Graduate Certificate Programs in Technical Writing and Communication
Technical writing and technical communication graduate certificate programs are academic training programs offered by accredited colleges and universities that are designed for college graduates and mid-career professionals who hold a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. These programs offer a comparatively compact curriculum that focuses only on the knowledge and skills used by communication specialists, writers, and professionals who work in technical fields throughout business, industry, government, and the non-profit sector. Qualified students can typically complete a technical communication graduate certificate program in less than one year by taking four, five, or six graduate courses, depending on the program.
Schools that offer graduate certificate programs in technical writing/communication typically offer full master’s degree programs in the field, and it is common for students to complete a subset of courses from a master’s degree program to earn a graduate certificate. Indeed, credits earned through a graduate certificate in technical writing or communication program are often transferrable to a master’s program if a student opts to pursue further graduate studies. Thus, graduate certificates provide a direct and relatively cost-effective means of cultivating applied communication and technical writing skills while earning graduate credits from an accredited college or university.
Technical Writing and Communication Explained
Technical writing and technical communication refer to the principles and practices by which complex industrial, technological, scientific, and engineering information and concepts are framed and presented as coherent content for specific audiences. Technical writers and technical communication specialists use communication theory, knowledge of media platforms, and written, oral, and multi-media communication skills to create content that engages, informs, and persuades target audiences. The audiences that communication professionals create content for may include people with technical and non-technical backgrounds, as well as people within an organization and/or the general public.
Grant and research proposals; textbooks and instruction manuals; articles for journals and trade publications; briefs and internal memos; and blog, wiki, and website materials are among the types of content that constitute technical writing. Indeed, the Society for Technical Communication favors a broad definition of the field that encompasses any writing or communication about technical or specialized topics, including computer and software instructions, medical and healthcare protocols, functional specifications, training program materials, industrial and laboratory safety regulations, and much more. For example, in addition to cultivating written and oral communication skills that can be applied to detailing, explaining, and elucidating technical processes, issues, and concepts, technical communication specialists commonly work in digital media, where the use of infographics, data visualization tools, and video is an integral component.
Identifying and Classifying Graduate Certificate Programs in Technical Communication
While there is no standard naming convention for graduate certificate programs in technical communication, programs that offer training and instruction in technical communication and which culminate in the conferral of a graduate certificate rather than a degree are commonly designated as technical communication, technical writing, or technical writing and communication programs. These programs can be identified, regardless of how they are named, by a graduate-level curriculum that covers the principles and practices of technical content creation and editing, and by admission policies that require applicants to hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. In fact, some programs are designated as post-baccalaureate certificate programs, and most programs are offered by schools and departments of communication, English, journalism, and/or media studies that have master’s programs in technical and professional writing and communication.
While not common in the field of technical communication, some graduate certificate programs require a master’s degree for admission. These programs will typically be designated as post-masters or post-graduate certificate programs. Students should always check admissions requirements carefully to ensure they meet the criteria for admission before applying.
Technical Communication Graduate Certificate Coursework
Graduate certificate programs in technical communication typically consist of four, five, or six courses that cover topics relevant to the creation of various types of technical content for specific purposes and specific audiences. This generally includes courses in writing and editing processes, research methods for technical writing, visualization techniques, and the composition and design of technical communication content, as well as classes in which students apply what they are learning though portfolio-building exercises. However, curricula vary by program and by school, as do the names and descriptions of individual courses.
Through researching technical communication graduate certificate programs currently offered by accredited colleges and universities, GraduateCertificates.com has compiled a list of the types of courses that are generally offered as part of a technical writing and communication graduate certificate program. These include:
- Fundamentals of Technical Communication
- Professional and Technical Writing
- Resources and Research in Technical Writing
- Technical and Scientific Reports
- Information Design: Theory and Practice
- Editing and Style for Technical Communicators
- Principles of Visual Communication
- Technical Writing for Online Audiences
Online Graduate Certificate in Technical Writing and Communication Programs
Many schools are now leveraging advances in online pedagogy and learning technologies in order to offer graduate certificate programs in fully and partially online distance-learning formats. This development has allowed schools to extend the reach of their graduate programs to students who do not live or work within commuting range of a school’s physical campus, and it has given students who are interested in adding technical writing proficiencies to their skillset a more convenient and flexible alternative to campus-based graduate certificate programs.
Online graduate certificate programs utilize learning management systems (LMSs) to facilitate the delivery of live and/or pre-recorded lectures and virtual class sessions, as well as to provide students with a centralized portal for communicating with instructors, accessing various instructional materials, and submitting assignments and exams. Online classes may be held using synchronous instruction, a mode of online instruction that takes place in real time and thus requires students to be logged on to a school’s LMS while lectures and virtual classes are in progress. Alternatively, lectures and other instructional activities can be delivered via asynchronous instruction, a mode of online learning that does not have a real-time component and which includes viewing pre-recorded lectures and interactive instructional modules.
Synchronous instruction provides a more structured online learning experience than asynchronous instruction but can cause scheduling conflicts for students with personal or professional obligations that are at the same time as their classes. Asynchronous instruction is less rigid and affords greater flexibility; however, students must be able to thrive in a less structured learning environment that requires more time management skills. While all online programs have asynchronous elements (such as readings that students must complete on their own time or assignments they can complete over the course of several days), not all online certificate programs incorporate synchronous sessions.
Another factor to consider when exploring online graduate certificate programs is whether the program requires any in-person instruction. Many online technical communication graduate certificate programs are 100% online and do not require any campus visits. However, it is possible that some programs require students to attend relatively short campus-based sessions for face-to-face instruction, which may include orientations, workshops, and/or seminars that benefit from having students on campus for two or three days. Programs that require more than three campus visits per year are classified by GraduateCertificates.com as blended/hybrid graduate certificate programs.
Hybrid programs offer some of their coursework online but typically require students to attend a non-trivial number of campus-based classes. As a result, while providing more convenience and flexibility than traditional, campus-based programs, blended programs may not be a practical option for students who do not live within commuting range of the school offering the program.
Examples of Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Technical Writing and Communication
Below is a list of online graduate certificate programs in technical writing and communication. This list is intended to serve as an illustration of the types of online graduate certificate programs available in this diverse space.
The University of Kentucky offers an online Professional and Technical Writing Graduate Certificate program through its College of Arts & Sciences. The one-year program consists of three courses for a total of nine graduate credits. It is designed for bachelor’s program graduates, including military personnel, scientists, and professionals who are interested in cultivating professional technical writing skills. Students in the program, which does not require any campus visits, learn how to create content for reports, manuals, handbooks, case studies, and journal articles, as well how to use visualization tools. For more information on the program, visit the University of Kentucky at www.uky.edu.
Arizona State University (ASU) offers an online Technical Communication Graduate Certificate program through ASU Online. The six-course/18-credit program draws on coursework from a Master of Science (MS) in Technical Communication program offered by ASU Online, and it includes courses in visual communication, web authoring, technical editing, and writing technical and scientific reports, grants, and proposals. Students who hold a bachelor’s degree in any discipline are eligible for the program, which is fully online and does not require any campus visits. For more information on the program, visit ASU Online at asuonline.asu.edu.
Bowling Green State University (BGSU) offers an online Technical Writing Graduate Certificate program through its College of Arts and Sciences. The 12-credit program consists of four courses in the principles and practices of technical writing, research tools and techniques, editing methods, and technical communication ethics. Students are required to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in order to enroll in the BGSU program, which can be completed entirely online without having to visit the school’s campus for classes. For more information on the program, visit BGSU at www.bgsu.edu.
More Graduate Certificates in Technical Communication
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