TPW FAQs

Advising and Curriculum

What if I need to speak to an advisor?

First, you might want to review the following information. These are the questions most frequently asked by prospective and current program participants. If you still have questions or would like to discuss your individual program, contact our TPW Program advisor to arrange an appointment.

Neil Lindeman
Phone: 415-405-0493
email: lindeman@sfsu.edu

What is "technical and professional writing"?

Technical and professional writing is a specialized communication field for writers, who may also work as editors, graphic designers/desktop publishers, trainers, researchers, and information managers. Technical writers typically work in engineering, scientific, and financial industries. Professional writing may involve promotional writing, grantwriting or other forms of report writing, writing and editing for publications in specialized disciplines, and writing for training purposes.

See the SFSU home page for more information about the university.

What is the TPW Program?

SFSU is the only college or university in California that offers a Bachelor's degree in technical and professional writing. In addition to the major (available since 1991), there is also a minor and a certificate option (for those who have already completed a bachelor's degree or significant undergraduate course work). TPW, which started as "Career and Technical Writing" in 1983, is an independent interdisciplinary program within the College of Humanities.

See the program description for more details on degrees and course offerings.

See the SFSU home page for more information about the university.

Should I come in for advising before I start taking courses?

It's a good idea. Otherwise, try to include TPW 400 (Fundamentals of Technical & Professional Writing) among the classes you take in your first semester. This course is a good introduction to the field. It is also a prerequisite for other required courses in the program.

How quickly can I complete my Bachelor's degree if I attend full-time?

Even if you have completed all of your other graduation requirements, it typically takes a minimum of three semesters to complete the 45-unit TPW program.

Do I need to own a computer in order to take classes?

It's possible to take all of your classes for the TPW Program without owning a computer. However, computer work is required. Labs are available on campus. Nevertheless, most students find it more convenient to have their own computers.

What books are used?

The TPW Program assigns textbooks (see list) for all courses. Other books and resources are also available in the TPW Program library.

Can I waive any TPW course prerequisites based on prior experience or degrees?

Maybe, but you need advance approval from the TPW Director. Write a letter to the TPW Director, explaining what in your background you believe will substitute for the prerequisite(s). Note that waivers are on a course-by-course basis, so any waiver may not apply to other TPW courses with the same prerequisite.

Can I waive prerequisites or enrollment limitations for skills electives courses?

Maybe. Contact the instructors of the courses. Be sure to explain that you need the elective for your TPW program. (The TPW Director can verify your program status.)

Can I challenge any classes that count toward my degree/certificate?

Yes, if the course offers a challenge option and if you qualify. Check with the offering program or department to determine whether a challenge option is available. If it is, then fill out a Credit by Examination form and obtain the required approvals.

Can I double count courses from another primary major for a secondary TPW major?

Yes. If you have two majors you can double-count. However, if you have a TPW minor and another major, you can only double-count 6 units of major course work towards your TPW minor.

How do I change my major or minor to TPW?

Fill out a Change of Major/Minor form and meet with a TPW advisor. You will also need to obtain the Program Director's approval.

How do I choose a subject matter focus?

Your subject matter focus is restricted either to a recognized communications or technical-professional specialization or to an approved interdisciplinary theme with clear career applications. Examples of possible subject matter focus tracks are described in the program description. Talk to your TPW advisor, to confirm your selection of a subject matter focus.

When should I choose my subject matter focus for the major?

If possible, you should try to pick a subject matter focus at least two to three semesters before you plan to graduate, because the courses you need may have prerequisites or be hard to schedule.

Can I apply transfer or prior degree course work to the degree/certificate?

Maybe. You may need to have an Advanced Standing Evaluation completed by the university that shows your credits have been accepted as transfer work. You also need to propose substitutions and get approval from both the TPW advisor and the TPW Director. Provide copies of your transcripts and, if possible, syllabi/course descriptions and sample course projects. Finally, transfer maximums will apply: minor/certificates: 12 units; majors: check the Bulletin.

