About Heidi Harris, Ph.D.: Heidi Harris is the Graduate Coordinator for the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She oversees the M.A. in Professional and Technical Writing, the Graduate Certificate in Online Writing Instruction, and the Graduate Certificate in Business and Professional Writing. As graduate coordinator, Dr. Harris recruits, admits, and advises graduate students from their first point of contact with the department through post-graduation. She earned her B.A. in English from College of the Ozarks (Point Lookout, MO), an M.A. in Writing from Missouri State University (Springfield, MO), an M.A. in Creative Writing from Ball State University (Muncie, IN), and her Ph.D. in English (Rhetoric and Composition) from Ball State University. Her research interests are online writing instruction, online program development, and online faculty professional development. She teaches graduate courses in Online Writing Instruction.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program, and what classes can students take in the Non-Fiction and Technical concentrations, respectively?

[Dr. Heidi Harris] Our graduates go on to a number of career paths. They are digital marketing consultants, social media and web content coordinators, user education specialists, online writing instructors, freelance writers and consultants, editors, and grant writers (just to name a few). Basically, an M.A. in Professional and Technical Writing at UALR prepares students to write/edit any time, for any audience, in any job where a writer or an editor is needed.

Students in the M.A. in Professional and Technical Writing at UALR practice how to work with writers and editors at a distance, in groups, and across digital platforms. Students can concentrate in three areas: technical writing, nonfiction, or editing and publishing.

Our alumni have a 93% placement rate in a job after graduating, and many secure jobs or advance in their current jobs before graduation.

The Technical Writing concentration includes courses in usability testing and design, game design, writing for the web, software documentation, grant writing, writing for business and government, and document design.

The Nonfiction concentration includes courses in the personal essay, memoir, writing for healing, digital nonfiction, graphic nonfiction, and writing for social media.

The Editing and Publishing concentration includes courses in editing for publication, production editing, technical style and editing, publishing inside/out, and technology of the book. Students in this concentration also complete editing internships.

In addition to the above concentrations, students can get a second, simultaneous Graduate Certificate in Online Writing Instruction or Graduate Certificate in Writing for Business and Government. Courses count toward both programs, and students can either complete a certificate and then continue onto the M.A. program or complete the M.A. and graduate certificate simultaneously.

If students aren’t sure if the M.A. is for them or if they think they might want to teach writing online or work as a trainer or tech writer in industry, they can apply for one of our graduate certificates and earn a degree while they’re figuring out whether the full M.A. program is right for them.

We encourage students to explore multiple concentrations and to complete classes in other departments to get a well-rounded degree. Our goal is to help students who enter the program move from general goals to great jobs.

[MastersinCommunications.com] The University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing is offered on-campus, online, and in a hybrid format. May we have more information about each of these program delivery options, and how they differ? Are students of the hybrid program allowed to choose which courses they take online, versus on-campus? In addition, what technologies does this program use to facilitate interactions between students and faculty, as well as students and their cohort peers?

[Dr. Heidi Harris] The M.A. in Professional and Technical Writing at UALR can be completed in two ways:

  • through the on-campus program: Students enroll at UALR and take in-person classes, online classes, or a combination of both.
  • through the UALR Online campus: Students enroll in this campus and take online courses only at the in-state rate (currently $383/credit hour).

Whether the student enrolls in the on-campus or online program, the curriculum is the same. They will be in asynchronous classes with students from across the country and receive the same quality of instruction as our on-campus students.

High-tech classes and theory classes may include synchronous components to deal with specialized programs or theories. Courses that include synchronous components are advertised in advance and some faculty allow students to watch a class recording in lieu of attendance.

We pride ourselves on providing a degree in PTW that does not differ by modality. Students will have the same internship and professionalization opportunities as our on-campus students.

[MastersinCommunications.com] The University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing requires students to complete either a Portfolio or a Thesis for their culminating experience. May we have an overview of both of these culminating experience options, and how each is structured? What are the milestones that students are expected to meet for each, and what support do they receive from faculty during their work?

[Dr. Heidi Harris] The PTW program at UALR has two options for the culminating project in the program: the thesis and the portfolio.

Thesis Option: Students selecting the thesis option take 36 hours—

  • 9 hours of theory,
  • 15 hours of concentration courses,
  • 6 hours of cognate courses, and
  • 6 hours of thesis courses.

Students in this concentration will write a thesis project (around 100 pp.) with a committee of three faculty members (a chair and two readers). Students take the Thesis Proposal Seminar to prepare their thesis proposal for defense, and after committees are satisfied with students’ work, they do a public defense of their thesis.

