Non-credit, fully-online certificate programs in creative writing and technical writing are available. A creative writing certificate program may supplement a Master of Fine Arts in Writing program. Students in the technical writing program may need layout or scripting software. Both creative and technical writers typically need a college degree for salaried work, and technical writers must also have experience in a technical field, such as engineering or computer science.
Certificate Program in Creative Writing
In a creative writing certificate program, students take courses on the writing of novels, memoirs, poetry, short fiction and other genres of work. They study exemplary work by other novelists and participate in workshops to write their own original works and comment on those of their peers. Participants write short works in various genres throughout the program and generally undertake a long manuscript on a topic of their choosing toward the end of the program.
Some students enroll in creative writing certificate programs as preparation for a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program. Others simply want to further their own novels, poetry, short stories, or other creative works.
Program Information and Requirements
Most online creative writing certificate programs are open to applicants who are not published writers and who have no previous formal experience with writing. Since a substantial portion of coursework is workshop-based, the schedules for many writing certificate programs are relatively rigid. Most programs require that students complete courses within a specified period of time, and some specify the order in which courses must be taken, so that students who begin the program at the same time are in all classes together. Students generally take only one class at a time, and most programs can be completed in about two years of continuous study.
Many creative writing certificate programs are offered entirely by distance learning. Students complete regular reading and writing assignments and access lectures and assignments online. They interact with instructors and fellow students on message boards and in chat rooms.
List of Common Creative Writing Courses
Many classes in a creative writing program focus on a particular genre, such as the memoir or the novel. Students learn to write in various styles and to critique the work of their classmates and published authors.
A literary analysis course looks at the role of structure, dialogue, form and language in works of various genres. Students learn to read more analytically and to identify techniques that they can bring to bear on their own writing.
Students read and analyze the work of contemporary and historically significant poets. They sometimes write poems of their own according to particular themes or styles.
A course in creative nonfiction looks at memoirs, biographies and other creatively written nonfiction texts of various styles and lengths. Students learn how to craft compelling stories that remain true to their sources. The ethics of reporting and of maintaining veracity are also considered.
In a class on writing the novel, students learn about the particular considerations of creating book-length stories. By analyzing important published works, they consider ways of maintaining plot, structure and voice throughout a text. They may also look at the historical development of various literary movements.
Online Certificate Program in Technical Writing
An online technical writing certificate program trains students in professional writing and information design. Technical writers often create documentation and user's guides for software or electronic devices. They may also be employed by engineering or consulting firms, pharmaceutical companies, or large corporations that require extensive training materials. Coursework focuses mainly on communication skills, but some technical facility is required.
Program Information and Requirements
Most technical writing certificate programs are open to students without previous formal training in writing. They are designed for part-time study and can generally be completed in 1-2 years. Many programs are available entirely online, with all interactions among students and instructors taking place over e-mail and discussion boards.
Students access readings, lectures and assignments online, and submit regular writing projects. They may need access to specialized design, layout or scripting software.
List of Common Courses
Technical writing courses cover the key aspects of communication, including writing, rhetoric, design and medium.
Introduction to Technical Writing
Early in a technical writing certificate program, students usually complete an overview class introducing the principles and conventions of technical writing. They learn about prevailing industry practices relating to design, writing style and presentation format. Brief writing projects on various topics are assigned.
Students learn how to use graphics, typography and formatting to create clear and readable texts. They learn about typical aesthetic and psychological responses to visual media and develop strategies for conveying information based on this knowledge.
User Guide Writing
A user guide writing course covers strategies for developing a user's manual for software or devices. Students learn to plan, draft, format and edit manuals. The course generally covers technical aspects of creating complex tables of contents, indexes and cross-references in a word-processing program.
Career Information for Graduates
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), salaried writers and authors made a median annual salary of $62,170 as of May 2018 (www.bls.gov). However, most authors, particularly those specializing in creative writing, do not work in salaried staff positions. Self-employment and freelance work are common, and income can be highly variable.
The growing prevalence of electronic devices for a myriad of purposes means that there is a steady demand for skilled technical writers. The BLS predicts that job opportunities for technical writers will increase by 8%, a bit faster than average for all occupations, between 2018 and 2028 (www.bls.gov). As of May 2018, the median annual salary for technical writers was $71,850.
Continuing Education Information
Graduates of creative writing certificate programs who want further education in writing may consider MFA programs. There are currently only a few fully-online MFA degree programs in creative writing. However, many universities offer low-residence programs that require students to visit campus for a few brief stretches over the course of their program while completing most coursework at a distance. In addition to enhancing students' writing skills, MFA programs qualify graduates to teach writing at a college level.
Bachelor's and master's degree programs in technical writing are available to certificate-holders seeking to advance their education. Some programs are offered entirely online. Bachelor's programs include a general education component and may take 3-5 years to complete; master's programs are more focused on technical communication and can be finished in 2-3 years of part-time study.
Students interested in a certificate program in writing have the option of completing the program entirely online. Available programs prepare students for a career in technical or creative writing.