there will be faster-than-average job growth of 10% for technical writers. As of May 2016, technical writers were paid an average annual wage of $73,160, according to the BLS. Most of them made between $41,700 and $111,260 per year.

For adults looking to make a career as a professional technical writer, a bachelor's degree program in technical writing offers in-depth and wide range of courses and opportunities for skill development. A certificate program offers a good introduction for writers with some experience looking to deepen their understanding of technical communication.

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