The thesis option is good for all students but in particular for those students in the nonfiction concentration who would like to complete a book draft in their degree and students planning on attending Ph.D. programs.

Student thesis topics include memoirs, essay collections, multimedia/multi-genre projects, and a variety of types of traditional research (examples: effective group practices in the composition classroom, the impact of hip hop music on formerly incarcerated individuals, literary nonfiction research about a convent of excommunicated nuns, or the creation and usability testing of a wiki for rhetorical theory students).

Portfolio Concentration: Students selecting the portfolio option take 42 hours—

  • 9 hours of theory,
  • 15 hours of concentration courses,
  • 6 hours of cognate courses, and
  • 12 hours of secondary concentration courses.

Students in this concentration will complete a portfolio that they can use for job searches and/or other professional opportunities. To see some of our sample portfolios, visit our M.A. Sample Portfolio webpage.

Students work with a committee of three faculty members (a chair and two readers) to create a portfolio from the student’s best work in the M.A. program. When the committee is satisfied with the student’s work, the student does a public portfolio defense.

About two-thirds of students select the portfolio option so that they can get additional coursework in a variety of areas in lieu of writing a longer project.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing, and how can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems? Additionally, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of this program?

[Dr. Heidi Harris] Being an online graduate student can be a lonely venture, but not in our M.A. in Professional and Technical Writing. Our online students in different states have forged friendships and maintained connection (both professional and personal) long after they graduated the program.

The Department of Rhetoric and Writing prides itself on the connections it makes with our M.A. students online. Online students regularly have contact with both faculty and their fellow students. In fact, our department has received two grants to study how to better serve online students through community building, and we have implemented the results of our research into our program.

I am the primary coordinator/advisor for the program, and students will meet with me 1–2 times a semester for advising. I not only match classes to students’ strengths and goals, but can also help students find assistantships, scholarships, and internships.

Students will also have three committee faculty they’ll work closely with on their thesis or portfolio projects. Many of our classes are designed around service projects (Grant Writing, Usability Testing and Design, Technical Style and Editing, Advanced Editing) that connect them with communities both local and virtual. Other courses, such as Editing for Publication and Production Editing, involve focused work with faculty, other students, and authors as students edit and design works of nonfiction for our print publication, Quills and Pixels.

Online students in our M.A. in PTW program might

  • get an assistantship with a department at UALR to create print and digital materials.
  • intern in the University Writing Center as a writing consultant.
  • apply for internships and graduate with professional experience in business, industry, and nonprofits.
  • edit Quills and Pixels.
  • partner with organizations and businesses to conduct usability testing and design through our CRUX Lab (Contemporary Rhetorics and User Experience).
  • assist the graduate or composition coordinators in administering writing programs.
  • learn to write grants with faculty who have secured more than $600,000 in grants for nonprofits through our grant writing class.

In short, our faculty prepare students for a range of jobs in the real world.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For students who are interested in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Heidi Harris] Our ideal applicants are diverse. Our students come from the military, education, technical writing positions, training positions, and a range of administrative and managerial positions. You’ll be in class with students ranging in age from 22 to 62.

We require the following materials to apply for the M.A. in Professional and Technical Writing:

  • statement of purpose outlining goals for the program and discussing writing samples,
  • current resume (or vita),
  • three writing samples,
  • three letters of recommendation, and
  • transcripts from all previous academic institutions.

Successful applicants do the following:

  • articulate their personal and professional goals clearly.
  • identify how our program can help them meet those goals.
  • provide writing samples that demonstrate their ability to write, research, edit, and design documents for multiple audiences.
  • include letters of recommendation that can speak to their ability to complete projects and work with others.
  • write and edit well.

To set up a time to talk about how the M.A. in PTW will help students meet their goals, or to talk about the application process, please contact me at haharris@ualr.edu.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Heidi Harris] The M.A in Professional and Technical Writing at UALR prepares students for their writing futures. The Department of Rhetoric and Writing is one of the oldest stand-alone writing programs in the country, meaning that we focus on technical writing, nonfiction, and editing and publishing. Students applying to our program will:

  • be mentored from application through graduation (and beyond).
  • work closely with full-time faculty on writing, research, and projects.
  • get hands-on experience through internships.
  • demonstrate ability to work well in teams, develop content, and work remotely with writers.
  • connect with faculty and industry experts as an alum of the program.

In short, we’ve been supporting students and alumni since 1993 and online students since 2000. We’re an established program focused on helping students meet their needs and achieve their dreams.

Thank you, Dr. Harris, for your excellent insight into the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing!