Why Come to CMU?-Department of English - Carnegie Mellon University

Why Come to Carnegie Mellon for Professional Writing?

The short answer is that we can offer you one of the best, most flexible educations in professional writing available. You'll work with distinguished faculty in small classes, develop both foundational and specialized skills relevant to your career goals, and have the advantage of tapping into our almost 30 years of experience educating professional and technical writers. We firmly believe that you, like our current students and close to 400 alumni, will find the program to be a strong launching platform for an interesting, varied, and rewarding communications career. Our particular strengths include the following:

History and Depth of Experience in the Field

The MAPW, among the very first degrees of its kind in the country, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2006. The program draws on the expertise of our nationally-recognized faculty in Rhetoric and this long tradition of excellence in technical and professional communication. The vision behind the program is to blend our faculty's expertise in rhetoric, linguistics, and professional communication with detailed training and hands-on experience in writing and visual design. The goal from the beginning, as now, has been to produce graduates who are resourceful, multi-dimensional communication professionals, prepared to walk directly into the current marketplace and equipped with the analytic and problem-solving skills needed to handle the challenges of new communications situations and technologies as they develop. 

Size and Selectiveness

We have one of the largest rhetoric faculties anywhere, yet we limit each MAPW cohort to a maximum of 20 students with an average cohort size over the last 3 years of around 15. This means that you will experience small classes and significant interaction with faculty, all of whom have ample time to provide the kind of focused and individualized feedback that we believe is necessary to developing professional-level communication skills. Additionally, we admit only students whom we firmly believe can be successful in our program and work closely with all of them to make their success a reality. 

Flexible Curriculum

The MAPW curriculum provides a wonderful balance of grounding in the foundational skills—professional and technical writing, grammar, style, visual and document design, and organizational communication—coupled with opportunities to tailor the degree to your specific interests and to specialize in areas such as writing for new media, technical writing, journalism, editing, science writing, etc. Thus, the program is a great match for both students unsure of the specific direction their careers will take (in this day and age that means most of us) as well as those wishing to explore unfamiliar options and those who have a clear and specific focus of study. You can come into the program with a definite trajectory and pursue it through specialized courses, but you also have the option of exploring new directions.
[Return to top]

Strong Grounding in Rhetoric

The discipline of rhetoric provides an effective framework for understanding how and why writing works. When we use the term rhetoric, we refer not to the popular concept of "empty words" or the traditional concept of persuasive or logical argument but to rhetoric in a much broader sense. Rhetoric, for our purposes, involves the study and practice of how specific language practices shape and reflect our understanding of the world and the way in which we interact with others via language. Rhetoric focuses on how we use language in specific contexts for specific purposes and why differences in the way we use language produce differences in effects. It assumes that all language use is purposeful, that it is influenced by history and experience, that it changes over time, and that it varies with situations and goals. In other words, rhetoric is the study and practice and how and why we use language the way we do.
[Return to top]

Distinguished and Diverse Faculty

The core faculty for the MAPW includes all 11 of the department's distinguished scholars in rhetoric, linguistics, and communication as well as several members of our creative writing faculty and an affiliated faculty of 8 practicing professionals, each teaching a focused course in his or her area of professional expertise. Particular areas of strength among the rhetoric faculty include rhetorical theory, intercultural communication, visual and document design, workplace communication, new media, style and grammar, discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, writing research, pedagogy, and instructional design. Creative Writing faculty provide courses in magazine writing, literary journalism, and non-fiction writing, and affiliated faculty provide expertise and courses in science and healthcare communication, journalism, software documentation, public relations and corporate communication, and organizational communication.
[Return to top]

Faculty Expertise in Document and Web Design

From its earliest days, the program has had a strong emphasis on teaching visual communication along with strong writing skills. Early requirements emphasized document design for print and related work in usability testing. With the advent of electronic communication, we've expanded our offerings to include information architecture and web design as well as writing for multimedia. Core requirements include a two-course sequence in document design for print. The first course, Communication Design Fundamentals, is taught through the Carnegie Mellon School of Design. The second, Document Design, is taught within English by Dr. Suguru Ishizaki, a member of our faculty whose background includes both an MS in Visual Studies and a Ph.D. from the MIT Media Lab as well as extensive professional experience in print and electronic media. 

