Master of Arts in English with an Emphasis in Professional Writing FAQ
The university’s English department offers the MA in English
with several different emphases. Our area of emphasis in professional writing—in
which we offer both a certificate and a full MA—are both 100 percent online.
If you are a resident student, you can earn an MA in any of
our areas of specialization. If you are an online student, you can earn a
certificate and an MA in the area of professional and technical writing. You
must earn the certificate first.
The certificate requires 18 hours of online courses. These
courses can also be applied toward the MA in English or the Master of
Administration, if you decide to continue your graduate education.
You must be admitted to the program by submitting the
materials listed on the application page and search for “Professional Writing Certificate” to navigate to the proper
Job Skills: Possibly because you don't have a degree in
English but you do a lot of writing for your job.
Workers with undergraduate degrees in science, engineering,
or business are often surprised to find that much of their time is spent
reading and writing—roughly half of their time!
Senior managers report that they spend a quarter of their
time reading memos, letters, and reports, and a quarter of their time writing
responses and other documents.
Instead of starting over again to earn a BA in English, the
certificate program allows you to do graduate course work in the kind of
professional and technical writing that you do at work.
Job skills: If you are a literature, philosophy, or history
major, the certificate program provides an opportunity to develop practical
applications and workforce employment skills.
Teaching: Community college English instructors earn the
certificate to enhance their skills, to prepare to teach technical writing
courses, and to learn skills to develop online courses.
STC reports that in Arizona the median salary for technical
writers is $60,000/year. This doesn't mean that you will make that much in your
The average for consultants is $35/hour, but these are often
highly skilled businesses offering specialized services and having a long
client list illustrating past performance.
Free lance tech writers and editors often find themselves in
the neighborhood of $25/hour.
See these pages for more information on a career as a
professional or technical writer:
Most of the students in our program are employed and seeking
to advance in the field in which they are employed. Only a few years ago, the
plum jobs were internships with IBM, NASA, Honeywell, etc.
Called internships, these were often trial jobs that paid up
to $50,000/year. A few of these are still available, but in the past few years
many businesses have out-sourced projects and jobs.
This has the effect of reducing the number of entry level
positions in which the employer assumes that they will have to train you for
their content applications and specialized software.
It shifts employment to the top end for consultants who are
expert in a content area (like geology, healthcare, or military areas), in a
specific process or technique, and in specific software use.
Unfortunately, only members can access the STC job list, but
you can follow STC-Phoenix jobs at: stc-phoenix.com/jobbank.html.
Yes. You need an undergraduate degree to be admitted to the
program, but it does not have to be in English.
No, we do not require the GRE.
One year, if you take two courses each semester including
the summer. Courses are not self-paced. They follow the university’s academic
If you go on for an MA, you must complete all requirements
within six years. The tentative schedule for future online classes (except
where noted) is:
Summer (10 week session)
502: Advanced Technical Writing
606: Issues in Technical and Professional Writing
517: Professional Editing (online & campus)
549: Information Design and Usability Testing
605: Writing Proposals
522: Rhetoric and Writing in Professional Communities
569: Project Management and Document Development
See Professor Rothfork's homepage for online course
You can begin any semester, including the summer. There is
no required order in which you must take classes.
The numerical sequence implies a desirable order, starting
with 502 (Advanced Technical Writing) and concluding with 606 (Topics in
Professional Writing) as well as capstone courses, primarily ENG685 (Graduate
Yes. You must be admitted as a graduate student. You
must apply for admission to the certificate program before completing nine
hours in the program.
Apply to the graduate school as a non-degree
graduate student. You can change your status later.
This plan will cost you an extra fee, but admission should
be granted in two or three days. When the graduate school gives you a computer
account you can register for classes.
Yes. You must apply for each degree or certificate you hope
See the tuition
page. Arizona has a three-tiered tuition system for residents,
non-residents, and web students. In the summer, everyone pays the same in-state
- access to a personal computer connected to the
- a word processing program, preferably MS Word
- a free internet browser (e.g., Internet Explorer
- one of your goals should be to learn to use an
HTML editor. Blackboard Learn (our Learning Management System) offers an
elementary HTML editor in conjunction with making class posts in the LMS. University
computer labs have MS SharePoint. Dreamweaver is the other usual choice.
