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Undergraduate Professional Writing Concentration Offered

013004writing_dl.jpgBOONE–In response to society’s technology boom and increased need for skilled technical and business writers, Appalachian State University has added a professional writing concentration to its bachelor of arts degree in English.

“According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a new technical product is released onto the market every 17 seconds. Professional and technical writers are needed to explain the use and maintenance of these products. It’s a very practical concentration,” says Dr. Melissa E. Barth, interim program coordinator and professor in the Department of English.

In addition, she adds, “‘Technical’ writers work in all areas of business and industry, from law firms to advertising agencies, to hospitals and government. Ours is an information-driven economy, and that is what our program graduates will be skilled in gathering and conveying to a wide variety of reading audiences.”

The concentration comprises courses in technical writing, business writing, editing, and documentation, which involves creating materials such as users and technical manuals, on-line help, and web-related materials for the computer industry. To graduate, students in the concentration must complete five courses, an internship and a professional portfolio.

Graduates will be well prepared for jobs in areas such as business, non-profit organizations, marketing and public relations, Barth says. “In the classes that make up the concentration, such as business writing, technical writing and copy editing, students learn to conduct and report the results of many types of research, including market or labor trends. They also learn how to gather data through interviews and from surveys that they design and administer.”

Professional and technical writing as a specialty dates back more than 2,000 years to ancient Rome when a writer was hired to write a manual for the construction and maintenance of aqueducts.

“People have always depended on writing specialists to ‘translate’ complicated information into language the general public can understand and use: for example, directions for operating equipment safely, taking medications correctly, or setting the clock on your DVD player,” Barth explains. “Moreover,” she continued, “professional writers are to be found in almost every technical and business field, making this concentration one where skilled graduates will be in high demand by potential employers.”

Appalachian’s professional writing concentration officially began in the spring semester of 2003 and already has 43 students. Students can complete the program in two ways: by majoring in English and choosing the professional writing concentration, or minoring in English and taking courses within the professional writing concentration.

In addition, courses from the professional writing program complement just about any major on campus, such as communication or business, Barth says.

“The professional writing concentration is very career-directed,” says Dr. David Haney, chairperson of the Department of English. “It’s going to be important for English majors, and it will be attractive to other students seeking experience in writing as they prepare for the many fields that involve writing.”

The professional writing concentration joins one concentration already offered within Appalachian’s bachelor of arts degree in English: creative writing. Appalachian’s English program also prepares teachers through its bachelor of science degree, secondary education.

For more information, contact Dr. Melissa E. Barth at (828) 262-2888 or


Picture Caption: Dr. Melissa E. Barth, standing, works with students in Appalachian State University’s professional writing program.