Can I substitute other SFSU course work for skills electives listed?

Maybe, with approval of a TPW Advisor. Bring in a current syllabus for the course you wish to substitute.

Are there scholarships offered specifically for Technical & Professional Writing students?

Yes. Check the scholarships information page.

Who approves my major/minor graduation application?

The TPW Advisor signs as the advisor and the TPW Director signs as the department chair.

Can I count class in which I received a CR grade or a grade of C- or lower towards my major, minor, or certificate program?

No. All courses you want to count towards completion of the TPW major, minor, or certificate must be completed with a grade of C or better. A CR grade signifies only a C- or better, so a CR grade cannot count towards a TPW major, minor, or certificate. Please note that CR/NC is not a grading option for any TPW-prefix courses.

Students and Instructors

How large is the TPW Program?

Typically, there are about 40 - 50 students enrolled in the Bachelor’s program and a similar number of students taking courses to earn a minor or certificate.

What is the typical class size?

15 - 30 students.

What kinds of backgrounds do TPW instructors at SF State have?

All TPW instructors have experience as professional communicators working in technical and/or professional writing fields. All have at least a Master's degree and teaching (or training) experience as well.

Note: If you are a professional communicator who is interested in teaching TPW classes or sponsoring student internships, see Instructor Opportunities or Internships.

What kinds of backgrounds do TPW students have?

Quite a range. Some are undergraduates, others graduate students. Some are traditional students, while many others are mid-life career changers. Some have technical educations or experience working with careers and technologies, others do not. This diversity enriches our program.

Additionally, since our program is small, since students share career goals and interests and since students often take several courses together, we also are a like-minded community and many students continue TPW friendships after completing our program.

Certificate Program

Do I qualify to enter the certificate program?

Yes, if you already have a Bachelor’s degree or if you have completed at least 56 units of transferable college course work. No other requirements or approvals are necessary.

Do I need to apply to the certificate program?

No. You can just enroll in the required courses. However, it is a good idea to come in for advising early in your first semester. You also should come in to set up an advising worksheet if you plan to enroll in a course limited to TPW students.

How long does it take to earn the certificate?

That depends. Most students attend part time and take three or four semesters to finish. Going full time, and with approval from the TPW director, you may be able to finish within one calendar year.

How much does it cost to earn the certificate?

That depends on your enrollment and residency status, as well as on the number of units you enroll per semester. See SFSU tuition and fees information and Open University for details.

If I am an SF State undergraduate with another major, can I also earn a TPW certificate?

It would make more sense for you to earn a TPW minor, which has the same course requirements.

If I can earn the certificate, do I really need a B.A.?

It’s recommended. Having at least a Bachelor's degree is pretty standard for professionals in the field. Not having one could hurt your long-term career prospects.

How do I apply for the certificate?

After you complete the required courses, you will need to fill out a form available in the TPW office (Humanities 414) or online and write a check for the application fee. Submit the form and a bursar receipt for the application fee, along with your transcript (and any final grade reports) to the TPW director. Processing takes several weeks.

Course Schedule

Are courses offered at night?

Yes. Most TPW courses are taught either approximately 4 - 7pm or 7 - 10pm. See theclass schedule for details.

May I complete my degree/certificate taking classes only at night?

Possibly. However, although most TPW classes are offered at night or in the late afternoon, core courses and electives also may be scheduled during the day. Therefore, it may take longer to complete your studies while waiting for all of your elective courses to be offered during evening hours.

Another solution may be to take classes at other institutions which may be substituted in place of certain TPW requirements. Consult a TPW adviser if you think you know of transferable courses that could apply to your program.

How can I know which classes will be offered each semester?

Most departments can provide tentative plans for course offerings. TPW typically offers its 400, 550, 555, 685, 695, 698 and 699 courses each semester and its other courses once each year.

Enrollment

How do I register to take TPW courses?

