A! Magazine for the Arts

Interdisciplinary technical and professional writing minor now available at ETSU

July 20, 2021

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – Nearly every profession requires the skill of writing in some form or fashion, from emails and spreadsheet copy to reports, instructions, web pages and more. But while most college majors incorporate significant writing requirements, some students may wish to gain more targeted skills than those developed through existing initiatives.

The new technical and professional writing minor may be applied to almost any major at East Tennessee State University. The program is a partnership between the Department of Literature and Language and Department of Media and Communication in ETSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, which affords students more options, including the option of completing 100% of the minor degree requirements online.

While technical writing courses have been available at the university for many years, this updated minor brings together cutting-edge, interdisciplinary courses focused on current needs of both students and prospective employers.

“Writing never happens in a vacuum,” said Dr. Daniel Westover, chair of the Department of Literature and Language. “It happens within specific disciplines and for specific purposes. In addition to teaching editing and style, this minor also teaches students to write for the sciences, for business and for government. It teaches grant writing. And, crucially, it teaches writing within contemporary digital space, applying a variety of different skill sets.

“In Literature and Language, we like to say, ‘You can do almost anything with a degree in English or foreign language, because these degrees teach transferable skills that employers want.’ And that’s absolutely true,” he continued. “But it’s also true that when I talk to employers in the region, many are asking for professional writers, and this is what this minor prepares students to be, regardless of what they are majoring in.”

Dr. Chase Mitchell, assistant professor in the Department of Media and Communication and program director, says that they broadened the scope of technical writing to more accurately focus on what the field has become in recent years.

“It’s not just writing about technology or technical processes and products,” he said. “The direction the industry is going – online – involves other types of communicative genres. Students have to be able to write, but they also need to have skills in digital design and production. Professional writers aren’t just responsible for composing text; they also have to adapt the content to whichever digital medium best suits clients and audiences.

“Since technical writers’ primary responsibility is to communicate complex information in clear, layman’s terms, and many users rely on digital tools to consume information, we have to teach students to live and write in digital spaces.”

A number of students in Literature and Language as well as Media and Communication have already declared or expressed interest in the new technical and professional writing minor, but Mitchell says unique growth in the program is anticipated from students in pre-professional and science programs, business and education.

The expanded and revised curriculum features three required core courses: an introductory course, “Digital Texts and Networked Worlds” and “Digital Research and Writing.” Students will also choose three advisor-approved electives that correspond with their individual interests. These interdisciplinary courses cover such topics as writing in the sciences, grant and proposal writing, technical editing and style, writing for government, multimedia production and more. Students may also complete an internship in technical and professional writing.

In addition, technical and professional writing minors have the opportunity to train and sit for the Adobe Certified Professional exam, learning to use Adobe’s Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Premiere Pro and After Effects programs.

Students completing this new minor will be competitive in a growing field. Mitchell says the field of technical and professional writing is growing faster than the average occupation, projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to grow by 8% between 2018 and 2028. He also pointed out that several regional employers, such as Eastman in Kingsport, Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, hire technical writers.

Students interested in the Technical and Professional Writing Minor may find more information on the program website,etsu.edu/cas/litlang/programs/writing.php; on Facebook (@ETSUtechprofwriting) or LinkedIn (linkedin.com/showcase/etsutechprofwriting/); or by contacting Mitchell atmitchella@etsu.edu.