Netscape Composer is a third choice and is available as a free download with
the browser SeaMonkey.
See the university’s online support for more information.
There are no scheduled times when you have to be online.
Course material is asynchronous. You can do coursework anytime during the week
or so when a unit is featured.
Courses are not self-paced. They are classes in which
classroom interaction is important. Our classes follow the regular semester
calendar, which makes them easier to integrate into busy schedules.
The courses in the certificate program are graduate English
courses taught by English department faculty. Your Northern Arizona University
transcript does not differentiate between web and classroom courses.
You simply earn university course credits and degrees. You
will have a semester-long opportunity to interact with other students and the professor
through discussion posts, email, and HTML presentations. Other students in the
courses are often highly accomplished professionals.
There are not too many of these programs. Perhaps you found
our program through the STC site
with its list of online education programs. Utah State
and Texas Tech
also offer online programs.
When shopping for a program, ask these questions:
- What is the school's reputation?
- Which department offers the program? At UCLA and other California universities, the program is
offered by the extension division. I am sure these are excellent programs, but
the credits are not offered by an academic department, such as the English
department, and cannot be used to earn a graduate degree.
- Who teaches the courses? The “industry” trend is
to have senior faculty develop courses and then have graduate assistants or
adjuncts “deliver” them. Our courses are taught by the same English department
graduate faculty who also teach classroom courses.
- How robust are the courses? Are they comparable
to classroom courses? The trend, influenced by commercial development, is to
create slick programs and sites that offer more entertainment than education.
For example, everyone "chats" to swap opinions, but at the end of
course, has anyone been challenged to learn new academic or job skills?
- How responsive is the instructor? Does the instructor
respond to emails, submissions, and questions within a day or two? Does he
participate in discussions?
Not really. There is an American Medical Writers Association
and a Legal Writing Institute. The University of Chicago offers a certificate
in medical writing, but it is offered by their extension division.
Your concern is for a content area or application rather
than writing skills. The essential and enabling skill for employment as a
professional writer is a demonstrated talent for writing clear, coherent, and
You must master these skills first. Only then does it make
sense to think about refinements, such as advanced software tools and
familiarity with a technical content area.
Major employers recruit new university graduates as
technical writing interns knowing that their essential qualification is an
education in writing rather than knowledge of software or familiarity with a
technical content area.
Advanced software training is offered by industry,
commercial workshops, or community colleges.
These are writing courses. There are quizzes for most course
lessons, but the more important material for evaluation is your writing, which
you submit as discussion posts, email attachments, and HTML files.
The short answer is no. The ENG 502 course should not be
conceptually much more difficult or challenging than a junior level university
technical writing class. The undergraduate technical writing course is not a
prerequisite for ENG 502.
The longer answer about the level of the course recognizes
that tech writing is a skills course that perhaps resembles welding or studio
arts courses more than conceptual courses like philosophy, physics, or math.
ENG 502 offers students continued practice and discussion of
skills that were introduced to in the undergraduate course, which typically
familiarizes students with the practice of:
- writing to anticipate and meet workplace needs
rather than writing to explore or express your thoughts and emotions
- organizing documents with explicit visual
structure using a decimal outline system, headlines, or website structure
- including graphic information (tables, graphs,
photos) as well as developing graphic design
- doing recurrent audience analysis and usability
testing to develop rhetorical strategies
If you are fairly adept at “psyching” people out to know
what they are thinking, this rhetorical skill is at least as important in
professional and technical writing as knowledge of scientific or technical
We do very little with advanced technical content but, in
general, you should seek to become familiar with the culture of some area of
science, engineering, or business.
See the graduate college page on international
For the certificate and MA programs, the English department
requires a TOEFL score of 89 (internet-medium exam), 237 (computer-medium
exam), or 570 (paper medium).
Like all applicants, you must submit a writing sample to the
English department with your application to the certificate program. A
committee will decide if your writing skills are adequate to successfully
complete the program.
It is more difficult to develop professional skills without
being physically involved in a professional community. This is what internships
and field experience are designed to provide.
Nonetheless, you can develop professional skills and be
involved in a professional job situation via the internet. One way to do this
is to offer your professional writing and web skills to clients through Elance.
If you have questions about this certificate, please contact
either Dr. Greg Larkin or Dr. John Rothfork.