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Online Masters Degree in Writing: Program Summaries

Learn about online master's degree programs in writing. Get an overview of the program types, requirements and course descriptions available for this field.

Essential Information

At the master's degree level, writing programs may be focused on creative writing or professional writing. Both types of programs can be completed online. Creative writing programs may offer specialization options, like in poetry, fiction writing or screenwriting. While students take courses in a range of genres, they typically complete a major final project, like a full novel or a play, in their specialization area. Students usually complete the majority or all of their coursework online, but they may need to attend campus for one or more short residencies. A bachelor's degree in a relevant area is required for entry into these programs.

Professional writing programs may be focused on a particular branch of writing, like medical writing. More often, however, they are generalized and include classes in a range of areas, like grant writing, technical writing and business communications.

Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing

In pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree, students write and edit their own creative projects in addition to analyzing other student's writing and the work of published authors. Students spent a significant amount of time preparing their final, or capstone, writing project. Applicants are normally required to have a bachelor's degree, though it's not necessary for the major to have been in English or writing. Students are accepted based on criteria including writing samples and letters of recommendation.

Program Information and Requirements

For a full-time student, an online Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing degree program is a 2-3 year commitment. Though fully online writing MFA programs do exist, most require students to attend brief residencies on campus. These residencies can last from a week to several weeks and count as credits toward the degree.

Students need to have an up-to-date computer, Internet connection, web browser and email software. Because students often upload and download assignments and documents for faculty and peer review, a fast Internet connection is helpful. Communication with instructors and classmates is usually asynchronous, meaning it doesn't take place in real-time, but some schools might use instant messaging software to facilitate discussions. Additional technological requirements usually include word processing software and the ability to view and create PDF documents.

List of Common Courses in Creative Writing

Students at the master's level in creative writing education usually focus on a specific type of writing, such as fiction, poetry, screenwriting, plays or creative non-fiction. However, students usually complete one or more core writing courses in their first year. Common elements in the online MFA in Creative Writing programs include literary analysis, writing workshops and the capstone project.

Study of Literature

Reading and analyzing the work of great writers is the focus of this class, whether the genre is poetry, fiction or the memoir. Students examine successful literature in order to understand how they can use successful work to influence their own creative process. These courses usually include a final critical essay on an author or piece of work, often of the student's choice.

Capstone Project

At least one course, usually three credits, is devoted to creating an original piece of creative writing for the capstone project. This project is often a theme that runs through a student's entire MFA education, influencing their coursework selections. Instructors evaluate the writing and, when the project is complete, students often participate in a formal reading to their classmates or school.

Genre-Specific Workshop

This class focuses on the student's concentrated area of writing, such as fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, screenwriting or plays. During the workshop, students study and discuss elements specific to their genre by examining well-known writers' works and other students' writing. Students usually write an original piece or bring one to class for group critique.


Master's Degree in Professional Writing

A master's degree program in professional writing trains students to write and edit in a wide variety of fields, such as finance, science, technology, journalism and advertising. During the program, students create and refine samples of their work into a portfolio. In addition to writing and proofreading skills, graduates learn how to analyze and critique other writers' work. Applicants are required to have a bachelor's degree, which does not have to be writing-related.

Program Information and Requirements

Full-time students pursuing a master's degree in professional writing can usually graduate within a year. A Master of Arts in Professional Writing or a Master of Professional Writing degree program usually requires 30-36 credits and can be completed entirely online.

The computer and software requirements for online education are similar to what's needed for most basic Internet activities. A relatively new computer, high-speed Internet access, a current browser and the ability to read PDF documents are the basic necessities. Students also generally need word processing software in order to complete assignments. Additional software plug-ins, such as a Flash player or QuickTime player, may be required for classes incorporating video instruction.

List of Common Courses in Professional Writing

Schools can approach professional writing curricula very differently, but basic courses cover how to research, write, edit and understand the common writing requirements of a specific industry or field. Coursework focuses on either the craft of professional writing or writing in a specific field, such as science, news, Internet or technology. These programs also include at least one course for the student to develop and work on their capstone or thesis project.

Professional Writing Fundamentals

Students learn about the history of professional writing, theories and concepts. The coursework also covers the basics of genres along with common writing formats and standards. Through writing exercises, students learn how to write compelling leads and seamless transitions, as well as how to hold a reader's attention. Students work on their editing skills together in a workshop setting.

Technical and Business Writing Basics

Students practice writing reports, brochures, presentations and manuals to communicate complex technical information. Instruction in using diagrams, charts and jargon for more effective communication is also included.

Writing for the Online Reader

This course introduces students to writing for web pages, blogs, email, chat and social networks in order to create dynamic online experiences. Students learn how to interpret and conform to an audience's expectations. Also included are the writing requirements and design concepts for creating online multimedia.


Career Information

Graduates with an MFA in Creative Writing have several employment options within the creative arts field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (www.bls.gov) expects employment opportunities to grow by 2% from 2014 to 2024 for writers and authors. Writers can be self-employed or seek work as editors at publishing houses, agencies and literary journals. The MFA is the terminal professional degree for creative writing, and some creative writing MFA programs include courses on how to teach creative writing to others, so teaching creative writing is also an option.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the job growth for technical writers to be about 10% from 2014 to 2024. This is a faster-than-average growth expectation. In May 2015, the median salary for technical writers was $70,240, while the median salary for other types of writers, such as copywriters, was $60,250. Besides the technical field, professional writers can seek employment in publishing, editing, advertising and public relations.

Continuing Education Information

Though the Master of Fine Arts is the highest degree possible in creative writing, some schools have created Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs for creative writing and literature in order to prepare students to teach in both fields. These programs are relatively uncommon, however, and may not be available online.

It is possible to find Ph.D. programs in professional writing, though online degree programs at this level may be difficult to find. At this level, students can usually choose an area of focus, such as rhetoric or media writing.

For those who don't want to pursue a higher-level degree, the Internet has a wide variety of online writing courses available. This is a good option for writers in the workforce who want to switch to writing for a different field, such as science or medicine.

For students who already hold a bachelor's degree in a related field, a flexible option for a master's degree in creative or professional writing can be found online. These programs emphasize concepts such as literature study, professional writing fundamentals, technical writing fundamentals and writing for online presentation.


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