Technical communication is a very broad and diverse field, and is defined as all types of informative or instructional writing that help people utilize a product or service (for example, a software application, a machine, or a type of medicine) or provide information on technical or scientific subjects (such as journalistic articles on environmental or health issues). Technical communication also includes any informational content that uses a significant amount of technology in its development and dissemination.
Due to the breadth of and diversity within technical communication, there are a wide variety of graduate certificate programs in technical communication to suit different students’ needs and interests. Some graduate certificate programs provide advanced training in writing software instructions and other technical information, while other programs emphasize science or environmental communication, research writing, or medical communication and instruction. Furthermore, while some graduate certificate programs in technical communication offer a set curriculum, others provide students with a menu of different courses from which students can mix and match according to their interests. Students should thoroughly research the curricula of the programs that interest them in order to determine which programs align best with their goals.
Graduate certificate programs in technical communication typically include courses that cover advanced technical writing and editing, research for technical writing, and professional writing ethics. These programs may also offer classes in business writing, writing for digital platforms, proposal and grant writing, scientific journalism, instructional design, user experience, medical and health writing, and project management.
Graduate Certificate Programs in Technical Communication
Graduate certificate programs in technical communication are typically comprised of 12-18 course credits that students can often complete within a year or less, though some programs allow students to take classes part-time, which can extend a program to one to two years.
Currently, there are 51 graduate certificate programs in technical communication offered at institutions of higher education throughout the United States. As mentioned previously, there are a wide variety of graduate certificate programs in technical communication, which gives students several options to find programs that match their interests. Students can choose from graduate certificate programs that prepare them to build a career at a technology or software company, as well as programs that train them for teaching technical communication or working in research-based settings.
Online Graduate Programs in Technical Communication
Of the 51 graduate certificate programs in technical communication currently available in the nation, there are 22 programs that are offered online, giving students the flexibility to complete course lectures, assignments, and discussions from anywhere they have access to the Internet. Online graduate certificate programs in technical communication are particularly advantageous for students who do not reside near a campus-based program, or for students whose work or family obligations make attending classes at a physical campus difficult. The majority of online graduate certificate programs in technical communication are also designed for working professional, and often include asynchronous instruction to give students maximum flexibility in terms of when they can log on to complete course modules or assignments.
Examples of online graduate certificate programs in technical communication include:
- Bowling Green State University’s online Technical Writing Certificate is comprised of 12 course credits delivered through both asynchronous and synchronous instruction. Students take a set curriculum in technical writing and editing, technical communication ethics, and research in professional and technical writing, and engage in online group projects that prepare them for collaborative work post-graduation.
- Kansas State University’s online Graduate Certificate in Technical Writing and Professional Communication is comprised of 12 credits. Students take a class either in technical communication history and debate or science communication, and then complete three electives of their choosing in areas such as grant writing, the rhetoric of social movements, crisis communication, environmental communication, scientific writing, risk communication, strategic health communication, creative non-fiction, business communication, and persuasion.
- Middle Georgia State University’s online Certificate in Technical Writing and Digital Communication is comprised of 15 course credits that students take in a set curriculum that includes classes in web development, technical writing for the digital age, instructional design, human computer interaction, and writing and publishing for digital platforms.
- Texas Tech University’s online Teaching Technical Communication Graduate Certificate provides students with training and a credential to work as teachers of technical communication. This program is designed specifically for students with an academic background in English who want to supplement their previous education with a background in technical communication to work at institutions of higher education both nationally and globally. Students take two core classes in the foundations of technical communication and the essential theories and methods of teaching professional and technical writing. They then complete either a course on classical rhetorical theory or a course on the history of rhetoric, followed by their choice of electives on topics such as scientific literature, global technical communication, discourses of health and medicine, and writing about social issues in the fields of science and technology.
- University of California, Santa Cruz Silicon Valley Extension’s online Certificate in Technical Writing and Communication trains students to translate complicated concepts and instructions into accessible prose for various audiences. Students in this program learn how to write content for medical papers, business documents, and technical manuals through classes that cover technical communication grammar and style, technical writing procedures and policies, and planning and designing technical information. Students also take a technical writer’s workshop where they learn to apply the concepts and skills they have learned.
