Frequently Asked Questions

If you don't see what are looking for here, contact davidm@austincc.edu.

Courses, degrees, certificates

Where are the certificate and degree plans located?

Where can I read details about specific courses?

Where can I see upcoming schedules of courses?

May I substitute other courses for the ones listed for the certificates and degrees listed in the catalog?

Yes, the degrees and certificates have a lot of flexibility. However, you must take or transfer in the core requirements for the Associates of Applied Science: Oral Communications, Humanities, Social and Behavioral Science, Math.

As for courses in the major, you can take any combination of ENGL 2311 and the ETWR courses that you wish. The specific courses listed in the ACC official degree plans are not actually required. Just take any combination of ENGL 2311 and ETWR you wish as long as it adds up to at last the minimum total hours. Contact the department chairperson for advice on courses to take.

Also, you have lots of flexibility for the electives. You can take any combination of Visual Communication and Computer Information Systems courses—including all courses in just one or the other of these two categories. If you find courses that you want to take outside of these two areas, contact the department chairperson.

How can I get advice on which courses to take?

Contact the department chairperson: David A. McMurrey, 512.223.4804, davidm@austincc.edu. Be aware that ACC advisers and counselers are not likely to know much about the program, its degeees, or its courses.

Should I go for the Associates, the Certificate, or the Continuing Education Certificate?

Not uncommonly, our students get jobs as they are going through the program and never actually complete a degree or certificate. You can aim first at the certificate and then take the additional courses to complete the degree.

If you have a four-year degree, you probably don't need the degree, but the certificate would be good because it indicates formal completion of something and seriousness about preparing for the profession.

If you do not have any college degree, we strongly recommend that you complete an Associates of Applied Science.

You will discover that some employers require a four-year degree (and they seem not to care in what). A good way to meet this requirement is to go for the Bachelor's in Organizational Communication at St. Edwards University.

Are all the courses online? Aren't any held in the classroom?

Most of our students are career changers who have day jobs and families. As a society, we seem to have progressed to a point where people are comfortable with online learning. And besides, who wants to get back out after a full day of work?

Our faculty do a number of things to simulate the classroom environment. Some use online meeting applications that enable voice and video. Also, our faculty hold office hours and are ready to work with you one on one.

I notice electives are mostly about computer programming or graphics. What if I prefer one area to the other?

Also, you have lots of flexibility for the electives. You can take any combination of Visual Communication and Computer Information Systems courses—including all courses in just one or the other of these two categories. If you find courses that you want to take outside of these two areas, contact the department chairperson.

Do I need a background in science, computers, rocket science?

No, you don't. Practicing technical writers come from a wide variety of areas: English, journalism, communication, philosophy. People in programming or IT often switch to technical writing. Of course, some employers may require some "domain" knowledge (computers, pharmceuticals, insurance, finance, etc.), but if you can show some coursework in the related area, that should work.

In the catalog, the degrees are two years; the certificate are one year. Must they be completed in those time frames?

Absolutely not. People who work full time often need four and five years to complete. Your biggest concern is to start the job search with relatively fresh knowledge.

I have a four-year degree from a university. Do you recommend I go for one of this program's degrees or certificates?

Not necessarily. Some employers require a four-year degree (and they don't seem to care in what). Take our courses that have the highest employability, that address areas of weakness in your knowledge, or that match the kinds of work as a technical writer you'd like to do. Completing the certificate would be a good idea because it indicates formal completion of something and seriousness about preparing for the profession.

Computers and software

Is there special software I need to purchase?

Our computer lab at Northridge campus has all the software we use in our classes. Some classes do meet there, but there are many free hours during which you can use the computers. Free hours are posted on the door. When you first go, start across the hall at the tech office, tell them what course you are in, and get a network login.

If you take courses online and don't want to come to the computer classroom, you'll need to find a way to access the software. The two most important are Adobe FrameMaker and Adobe RoboHelp, although we may move away from the latter to Author-it. This is expensive software. The Technical Communicator Suite is a good way to get all of the software at a bundled price. Adobe does offer academic discounts as well. And there is a discount outlet for academic software called Academic Superstore which, as of March 2011, offers good deals.

Otherwise, you can use software such as Microsoft Word or the free OpenOffice product called Write. In other courses, we rely on on free software.

If I cannot afford the required special software, what are my options?

