Colleges that offer a writing degree commonly offer specializations under the umbrella of English studies. Depending on the college, these specializations may include technical writing, creative writing and journalism, among other subjects. For the purpose of this introduction to a writing-oriented education, we will focus on two popular specializations: creative writing and technical writing. The creative writing route is a great option for individuals who enjoy expressing themselves through the written word.
These students will learn a variety of writing forms such as novels, short stories, poetry, memoirs, and literary essays. Technical writing, a specialization more suited to the technically minded student, emphasizes the creation of scientific research reports, employee manuals, data management systems and product user guides. This guide will detail sample courses, specializations, degree types, and recommended resources for both technical and creative writing degrees.
Most undergraduate writing programs start with introductory composition classes, during which students learn the basics of formatted writing, including the ever-popular essay format and all of its subformats. Students also gain basic skills such as rhetoric and critical analysis. Undergraduates will then move on to upper division courses that go in depth with technical or creative writing.
Upper division technical writing courses emphasize clear and concise writing, a necessary skill for providing resource documents for employees, product users and scientific researchers. Some courses may focus on specific industries, such as the case in writing for consumer instruction manuals, for example.
Upper division creative writing courses are usually dedicated to specific formats and styles. In poetry classes, students will learn about different syllable meters and linguistic concepts like enjambment, which helps writers control the pace, flow and meaning of their verses. Longform writing courses, such as a novel or memoir writing workshops, can provide students with a safe environment to share their work and gain valuable feedback.
Creative writing and technical writing are sometimes categorized as specialties, though some colleges offer further specialization in sub-categories such as poetry for creative writing and grant writing for technical writing students.
All degree types, from the associate level to the doctoral level, are offered to English majors. Before you begin your application process, it's important to evaluate the type of job you would like to have post-graduation, so you can choose a degree type based on your goal. The following section offers our recommendation on degree types for a variety of writing careers.
Students can pursue both creative and technical writing at the associate degree level. Due to the limited amount of time (generally two years), writing students will only learn the basics of composition, as well as a limited introduction to specialized classes like creative fiction for creative writing students and information design for technical writing students.
Students in this program will generally spend the first two years taking introductory writing courses and other prerequisites like math and science, followed by two years of upper division or speciality classes that go in-depth on a variety of subjects. Creative writers have a wide breadth of media- and entertainment-related careers to choose from, such as freelance journalist, novelist, drama critic or playwright. Technical writing graduates who earn their bachelor's degree can explore career opportunities with scientific, technical and government research organizations.
Students who commit to a master's degree track in creative writing will get to hone their skills within one or two writing forms. They are usually expected to complete a long-term creative project, such as a novel or poetry collection, by the end of their master's program. Both creative and technical writers who graduate with this degree will qualify for editorial positions in newsrooms, publishing houses and marketing departments.
Doctoral level graduates in the creative and technical writing fields often pursue teaching roles within academic institutions. These students dedicate their time and research to the writing specializations they chose as undergrads or master's students. Those who look outside of academia can qualify for director, editorial or administrative roles within publication environments.
Students can explore merit-based funding and networking opportunities by joining national honors societies such as Sigma Tau Delta. Those who wish to develop professional contacts, stay on top of current industry news and find continuing education resources should consider membership with the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs or the Society for Technical Communication.
Ideal Candidates for Writing
Since nearly two-thirds of writers are self-employed, professional writers must have the drive and self motivation to stay on task, as well as the ability to fill out their own employment and tax paperwork. The ability to meet deadlines is crucial for professional writers as well, making this field a good option for people who are conscientious and efficient with their time. Writers able to complete their assignments by deadlines are valued within newsrooms, PR departments and publishing houses. Professional writers must also think outside-of-the-box, as they are often expected to come up with their own topics for news articles, stories or content.
Technical and creative writers enjoy a fair amount of scheduling and work environment flexibility, since their main tools are a computer and the Internet. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for writers is $55,940 a year, or about $26.89 an hour. Technical writers may enjoy a better career outlook post-graduation, as the information industry provides the highest percentage of writing jobs, followed by technical and scientific services industries.
Aspiring writers who are thinking about applying to a degree program should leverage English department faculty members, college admissions teams, financial aid offices and current students as resources. Professional societies, local news editors and college career offices can be great sources of information for students examining their career options after graduating with a writing degree.