Technology has transformed how information is created, managed, shared, and stored. In today’s global marketplace, the ability to translate complex technical concepts into understandable formats for targeted audiences is critical. Technical communication and technical writing require high levels of digital literacy, along with practical writing, editing, and document creation skills. Professionals in the space work across industries, developing technical publications in areas ranging from software development to marketing.
A bachelor’s degree in technical communication or writing provides students with a scientific, technically oriented curriculum, preparing them for career opportunities in information technology, engineering, government, nonprofit organizations, and more.
Classification of Bachelor’s in Technical Communication and/or Writing Programs
Undergraduate programs in communication are related but distinct programs of study. While there is course overlap, schools offer different academic tracks for students to pursue depending on their educational needs and professional goals. Technical communication and technical writing majors can be found in a variety of university departments, including schools of English, journalism, communication studies, and even sometimes engineering. (Note: Technical communication programs are distinct from other types of undergraduate programs in communication, such as bachelor’s in communication or mass communication programs.)
While technical communication and technical writing are often offered as standalone Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree programs, some colleges also offer these majors as specializations within broader Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in English or Communication programs. Fundamentally, the core curriculum in both degree options is similar, but varies when it comes to major-specific and specialization courses. The Bachelor of Arts typically emphasizes humanities and liberal arts courses (e.g., history of the English language, American fiction, nonfiction) in addition to major concentration courses, while the Bachelor of Science usually offers more hands-on, technical courses related to the major (e.g., technical writing, information communication technology, information design).
Below are a few examples of campus-based B.A. and B.S. in Technical Communication or Writing programs, to help students better understand the distinction between these two degrees:
Bachelor of Arts
- Indiana University: Bachelor of Arts in English (Technical and Professional Writing)
- University of Arkansas-Little Rock: Bachelor of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing
- West Virginia State University: Bachelor of Arts in English (Technical Writing)
Bachelor of Science
- Carnegie Mellon University: Bachelor of Science in Technical Writing and Communication
- Arizona State University: Bachelor of Science in Technical Communication
- Kennesaw State University: Bachelor of Science in Technical Communication
Before selecting a B.A. or B.S., students should compare the curricula for different types of programs to ensure the one they choose meets their academic and professional goals.
Curriculum Details for Bachelor’s in Technical Communication/Writing Programs
In order to earn a bachelor’s degree in technical communication or writing, most universities require students to complete around 120 credits. Keep in mind, however, that total credit hours vary by institution, program, semester vs. quarter systems, and major requirements. Curriculum in these programs is generally divided across multiple areas, such as:
- University core curriculum (also known as general education courses): 60 – 66 credits
- Major course requirements: 12 – 21 credits
- Elective classes: 32 – 42 credits
To graduate in four years, students typically need to take at least 15 credits each semester, which usually equates to four or five classes (for schools that use the semester system). The first two years of most undergraduate programs cover general education topics (e.g., English, fine arts, social sciences, natural sciences) as well as introductory courses in the major (e.g. introduction to technical communication, rhetorical principles). The final two years largely focus on courses within the technical communication/technical writing major, along with elective classes that allow students to tailor their course selection to their areas of interest.
Some undergraduate technical communication and technical writing programs also allow students to add specialized tracks to their studies. Examples of these concentrations include:
- Scientific and medical communication
- User experience design
- Data analysis and presentation
- Technical training
Below is a list of example courses students might take while enrolled as an undergraduate student in a technical communication or technical writing degree program. (Note: The following courses should be used for example purposes only, to demonstrate the type of coursework students can expect to take while completing a bachelor’s degree in the field.)
- Technical Communication Theory and Practice: A look at the background of technical communication, its emergence as a professional discipline, ethical practice in today’s industry, and future possibilities for the field.
- Organizational Communication: An overview of how communication functions in both small and large organizations, defining what effective communication looks like at simple and complex levels, along with an understanding of how communication shapes organizational performance.
- Writing for the Web: An introduction to the fundamentals of web design, audience-based content, information architecture and website navigation, technical components (e.g., web browsers), and user accessibility and experience.
- Fundamentals of Information Design: Explores the basic concepts of information design for multiple mediums (e.g., print, digital), teaching students how to use rhetorical principles to evaluate modern information design practices.
- Introduction to Technical Writing: Serves as a primer to the mechanics and best practices of technical writing, covering the development of a range of technical documentation, such as reports, instructions, and proposals.
- Technical Communication Research: Offers insight into research in technical communication, introducing students to the relationship between theory and practice, and teaching them about the research methods used in areas such as user experience and user-centered design.
The table below outlines a sample course of study for major courses in a bachelor’s in technical communication program:
Online Bachelor’s in Technical Communication and Technical Writing Programs
Pursuing a bachelor’s in technical communication online can be a good choice for students who have work, family, or other commitments that prevent them from completing an on-campus programs. Online study may also be helpful for students who would like to pursue a specific degree track that is not offered by a college locally, especially those who cannot relocate for school. Fortunately, there are a wide range of undergraduate programs in English (with technical writing or technical communication specializations) and standalone bachelor’s in technical communication or technical writing available online.
These online programs are structured in a similar format to traditional, on-campus bachelor’s programs. Students may start their degree as a first-year student directly from high school, transfer into a bachelor’s completion program after finishing an associate degree, or transfer from another four-year institution.
Admission requirements for online bachelor’s in technical communication and technical writing are usually the same as on-campus, four-year programs. For first-year applicants, most programs require standardized test scores (e.g., ACT/SAT), high school transcripts, a personal statement/essay, and a certain minimum GPA. Transfer students usually have to meet minimum GPA and college credit requirements.
Classes and assignments are managed through learning management systems, such as Canvas. Logging into their account, students can watch pre-recorded or live lectures, participate in class discussions through online discussion boards, message instructors and peers, access learning materials, and more. Students can typically access the system anywhere they have a reliable internet connection, at any time, any day of the week.
Career Paths for Graduates with a Bachelor’s in Technical Communication and Writing
Technical communication and writing is a diverse and growing field, with potential career paths in everything from technology to government. The focus of these undergraduate programs is to help students develop digital literacy and technical skills in areas such as information design and editing that can be applied across a variety of writing modes (e.g., tutorials, schematics) and mediums (e.g., print, digital) for targeted audiences.
Armed with their ability to design, produce, and manage complex information – using both traditional and digital media – individuals with a bachelor’s degree in technical communication or technical writing can pursue professional opportunities in fields including:
- Advertising and Marketing
- Media and Public Relations
- Information Technology
- Graphic Arts and Design
Below is a list of potential careers students might consider after earning an undergraduate degree in the field:
- Technical writer: These professionals develop a range of technical documentation, such as instructional materials and how-to manuals, for a range of applications in fields including engineering, software, and more.
- Copywriter: Working for both agencies and in-house marketing departments, copywriters craft compelling copy and content for targeted consumer audiences for a variety of mediums, including radio, television, digital media, and direct marketing materials.
- Editorial Assistant: Handles different editorial, research, and support tasks (e.g., proofreading, gathering images, fact checking) for editorial staff in the production of print and digital products (e.g., magazines, books, journals).
- Instructional Specialist: Provides instructional support, typically in an educational setting, by preparing learning materials, managing instructional technology, assisting with curriculum development, and coordinating program/instruction assessment.
- Document Management Specialist: Administers company- or enterprise-wide document management processes that allow for effective management, production, retrieval, reviewing, and sharing of electronic documentation.