Our web design course, which we strongly encourage all MAPW students to take, focuses on the role of the writer in information design and the broad repertoire of planning, analysis, and testing skills needed to produce websites that function as effective communication for their intended audiences. You do learn current web design software and basic programming skills, but our emphasis here, as well as in our course in Writing for Multimedia, is on developing your expertise in using new media for effective communication. We believe these skills are more important and durable than simply learning the intricate bells and whistles of specific software packages, which can quickly become outdated. The web course is taught by Dr. Ishizaki and another full-time member of our department, Dr. Christine Neuwirth, who holds a joint appointment in English and in Human Computer Interaction and does research in technology and communication. The courses are taught by experts but don't assume or require that students have any previous background in design or programming and provide explicit instruction in learning the software necessary for writing in these media.
[Return to top]

Emphasis on Writing as a Foundational Skill

While we are strongly committed to preparing students to understand, use, and be creative in current and emerging media—and we provide a range of courses to help you do so—we are equally committed to the belief that strong writing skills are foundational for both current and future communication careers. Thus, our core requirements include 3 courses squarely focused on writing and taught by full-time faculty with many combined years of experience training writing professionals. These courses—Professional & Technical Writing, Style, and Grammar—provide a strong foundation for both specialized electives and a range of communications careers. Additionally, all elective courses, including those in new media, have significant writing components.
[Return to top]

Professional Development

We pride ourselves on being a professionally oriented program and provide various supports beyond the classroom to enhance your professional development. Each fall, we offer Professional Seminar, a once-a-week meeting in which practicing professionals in fields ranging from science journalism to public relations, corporate communication, marketing and information architecture come to campus to talk informally with students about the fields in which they work. The seminar is complemented by services from our Career Center as well as individual advising provided by the MAPW Director. Courses are specifically designed to provide work samples relevant to your professional portfolio, and we offer extensive support for developing career-related materials including resumes, application letters, and a well-designed portfolio to showcase your work to prospective employers. The required internship provides further professionalization, and our network of close to 400 alums, most of whom are actively working in communications-related positions, provides valuable contacts and leads on internships and full-time employment. 
[Return to top]

Strong Placement Record

Our graduates have an enviable placement record in fields as diverse as software documentation, marketing communication, information architecture, public relations, healthcare communication, writing and editing, and journalism. A sample of first post-graduation positions for recent graduates provides a sense of the current range and echoes the placement history of the program.

Sample of Recent First Jobs Post-graduation

  • Information Developer, IBM
  • Information Architect, Siegel + Gale
  • Technical Writer, Oracle
  • Instructional Designer, Apple 
  • Marketing Communications Associate, Hope International (nonprofit)
  • Associate, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
  • Audience Development Manager, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • Managing Editorial Assistant, Simon & Schuster 
  • Communication Designer, U of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development
  • Technical Writer, NetApp
  • Content Manager, Wanderfly Inc.
  • Marketing Manager, AE Ventures 
  • Development Associate, Auberle (nonprofit) 
  • Associate Engineering Writer, Bettis Atomic Power 
  • Senior Writer/Editor, Software Engineering Institute, Carnegie Mellon 
[Return to top]

The Pittsburgh Community

The city is ethnically, culturally, and professionally diverse and provides a range of potential employment opportunities. Pittsburgh is also a good place to live, accommodating a variety of lifestyles and offering safe, affordable housing, a broad range of accessible cultural and recreational opportunities, and an appealing geographical setting. The university has a large, self-contained campus located squarely in the Oakland section of the city and bordering one of the major parks. We're close to the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, the Phipps Conservatory, the University of Pittsburgh and its large medical center, and a number of interesting and inexpensive restaurants and coffee shops. We're also just a short drive or bus ride away from the lively areas of Squirrel Hill, South Side & South Side Works, and downtown Pittsburgh, all of which include a range of eating, shopping, and entertainment options. Thus, you can choose either the quiet of the campus or a nearby residential neighborhood or more lively involvement in the social and cultural scene.
[Return to top]

Our Commitment to Your Success

When we accept you as our student, we commit ourselves to your success. Through coursework, advising, and mentoring, we work closely with you to develop your professional interests and help launch you on the first step of your career. It's important to us that our students succeed and that they also find their experience with us to be fruitful and worthwhile. We can't promise that it will be easy, in fact we know our program is quite challenging, but we can promise to provide the coursework, mentoring, and related support you need to succeed. 
[Return to top]