By Sarah Hill
While some academic majors train students to become proficient in one specialized type of writing, Baylor’s professional writing and rhetoric major emphasizes the versatility of writing and the different ways it can be used in society.
“In fields such as law, medicine, business, engineering, education and publishing, writing expertise is vital,” said Dr. Michael-John DePalma, associate professor of English and coordinator of professional writing and rhetoric. “Thus, employers across a range of professional fields continually rank excellent written communication abilities as a top priority when hiring candidates.” He added that the skills students learn in this holistic, research-based program will prepare them for any work environment or career.
Professional writing and rhetoric (PWR) is one of three majors offered by the English department, along with majors in literature and linguistics. PWR is distinctive because it prepares students for a wide variety of careers, while also ensuring they are fluent in areas not related to their career. The major teaches students how to be versatile communicators, creative professionals and innovative problem solvers.
“The adaptability PWR students develop enables them to mobilize their writing knowledge and experience as they traverse academic, professional, and civic writing contexts,” DePalma said.
Required classes for the PWR major such as Writing for Social Change and Women’s Writing and Rhetoric introduce students to the social and cultural aspects of writing, while technical writing, for example, builds on professional skills.
The core requirements for the PWR major include professional and workplace writing, undergraduate research and publication and a writing internship. Students then choose six hours of lecture courses, nine hours of workshop or project based courses, and three hours each of a literature elective and an English department elective. Thirty hours, in total, must be from 3000-4000 level courses.
“Through writing internships, undergraduate research, writing workshop courses, and community writing projects, PWR majors gain extensive writing experience,” DePalma said. “These high-impact pedagogical approaches enable PWR majors to become versatile communicators who have the rhetorical dexterity to adapt their writing abilities for different audiences, purposes, genres, media and situations.”
Learning to do research well is an important part of the curriculum.
“The PWR major includes classes where primary research is required,” said Dr. Kevin Gardner, chair and professor of English. “In these classes, students learn how to conduct ethnographic and archival research, and they learn how to read critically and synthesize secondary research materials.”
All PWR majors must complete a one-semester internship, either with a Baylor academic unit or organization, or with an off-campus employer. The internships not only give student writers valuable experience, but they can also open the door to new opportunities.
“The internships are a great way for PWR students to join theory and practice with on-the-job training in a real-world environment,” Gardner said. “Some of our interns have been so valuable to their employers that they have been hired into full-time positions by these same employers after graduation.”
By the time they graduate, PWR majors will have a complete portfolio that showcases their versatility and professional skills such as grammar and document formatting, workplace communication and interview etiquette. These skills help students grow into multi-talented individuals.
“PWR is a great double major or secondary major for students who recognize that outstanding writing abilities are essential to success in writing-intensive professional careers (for example, law, engineering, medicine, business, social work),” DePalma said. Because of this, students are beginning to double major in PWR or choosing PWR as their minor.
DePalma said the professional writing and rhetoric major is valuable because it prepares students for many paths.
“The PWR major provides students numerous opportunities to develop the writing, research, editing and design expertise needed to excel in careers as copywriters, editors, screenwriters, public relations specialists, marketing coordinators, technical writers, attorneys, social media writers, non-profit writers and other professional writing positions,” DePalma said.
Many PWR alumni also choose to pursue advanced degrees from graduate schools and doctoral programs.
“PWR graduates understand that all writing entails creative capacities and problem-solving,” DePalma said. “They learn to craft nonfiction texts that capture attention, sustain interest, influence ideas, solve problems, inspire imaginative thinking, clarify decisions, motivate action and prompt innovation.”
“All-in-all, the PWR major has proven to be a highly marketable degree, for writing well and reading well are essential to success in life,” Gardner said.
In Part 2 of this look at Baylor’s professional writing and rhetoric program, we talk to graduates and current students about how it has helped them develop as writers.
Sarah Hill is a senior professional writing and rhetoric major at Baylor University.