Technical communications professionals need to communicate complicated, technical material in written form that is clear and readable by its intended audience. In addition to formal training, favorable qualities for aspiring technical communicators include writing talent, an interest in science and a mind for organization and factual detail. Applicants to associate's and bachelor's degree programs need to have a high school diploma or GED, and they must have completed coursework in composition, natural sciences, and computers. To apply to a master's degree program, applicants must hold a bachelor's degree, and they must have taken prior courses in linguistics and speech.
Undergraduate education may prepare you for entry-level positions as a technical writer, while a graduate program may allow you to pursue administrative or teaching positions. Coursework will include subjects such as desktop publishing fundamentals, proposal writing and communications theory. Associate's and bachelor's programs also often include an internship requirement. Master's programs offer more advanced training and may require the submission of a final thesis or graduation project. Master's degree programs are available on-site, online or a mixture of both.
Associate's Degree in Technical Communications
An associate's degree program prepares students to express scientific and technical information in clear and comprehensive prose. Program content explores the fundamentals of research, writing, editing, and document design as well as software applications for publishing and creation of media presentations. While most programs generally include courses in the humanities, social sciences and behavioral sciences, some technical communications programs distinguish between an Associate of Arts and an Associate of Science by requiring a number of mathematics courses in the latter. Classes might include:
- Technical writing introduction
- Report writing basics
- Technical style and grammar
- Desktop publishing introduction
- Web writing introduction
- Business communications
Bachelor's Degree in Technical Communications
A bachelor's degree program provides instruction in the use of multiple forms of presentation - writing, rhetoric and digital media - to convey technical information to both professional and general audiences. Students learn to create a variety of publications, including maintenance manuals, assembly instructions, catalogs and project proposals. Internships provide opportunities to work with engineers to interpret design specifications or be part of a design team refining products in the prototype stage. Some programs require supporting courses in biology, chemistry, computer programming and public speaking. Subject-specific course titles and topics might include:
- Graphic communication and visual design
- Presentation techniques
- Proposal writing
- Technical editing
- Medical writing
Master's Degree in Technical Communications
A master's degree program explores theories of communication and the practicalities of expressing factually complicated material in a comprehensible way. Students develop and create presentations addressing multiple fields of science and technology to gain familiarity with the form and content of information produced by each discipline and to develop a sense for the effectiveness of different approaches to presentations. Master's degree programs sometimes are structured into a set of 4-5 core courses, with a list of a dozen electives from which students choose half, or as a fixed curriculum of 10-12 courses. Classes might include:
- Communications theory
- Technical research methods
- Instructional design
- Content management
- Cross-cultural communication
Popular Career Options
An associate's degree will typically qualify a student for a limited number of entry-level technical writing jobs. However, multiple fields have positions for writers. Degree holders might find employment with the following:
- Software publishing
- Engineering services
- Biotech, pharmaceutical or medical device companies
A range of potential job titles are also associated with a master's degree in technical communications. The following are among positions open to degree holders:
- Technical publications manager
- Technology transfer specialist
- Knowledge manager
- Documentation specialist
- Technical communications instructor
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
After graduating from a bachelor's program, you'll be qualified to become a technical writer or technical communicator. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) projected that from 2014 to 2024, employment of technical writers would increase 10%. Growth was expected to arise from the growing demand for internet support for scientific and technical products, as well as an increasing need for instruction manuals for these products. Technical writers earned a median yearly salary of $70,240, as of May 2015.
Continuing Education Information
As a technical writer with an associate's degree, you can significantly improve your employment prospects by earning a bachelor's degree. Many schools with technical communications bachelor's programs accept associate's degree credits in transfer. Some have established relationships with 2-year schools to streamline the process.
If you're interested in a career adapting complex information for more general audiences, a technical communications degree can provide valuable training. There are both undergraduate and graduate degree programs in technical communications that prepare students to present complicated data in understandable ways.