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Courses in Technical Writing

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Depending on the university, you will find courses in technical writing offered in many different departments, including the following: English, other humanities-based departments, communications, journalism, business, the sciences, and engineering.

Over the years, colleges and other schools have recognized that engineering students, for example, not only should be taught English composition, but also should be exposed to courses in technical writing. These courses are usually taught by members of the English department in an engineering college or by teachers of engineering who have an interest in writing. They deal with special forms of technical writing such as report writing and the preparation of scientific papers and magazine articles.

As a result of the formation of various technical writing societies and the great need for technical writers, industry and the technical press have taken more interest in what is being taught by colleges. Every year the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), numbering nearly 200,000 people, holds a special session titled "Engineering Writing and Speech." During this session, seminars and panel discussions on the training of engineers are held to foster clearer and more informative written communications and to improve the relationships between engineers and technical writers. The result of this two-way process has been the introduction of many fine technical writing courses and four-year programs into a number of colleges and universities.

In addition to technical writing courses, a considerable number of schools now offer majors in this specific discipline. The programs have been given various names and can be found in communication- or humanities-oriented departments under such course titles as: science writing, science information, technical journalism, and technical communications.

Choosing The Right Program

In the following pages you will find discussions of some of the technical writing programs. But first it is important to consider two things: what programs and courses are available, and will these programs provide you with the skills you'll need once you become employed.

We carried out a study of this very subject among a group of technical writers. These are the answers broken down into three categories:

What Are Your Present Duties?

Professional (preparation of):
  • computer manuals

  • hardware manuals

  • reports and proposals

  • audiovisuals

  • brochures

  • layout

  • Management:

  • writing supervision consulting

  • production operations editorial management training programs
  • placing technical articles writing technical articles preparing brochures preparing newsletters
  • teaching technical writing teaching media instruction teaching English composition
What Other Courses in Addition to Technical Writing Should Be Included in the Curriculum?
  • science or engineering courses

  • media courses using audiovisuals and cassettes

  • oral presentations
What Courses Should Be Taken Outside the Technical Writing Field?
  • management administration

  • sociology

  • industrial psychology

  • computer science

  • graphic arts

  • photography

  • printing
From this information, you may be able to extract a couple of pointers. First, it would be a good idea to know what kind of technical communication job you are aiming for-writing or editing. Then you need to know what area you think you are qualified for-dealing with reports, manuals, papers and articles, publicity, or advertising. You must also think in terms of specialization-computers, science, medical, or any of the other areas discussed in another article in our website. Then you should find a college that fits your requirements.
Peterson's Guide to Four-Year Colleges lists many colleges in the United States and Canada that offer B. S. degrees in technical writing. Enough information about entrance requirements and approximate cost is included to allow you to decide which schools you wish to contact for further information. The guide does not provide details about the courses or programs, but does include addresses for requesting information. You should write or call the universities that interest you to request their catalogs. The catalog will detail the philosophies and aims of the different departments and give course descriptions.
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