You can apply for admission as a registered undergraduate student or as a registered graduate student. Or, you can enroll in courses through Open University.

Undergraduate admission: Apply online.

Apply to the Technical and Professional Writing Certificate Program:
Graduate admission: Apply for graduate admission online.
Visit the Steps to Apply section of the Graduate Studies website dealing with admissions for additional information about the application process. If you have any questions about the application process or submitting your online application, e-mail Graduate Studies at gradstdy@sfsu.edu. To be considered for admission, all you need to do is follow the University admission process. You do not need to submit any additional materials to the TPW program office.
The deadline for fall semester admission is May 1. The deadline for spring semester admission is November 1. Applicants who want to apply after the deadline will need to submit a Petition for Waiver of Graduate Admission Regulations to the TPW program to waive the application deadline.

Note: When the application form requests your major/program objective, choose “CERTIFICATE ONLY: Technical & Professional Writing”; also, for degree objective, choose “Other,” then specify “TPW certificate” (and also choose “Not interested in a credential program”).

Open University: If the deadline for applying for undergraduate or graduate admission has passed, Open University may be your only option.
Note: Unless you take only one course per semester, your cost per unit will be higher if you enroll in Open University. Also, as an Open University student you will not be able to enroll until classes begin (and then only on a space available basis, after registered students who have the prerequisite have all been accommodated). Finally, although you may earn a TPW certificate by taking all the required courses through Open University, to earn a TPW B.A. degree or minor, you must be a registered student, at least during your final semester, when you apply for graduation.

How much does it cost?

The cost is different for regularly enrolled and Open University students. Regularly enrolled students: visit the Bursar’s Office website for more information. Open University students: see the Open University web page.

Note: Financial aid is typically only available to students pursuing a degree (not a certificate). However, there are scholarships of special interest to TPW students.

Do I have to be earning a TPW degree/certificate to take TPW courses?

No. However, when TPW 490 (Grantwriting) fills, priority enrollment is given to TPW majors, minors and certificate students.

Do I need to take the courses in a certain order?

No, as long as you have the required prerequisite(s) for a course when you sign up for it. See course descriptions for details.

If the TPW 400 (Fundamentals of Technical and Professional Writing) course is filled, how do I get started?

You can take other entry-level TPW courses and/or you can take skills elective courses that are entry-level (or for which you have completed the required prerequisites). You also may enroll in your subject-matter focus courses or in prerequisites for other electives.

Can I take TPW courses credit/No credit?

No. TPW courses are offered for letter grades only. Any courses, even skills elective or focus courses, that you apply to a TPW degree or certificate require a C or higher letter grade.

Can I audit TPW classes?

Possibly, with the instructor’s permission. However, the same fees are charged for an audit as for standard enrollment. Also, audited course work cannot apply to a TPW degree or certificate.

Advanced Course Work

What are the expectations for TPW Independent Study (TPW 699)?

For an independent study project, you must sign a contract with a full-time TPW instructor that spells out learning objectives, deliverables and schedule for your work. Please note that instructors are not required to offer independent study opportunities, but may choose to do so at the request of a student. Typically, independent study is only an option for advanced TPW students who have completed at least five TPW core and skills elective courses with a C or better (including TPW 550 and TPW 555). Independent study projects typically require approximately 120 hours of work on a major independent, original project — including research, writing, designing, editing and desktop publishing. TPW 699 units earned may count as skills electives, but not replace core requirements.

Can an on-the-job project count for TPW 699 credit?

Possibly, a project for your current job could count for TPW 699, if the project is completed after completing a TPW 699 contract. Discuss this option with your instructor. If an on-the-job project already has been completed (for a current or prior job), TPW 699 credit is not an option. It is possible that evaluation of prior work experience could count for CEEL units. Contact the Advising Center for more information about CEEL.

How can I take TPW 685 (Projects in Teaching Technical and Professional Writing)?

