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Technical communication is defined as any form of communication that is about technical or specialized subjects, utilizes technology in its creation or dissemination, and/or provides instructions on how to complete a task or operate equipment, software, or other systems. Examples of technical communication include software instructions, training materials for employees, product guides, medical instructions, and medication information. Technical communication also includes scientific communication, which a field of specialized writing for scholarly journals, informational articles for the public on topics in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and content for research centers, non-profit organizations, and government agencies.
The vast majority of master’s in technical communication programs prepare students to work in the technical communication industry. Courses may discuss communication theories and technical communication research, but often in the context of preparing students for industry careers. However, some programs allow students to pursue a more theoretical route in preparation for a career in technical communication research and/or pedagogy.
Though technical communication may seem like an esoteric field of practice and study, it is in fact an essential element of both consumers’ lives and the success of companies and organizations. It is what enables consumers to use the products they purchase, which in turn ensures that companies meet the needs of their customers. Furthermore, employees who need to learn new systems within a company rely on cogent technical communication to navigate these systems and be effective at their job. Scientific communication, as a subset of technical communication, is also the primary means through which scientific research is recorded and communicated to the public and to stakeholders. The research and medical communities rely on scientific communication to learn about the latest developments in their field, while the greater public relies on strong technical communicators to explain important STEM topics to them in articles and other informational content.
Master’s degree programs in technical communication train students to engage with a wide variety of technical communications, from science and medical writing to technical instructions for different types of technologies. Students of these programs also learn about how technical concepts and forms of communication are important in different environments, including corporate settings, science and medicine, the social sciences, and government. Master’s in scientific communication programs prepare students specifically for writing in scientific research contexts, as researchers themselves or as science or medical journalists. These programs also prepare students for roles that involve translating complex scientific concepts into accessible prose for the general public. As the fields of health care, medical technology and research, and computer and mobile technologies continue to grow, technical communication and scientific communication will continue to expand as more companies seek strong communication professionals to help them connect with customers, businesses, and other stakeholders.
To help prospective students better understand the knowledge and skills they might learn from master’s in technical communication and master’s in scientific communication programs, MastersinCommunications.com developed the following curriculum details for these two types of programs. Please note that this information is intended to be a general overview, and therefore does not contain details on all existing programs in technical and scientific communication. Students should therefore use the following program details for informational purposes only.
Curriculum Details for Master’s in Communication Programs with a Specialization in Technical Communication
The curricula of master’s in communication programs are usually structured such that students complete a sequence of core classes before progressing to classes specific to their technical communication concentration. Core classes for master’s in technical communication programs typically cover topics such as technical and scientific rhetoric, professional writing and research, and technical editing. After completing their core curriculum, students progress to classes that allow them to specialize further within the field of technical communication, such as courses in web development and design, grant and proposal writing, scientific reports, data visualization, content management, instructional design, and user data collection and analysis.
Examples of classes that may comprise the core curriculum of master’s in technical communication programs include but are not limited to:
- Theories and Principles of Professional Writing: The different types of professional writing for different contexts (for example, proposals, white papers, press releases, technical documentation, etc.), and how principles of rhetoric govern these communications. The process of professional writing, from defining one’s target audience to researching the topic in question and translating complex concepts into understandable and actionable content. The structure, tone, and style of technical and professional writing are discussed and applied to different projects.
- Foundations of Science and Technical Communication: The skills necessary to write technical and scientific content for publications such as medical journal articles, technical instructions, and journalistic articles on STEM subjects. How to create scientific and technical content for different audiences ranging from subject matter experts and researchers to the general public.
- Managing Technical Communications and Publications: How to manage teams in the production, editing, design/layout and publication of technical content. How to understand the needs of an organization or the public, and write and disseminate educational content according to those needs.
- Organizational Communication: The different forms of communication that are necessary for the successful operation of a large organization such as a corporation, a government body, or a non-profit association. How information flows between different departments within an organization, and how to optimize these communications as well as communications between an organization and various stakeholders (e.g. consumers and members of the general public, investors, other businesses, etc.).
- Rhetoric and Composition for Technical Communication: Classic and contemporary theories of rhetoric and composition, and how they inform technical and professional writing. How to apply principles and strategies of narrative writing to technical communication, including how to find the “story” within different forms of technical and professional content.
In addition to the core courses, some programs allow students flexibility in their selection of electives, so that they can receive the training they need in the areas of technical communication that most interest them. Common electives for master’s in technical communication programs may include but are not limited to:
- Design and Development of Instructional Material: The principles of developing effective instructional materials across a variety of fields and for a range of audiences. How to identify the needs of target audiences, and how to address these needs through structured educational content. How to engage and maintain readers’ interest in educational content.
- Content Management for Corporations: How an organization designs, creates, distributes, and manages content through technologies such as content management systems and internal wikis. How to structure training materials, information systems, and other communications for an organization to ensure efficiency and productivity.
- Proposal Writing: The process of writing proposals for grants and projects in technical fields, and the steps to submitting a proposal for review and approval. The required structure, content, and tone of different types of proposals, how to incorporate feedback from a committee into the final proposal, and how to address questions of different parties involved in the proposal process.
- Health Communication: The fundamentals of writing, editing, designing, and publishing medical and health-related documents for patients, health care providers, and the general public. How to write engaging, relevant, and/or actionable content for health education materials, health campaigns, grant proposals, and medical documentation. Students learn to apply the concepts they learn in class to real community health projects and issues in their area.
- Communication for the Government: How to write compelling, relevant, and persuasive government documentation, campaign and advocacy materials, public policy content, responses to public comments and queries, and community education materials. The process of translating complex legislative and social issues into prose that is accessible to a broad audience.
- Information Design for the Web: How to tailor both written, visual, and video content for web browsers and for web audiences. How to create content that is accessible to a broad Internet readership, ranks well in online search engines, and is relevant to reader queries and interests.
- Software Documentation: The process of creating software and other computer-related documentation for non-expert consumers of technology. How to research, plan, write, and edit documentation for audiences ranging from employees at a corporation using internal software to members of the public.
- Visual Rhetoric and Data Representation: How to incorporate visuals into content to enhance readers’ comprehension of complex topics. Tables, pictures, icons, charts, infographics, videos, and other multimedia content forms are discussed in the context of creating informational and engaging content for audiences.
24-month Sample Curriculum for a Master’s in Technical Communication Program
Below is a sample curriculum plan for a student pursuing a 2-year course of study. Please note that specific course titles and content, as well as course sequencing, may vary across different programs.
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Curriculum Details for Master’s in Communication Programs with a Specialization in Scientific Communication
Master’s in scientific communication programs prepare students to write about science, health, the environment, and technology for organizations such as research-focused companies, universities, medical centers, news outlets, and government agencies. Core classes in these programs often include foundational principles of science writing and rhetoric, editing and publication management, and information design. After their core classes, students of these programs often take courses that allow them to build expertise in a particular area of science writing, such as science journalism, health promotion and public health, environmental policymaking and advocacy, public health education, and science documentary.
Examples of classes that might make up the core curriculum of a master’s in scientific communication program include but are not limited to:
- Introduction to Scientific Communication: The fundamentals of writing clear and cogent scientific communication for a variety of audiences, and an overview of the different genres of scientific communication, from science journalism to grant proposals and scholarly articles.
- Rhetoric and Composition for Technical Communication: The principles of scientific rhetoric and how they apply to different types of publications. The history of scientific rhetoric from the classical era to the modern day.
- Editing for Scientific Publications: How to manage the editorial process for science publications, including team and project management principles, and the effective design and layout of publications.
- Information Design: How to use multimedia technologies to design eloquent and effective content. The principles of representing information so that it is accessible to a variety of audiences.
- Seminar in Scientific Writing: An in-depth exploration of topical issues in scientific communication, such as science communication ethics, social media’s role in scientific journalism, public health writing, and more.
- Lab Experience for Science Writing: Some programs require students to attend a lab in a university setting in order to interact with scientists in their field of interest. These students might write a report of the lab’s key work for publication.
After their core curriculum, students of master’s in scientific communication programs generally take electives that allow them to focus on a particular area within this field, such as medical writing, science journalism, environmental sustainability, and health promotion or education. Some programs may also allow students to take classes in other departments at their university, such as classes in microbiology, computer science, nursing or medical practice, and even creative writing. Electives that might be offered in master’s in scientific communication programs include but are not limited to:
- Investigative Science Journalism: The conventions of journalism as applied to the fields of science, engineering, and technology. How to conduct research for investigative articles in the science field, translate complex concepts and issues into accessible prose, and navigate the publication process for various journalism outlets, from specialty journals to national newspapers.
- Science Policymaking: Political communication as it relates to the scientific field. The central scientific issues facing policymakers, including health care challenges, environmental issues, pharmaceutical regulations, computer technology and consumer privacy, and more.
- Writing for Scientific Journals: The process of publishing research findings in scholarly journals, and how researchers collaborate with editors and publishers to edit, finalize, publish, and publicize their work.
- Communication Technologies in the Sciences: An in-depth exploration of the latest communication technologies and how they have impacted the fields of scientific research, innovation, and communication. How scientific communication professionals can leverage these technologies in their communications.
- Science, Technology, Communication, and Culture: An investigation of the intersections between the scientific fields, technology, communication, and culture. How science has shaped culture (and vice versa), and how technological advancements and communication of important scientific findings have impacted community formation and growth.
20-month Sample Curriculum for a Master’s in Scientific Communication Program
Below is a sample curriculum plan for a student pursuing a five semester course of study. Please note that specific course titles and content, as well as course sequencing, may vary across different programs.
|Core Courses:||Core Courses:||Core Courses:
|Concentration Courses:||Concentration Courses:|
Master’s in Technical Communication: Departments and Schools
While the majority of programs in other fields of communication are typically offered through Schools or Departments of Communication, Mass Communication, and/or Journalism, master’s in technical communication and scientific communication programs are sometimes offered by Departments of English, Schools of Writing/Writing Studies, or Schools of Engineering. Some colleges even have dedicated Departments of Technical Communication that are separate from their other departments in areas of communication. For these schools, technical communication programs may be considered separate and distinct from other master’s programs in communication. However, there are schools that offer technical communication programs or specializations through Departments of Communication.
Therefore, students researching master’s in communication programs who are interested in technical communication programs may also need to check other departments (eg., English Department, School of Engineering…) of their schools of interest to see if they offer master’s in technical communication programs, as these programs may not be featured on these schools’ communication department websites.
Campus and Online Master’s in Technical Communication Programs
Relative to other master’s in communication programs in other specializations, Master’s in Technical Communication programs have fewer campus-based options. Students who do not live near a campus-based program may want to explore online programs as potential options. Currently, there are 15 online Master’s in Technical Communication programs. See below for more information.