Frequently Asked Questions

Professional writing is often referred to as technical communication. It’s a form of writing found in business, organizations, and government. Examples include: brochures, instructions, medical communication, newsletters, online help, presentations, press releases, product descriptions, proposals, reports, surveys, user manuals, websites, and white papers.

That’s right. You can earn a master’s degree in Rhetoric and Professional Writing, a Certificate of Graduate Study in Technical Writing, or a minor in Professional Communication and learn practical knowledge and skills that will help prepare you for non-academic work.

Our program emphasizes both theory and practice—the rhetorical component of professional communication and the practical application. We have an internship program, which helps students find internships and jobs. Our faculty consistently receives high student evaluations, is nationally recognized scholars, and has real-world experience. All of that, combined with our firm commitment to teaching, adds up to an atmosphere for study that encourages learning, recognizes professional potential, and fosters excellence.

You can earn an M.A. in English with a focus in Rhetoric and Professional Writing in two years if you take just two courses per semester, one course in the summer, plus an internship, depending on availability of courses

Yes. The Certificate requires 18 credits and these can be applied toward the 36 credits required for the master's degree.

Yes. The Institute courses are usually offered in the suburbs in the fall and spring semesters. These courses are co-sponsored by NIU and the Chicago Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication. For more information on these courses, visit the Institute Web page.

This certificate recognizes the successful completion of a set of courses intended to enhance the professional qualifications of technical writers.

By taking two courses per semester and one in the summer, plus an internship, it could take only a year to earn the Certificate, depending on availability of courses. Many people who pursue the Certificate work full time and, therefore, take one course per semester.

You can complete the coursework as a student-at-large. For more information, visit the Graduate School Web page for details.

A variety of courses are offered to students who want to learn about professional writing. Topics such as Writing Creative Nonfiction (ENGL 303), Writing Arts Criticism (ENGL 304), Technical Writing (ENGL 308), and Technical Editing (ENGL 403) are routinely available.

Professional writing is different from creative writing, such as fiction and poetry, because it focuses on specific audiences with specific purposes. Technical writing, for example, is driven by rhetorical situations that writers address in order to persuade or inform readers to do something.

Professional writers find rewarding careers in a variety of fields such as: law, medicine, business, marketing, journalism, and entertainment.

The minor in Professional Communication offers students (other than majors in English and Communication studies) the opportunity to develop skills that are valued in the workplace. Courses focus on the theory and practice of composition; the design of both electronic and paper-based professional documents; and the theory and practice of mediated and face-to-face interaction.

Professional communication is often referred to as technical communication. The field is specialized and technical in nature. Products are produced collaboratively and for multiple formats and genres. Because it is rhetorical, technical communication is guided by a sense of audience and purpose.

Typically, undergraduates develop a foundation in this area of study with courses such as: Media Writing (COMS 355), Designing for the Internet (COMS 446), Basic News Writing (JOUR 200A), Technical Writing (ENGL 308), and Technical Editing (ENGL 403). Check the Undergraduate Catalog for details.

The IPD provides college-credit courses for traditional students and working professionals who want to develop or enhance their knowledge and skills in technical communication

Studies in selected topics such as Fundamentals of Technical Communication and Technical Communication in the Digital Age have been taught at the NIU Naperville campus. Check listings in the Undergraduate Catalog (ENGL 424) or the Graduate Catalog (ENGL 624) for the current offering.

Registration for classes depends on your student status. In other words:

  • If you are currently enrolled at NIU, access MyNIU; navigate to Browse Catalog, Class Search; and look for ENGL 424 for undergraduate credit or ENGL 624 for graduate credit.
  • If you are not currently enrolled, you may be enrolled as a student-at-large. Contact the NIU Office of Registration and Records at 815-753-0681 or email them at

For more information about the Institute, contact the Director, Jessica Reyman, Ph.D. at 815-753-6644 or

The Society for Technical Communication (STC) is an international organization with members in nearly 50 countries. Its mission is to advance the arts and sciences of technical communication. The organization is composed of professionals such as writers, editors, document designers, graphic artists, photographers, Webmasters, usability specialists, information architects, documentation specialists, trainers, and consultants.

The Professional Writing program in the English Department at NIU has formed a partnership with the STC Chicago Chapter called the Institute for Professional Development (IPD). The IPD provides college-credit courses for traditional students and working professionals who want to develop or add to their knowledge and skills in technical communication.

To join STC, visit their website for information about becoming a member.

There is an NIU student chapter of the STC called STC-NIU. Check the organization’s website for information about joining, or contact the faculty advisor, Jessica Reyman, Ph.D. at 815-753-6644 or

To join STC, visit their website for information about becoming a member.