The instructor of a TPW course that has an associated lab time may invite students who already have successfully completed that course to serve as a teaching assistant in a following semester. If you would like to be a TA for a TPW lab course that you have completed, advise the instructor.

Careers

Is there a marketplace/employment demand for technical/professional writers?

Yes. The profession has grown enormously in recent decades, although employment opportunities fluctuate, of course, based on the economy. In the Bay Area the greatest demand is for technical writers, particularly those with programming expertise.

What kinds of jobs will a TPW Bachelor’s degree or certificate prepare me for?

This depends mainly on the courses that you decide to take and on the projects that you develop for your portfolio. The specialization that you develop through your classes and assignment choices can help you to position yourself in the industry or area of writing that you’re most interested in.

Can I make a living as a freelance writer instead of getting a full-time job?

Many technical writers do work as contractors. However, it is sometimes harder for new writers to support themselves solely through independent writing. Therefore, some beginning writers work full time initially to prepare themselves to bid successfully for contract work. Others may decide to freelance part time in order to gain the experience necessary to land a full-time job later.

What kind of salary can I earn as a technical writer?

Salaries vary greatly, especially since many writers work as freelancers or contract hires. Also, more high-tech jobs tend to pay higher. Recent entry-level job opportunities for program graduates have typically ranged from the high $20,000s to high $40,000s, though some have been higher. A recent Bay Area survey suggests that experienced technical writers typically earn salaries in the mid-$60,000s range, with some writers earning considerably more. There is more information on salaries available through the Society for Technical Communication.

Are there jobs for technical/professional writers in the multimedia industry?

Yes. Roles for interactive scriptwriters, interface designers, producers and content editors often draw on more traditional technical and professional writing skills. Multimedia involves aspects both of promotions and publishing. Most multimedia products require supporting printed materials as well.

Are good writing skills the only qualification needed to work as a technical/professional writer?

No. In fact, although good writing skills are a prerequisite, some people who are fluent writers of essays or fiction find that they are not well-suited for a technical/professional writing career. Technical and professional writers must be well-organized, clear thinkers with adaptable styles. Technical and professional writers must also be quick learners, good researchers and good managers of their time who work well with others. Graphic design and oral communication skills are also helpful, along with an aptitude for using computer tools and for working with technical information.

When I complete my degree/certificate, will you help me to find a job?

The TPW program offers support, counseling and research assistance when you’re ready to start your job search. It also posts relevant job listings that employers provide, and then provides them to advanced students and recent graduates by e-mail, on request. In addition, the program sponsors informational career events. For more information, see Jobs and Networking. The TPW program does not have an actual placement service, but SFSU has services available to students through its Career Center.

How should I look for a job?

This industry depends heavily on networking. Before graduation, you might join a professional organization such as the Society for Technical Communication or IABC (International Association of Business Communicators). You also might subscribe to an e-mail discussion list for technical or professional writers. More information is available on our job networking resources page and in the TPW program office. This topic also is addressed in the course Advanced Technical Writing Topics (TPW 565).

Do I need a degree or certificate to get a writing job?

Not necessarily, but it certainly should help a lot. Your combination of credentials, experience and skills will all be factors in marketing yourself for a writing career. As the field develops, and with more technical and professional writing programs available, the value of a credential in the field is becoming more widely recognized. Completing the program’s internship and packaging your course projects into a portfolio also will be particularly helpful. Of course, it also will help to develop your relevant skills and knowledge through TPW coursework.

Besides coursework, what else should I do to prepare for a writing career?

Develop a mastery, or at least a curiosity, about technical subjects. Reading publications related to your field of interest and other disciplines is one way to keep abreast of technical developments. Above all, keep learning. The field is constantly changing: The more tools you can master and the more data you can absorb, the better prepared you will be when you enter the job market.

Should I also plan on earning a graduate degree?

It’s not necessary to earn a graduate degree in order to have a career in professional or technical writing. However, you may want to obtain a graduate degree or other credential in your field of specialization. If you are interested in graduate programs in writing field visit the website of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing.