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Master of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing

Program Overview

You can complete the MA program in Professional and Technical Writing in two ways:

Option 1: Complete 36 hours of coursework; write and defend a master’s thesis.

Option 2:  Complete 42 hours of coursework; assemble and defend an online portfolio of writing samples.

All students complete 12 hours of core courses.  The four core courses introduce you to historical and contemporary scholarship in the field of rhetoric and composition: research-based books and articles about the nature of writing, the teaching of writing, and language itself.  The core courses include

7310 Composition Theory — writing processes and the teaching of writing  (Note: This course is taught online during fall semesters.)

7311 Rhetorical Theory — using writing to achieve a purpose with specific audiences in specific contexts  (Note: This course is not currently taught online.  Students must be available to come to campus one night a week to take this course.)

7312 Language Theory – the role of language and linguistics in creating meaning  (Note: This course is not currently taught online. Students must be available to come to campus one night a week to take this course.)

7313 Theory of Technical Communication — writing for professional contexts outside the classroom; how technology changes the nature of writing  (Note: This course is taught online during spring semesters.)

These courses may be taken in any order, and all four are offered both spring and fall semesters.  Due to the heavy reading and writing load in these classes, we recommend that most students take one theory course per semester and fill out their schedule with concentration or cognate courses (see below).

All students complete 12 hours of concentration courses in the emphasis area of their choice: technical writing, nonfiction writing, or editing. The technical option focuses on writing for industry, science, business, and government. The nonfiction option focuses on composition and rhetorical theory, nonfiction, and a general application of writing skills, including the teaching of writing. The editing option focuses on developing skills in both nonfiction and technical editing and offers opportunities to work with real world clients and publications.
Below are some of the courses that can be used to complete the three concentrations.  This list is not comprehensive; students should check with the graduate coordinator each semester during advising to learn what new courses are available that semester and to customize their degree plans.

Technical Writing:
5304 Technical Style and Editing
5305 Document Design
5306 Writing for Business and Government
5307 Writing Software Documentation
5346 Topics in Technical Communication
5371 Writing on the Web
5375 Grant Writing
7340 Topics in Technical, Business, and Government Writing

Nonfiction Writing:
5202 Teaching Writing in Secondary Schools
5301 Theories of Rhetoric and Writing
5315 Advanced Persuasive Writing
5317 Advanced Nonfiction Writing
5318 Writing Auto/Biography
5321 Editing for Publication
5325 Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Argument
7300 Introduction to Research Methods
7320 Working with Writers

5345 Topics in Persuasive Writing
5347 Topics in Nonfiction Writing
7330 Topics in Nonfiction Writing
7331 Topics in the Essay
7332 Topics in Extended Nonfiction
7335 Topics in Rhetoric

7150, 7250, 7350 Independent Study**
7360 Internship/Practicum**

Editing:
5304 Technical Style and Editing
5321 Editing for Publication
5322 Advanced Editing
5323 Production Editing (currently RHET 5347 Topic in Nonfiction Writing: Production Editing)
7161, 7261, 7361 Editing Internship (for a total of 6 hours)
7324 Topics in Editing

Cross Track Courses*:
5304 Technical Style and Editing
5305 Document Design
5325 Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Argument
7300 Introduction to Research Methods
7320 Working with Writers
7360 Internship/Practicum**

* Check for other cross track courses with the Graduate Coordinator.

** No more than 3 Independent Study or Internship hours–7150, 7250, 7350–can count toward concentration hours.

All students take 6 hours of cognate courses, allowing them to enroll in classes outside their concentration area within the department — or to take classes outside the department that support their PTW concentrations. For example, students might choose speech communication, business, literature, or graphic design. Certain PTW courses (such as internship/practicum hours) and most transfer credits apply to the cognate only. Note: In the editing concentration cognate courses are replaced by 6 hours of RHET 7161, 7261, 7361.

Students completing the thesis option conclude their degree with 6 hours of thesis courses. A thesis is an extended piece of original writing (usually a minimum of 70 double-spaced pages of 12-point text or its equivalent) that demonstrates professional-level research, writing, and editing skills.  In RHET 8300, students develop and present proposals for thesis projects; in RHET 8301, they complete and defend those projects.

A thesis in our program may take a number of forms, including:

Academic research on a topic related to rhetoric, writing, editing, or the teaching of writing.

Multimedia and multimodal forms of writing, including websites, games, video editing, video tutorials, and more.  These types of projects are typically accompanied by an academic cover piece describing the rhetorical theories that influenced (or are reflected in) the final document.

Technical writing projects such as manuals, online help systems, usability testing, grant applications, science writing, training curricula, and more.  These types of projects are typically accompanied by an academic cover piece describing the rhetorical theories that influenced (or are reflected in) the final document.

Nonfiction projects such as biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, book or monograph manuscripts, healing narratives, collections of essays, and more.  These types of projects are typically accompanied by an academic cover piece describing the rhetorical theories that influenced (or are reflected in) the final document.

Students should choose thesis topics that are connected to the concentration they pursued in their coursework. It is not appropriate, for example, for a student with a concentration in technical writing to propose a memoir thesis — nor is it appropriate for a student with a nonfiction emphasis to propose a software documentation thesis.  Choosing a thesis project that fits your coursework greatly increases your chances for success.

Students work on their thesis projects supervised by a committee of three professors who determine when the project is complete and of high enough quality to warrant a master’s degree.  The student is responsible for asking faculty members to serve on the committee.  Students should select committee members whose opinions they respect, whose expertise aligns well with the student’s topic, and whose personalities mesh well with the student’s own.

Students completing the portfolio option do not take RHET 8300 or RHET 8301, but instead complete 12 additional hours of elective coursework with the approval of the student’s portfolio mentor (the mentor is usually assigned at the beginning of the program).  These students then assemble and defend an online portfolio of several writing samples; the number and types of samples will be negotiated between the student, the student’s portfolio mentor, and the portfolio committee members (selected by the student, similar to the thesis process outlined above).

Each writing sample included in the defense portfolio should be highly polished, to the point that the samples are potentially publishable or ready to be used in a professional context.  If students include papers written for courses in the program, the faculty expects to see revision beyond where the project was at the end of the course for which it was submitted.  In some cases, committee members may ask students to add additional research, reorganize the sample, or rewrite it for a different audience.

Students who have difficulty deciding between the thesis and portfolio options may take RHET 8300 to help them determine whether they have a viable idea for a thesis project.  If they pass the class and wish to continue with the thesis option, they may proceed to RHET 8301.  If they decide they do not wish to continue the project they proposed, they may switch to the portfolio option, and RHET 8300 will count as one of their four additional electives.

Graduation Requirements

  • Cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 on an approved program of study as outlined above
  • Successful completion and oral defense of thesis or final portfolio.
Updated 12.11.2012