Examples Courses in Graduate Certificate Programs in Technical Communication
As technical communication is a broad discipline, courses offered in graduate certificate programs will vary across different institutions. However, some examples of classes that students might take in a technical communication program include but are not limited to:
- Scientific Writing and Journalism: The principles and methods of writing about scientific concepts and phenomena for both the general readership and targeted audiences. The format of the scientific manuscript, and the process of scientific publication.
- Grant and Proposal Writing: The process and structure of effective grant and proposal writing, including identifying a fundable project with an appropriate scope, researching funding sources, crafting compelling proposals and budget packages, and preparing final grant application materials. Through this course, students learn about the non-profit research environment and how to navigate it using various tools, resources, and methodologies.
- Instructional Design: How to use the latest technologies to design platforms that engage and educate the public. Students learn how to leverage interactive learning technologies, data analytics, and other emerging technologies to design and evaluate educational programming delivered online and through mobile devices.
- Health Communication: The current discourses on health and medical communication, and the role that technical and professional communicators play in facilitating the design and flow of information in health and medical settings. How to craft accessible and effective medical instructions and other communication to optimize patient health outcomes as well as communication between health care providers and administrators.
- Visual Communication: The different methods for representing complex information in visual form for a variety of audiences. The use of multimedia, including pictures, infographics, video, and interactive content is discussed and applied to individual and group projects.
- Information Design: The essential design and production principles for creating effective technical communications across a variety of contexts. Students learn how to design handbooks, manuals, and other instructional content, and complete both individual and group projects that reinforce the principles discussed in lectures.
Important Information Regarding Graduate Certificate Programs in Technical Communication
In addition to the certificate programs listed above and in the table below, there are certificate programs that only accept students who are currently enrolled at the institution at which the certificate program is offered. Rather than being a standalone certificate program, these programs are designed for current students who wish to supplement their studies with training in technical and professional writing. An example of such a graduate certificate program in technical communication is the University of Arizona’s Professional & Technical Writing Certificate, which is only for degree-seeking students pursuing an undergraduate course of study at the University of Arizona.
Students interested in earning a graduate certificate in technical communication should review program curricula and admission requirements carefully before applying. Thorough research will ensure that they are eligible for admission to their programs of interest, and that these programs also offer the courses they need for their academic and professional goals.
Master’s in Technical Communication Programs
Some schools that offer graduate certificate programs in technical communication also offer master’s degree programs in technical and/or professional communication. For schools that offer both a master’s degree and a graduate certificate in technical communication, the classes for the graduate certificate program often come from the master’s program curriculum. In addition, some programs allow students who complete the certificate program to transfer those credits towards the master’s program if they decide they want to earn a master’s degree as well.
For example, Mercer University’s online Graduate Certificate in Technical Communication Management is a flexible program that allows students to take five courses from the selection of classes for Mercer University’s Master of Science in Technical Communication Management. Examples of courses that students can take include courses in the principles of advanced technical communication, usability, visual communication, instructional design, international technical communication, multimedia management, and the history of technical communication. Students who apply to the graduate certificate program should note that the admissions requirements for the certificate are the same as that of the Master of Science program at Mercer University. Furthermore, students who are admitted to the certificate program can petition to transition to the master’s program if they have a GPA of 3.0 or higher in their certificate courses.
Master’s programs in technical communication typically require the completion of 30-60 course credits, which students complete over the course of two years of study or more. Unlike graduate certificate programs, which are generally designed to be completed in a year or less, master’s degree programs tend to require more of a time investment both overall and during each term of a student’s enrollment. In addition, master’s programs in technical communication often place a greater emphasis on advanced theories and research methodologies in the field, whereas graduate certificates often focus more on skill-building that is immediately transferrable to the workplace. Finally, while certificate programs generally do not have culminating projects, the vast majority of master’s programs in technical communication require some form of capstone or culminating experience in the form of a thesis, a final applied project, a comprehensive examination, and/or a final portfolio.
For a full list of master’s programs in technical communication, please refer to our Master’s in Communication with a Specialization in Technical Communication page. For students interested in online master’s in technical communication programs, we have a detailed FAQ on online Master’s in Technical Communication programs as well.
Graduate Certificate Programs in Technical Communication and Technical Writing
Disclaimer: Students pursuing a graduate certificate program are not typically eligible for financial aid.