You can use the software in Northridge 4209. Some classes do meet there, but there are many free hours during which you can use the computers. Free hours are posted on the door. When you first go, start across the hall at the tech office, tell them what course you are in, and get a network login.

Currently, two of the most important applications used in our courses are Adobe FrameMaker and Adobe RoboHelp, although we may move away from the latter to Author-it. This is expensive software. The Technical Communicator Suite is a good way to get all of the software at a bundled price. Adobe does offer academic discounts as well. And there is a discount outlet for academic software called Academic Superstore which, as of March 2011, offers good deals.

What level of computer skills do I need?

You need to be familiar with Microsoft Windows. You need to be comfortable navigating your way through folders; copying, moving, and deleting files as well as folders. Beyond that, instructors in our program are happy to show you how to do things.

Be aware that our courses and the software used in them are Windows and PC based. This issue always rouses fierce debate, but the technical communication world is primarily Windows and PC based, and therefore using a Mac for learning and work purposes can be difficult.

Careers, jobs, salaries

Does the program offer help is finding jobs for this major?

We do not offer direct help in getting a job. ACC has some career services, but they are not likely to be of much help in finding technical writing positions. We do send out job, internship, and event announcements to our current and former student e-mail list. (If you are not on that list, send a request to the department chairperson.) We do offer coaching; we can point you in good directions for employment. Also, as of spring 2012, we will offer ETWR 1379, Technical Communicators: Careers and Professionalism. This course will include job-finding strategies, resume and portfolio development, and mock interviews, among other topics.

How can I find out about salary ranges for in this profession?

Most Society for Technical Communication (STC) chapters do a yearly salary survey. Search STC–Austin's site for recent surveys: http://www.stcaustin.org/.

What are some things I can do to explore employment possibilities for the major and to increase my employability?

Here are some ideas:

  • Take courses that feature document types, processes, and software in high demand among employers. Contact the department chairperson for advice.
  • Build a good-looking online portfolio and ensure it gets search hits.
  • Request information interviews at local contract-placement agencies. (For a list, see the STC–Austin website.) Talk to them about trends in contract requests. Bring a scannable resume they can put in their database.
  • Find volunteer work involving writing, editing, or web design. Put these activities on your resume and in your portfolio.
  • Attend meeting of STC–Austin; get involved. You'll be gaining important contacts.

How can I connect with people who are currently employed in this profession?

Join STC, and attend the meetings of the local chapter. Introduce yourself to people there; get them to talk about their career. Ask them some of these same questions.

What is STC; should I become a member?

The Society for Technical Communication is an international professional society for technical writers. We have a chapter in Austin that has monthy meetings from September through May. In these meetings there is plenty of time to network with people there. You can talk to technical writers about their careers and ask them questions like the ones here in this FAQ.

Tuition costs, financial aid

How can I tell whether I live in the ACC district?

ACC district is made up of school districts. Increasingly, people in school districts in the Austin area are voting to join ACC. See this map for the current ACC district. You can see tuition costs on this chart. To determine whether you live in district, see Residency Status for Tuition Purposes.

As for financial aid, see http://www.austincc.edu/support/financialaid/index.php

What if I live out of district, out of state, out of the U.S.? Can I still take these courses and go for a degree or certificate?

Yes, of course, especially since our all of of our courses are online and available worldwide. And keep in mind you can take courses locally where you live and apply them to your ACC certificate or degreee. ACC requires that at least 25% of your coursework toward a certificate or degree be taken with ACC.

I live out of district, out of state, out of the U.S. How can I afford the tuition?

Our courses are cross-listed with Continuing Education. The tuition for CE courses is the same no matter where you libe. Also, it is roughly the same as it it is for in-district courses. We also offer a 6-course Continuing Education certificate in Technical Communication.

Students, faculty, community, events

How can I get news about what's going on in the program? How can I connect with other students in this major?

Check or follow this program on Twitter or Facebook by clicking on one or both of these icons:

Send a request to the department chairperson to be added to the current and former student e-mail list. People on this list receive e-mail about jobs, internships, and related events.

How would you characterize students in this major?

Our students are an interesting mix of career changers: public school teachers, secretaries, programmers, IT people, journalists, parents who've gotten the children raised enough that now they can have a career, people with majors (such as such as English, philosophy, ancient Greek, history, and anthropology) that are hard to match with employment. And therefore most of our students are older than the traditional college age. Moreover, our students tend to be married and have families.

How would you characterize the faculty teaching the course in this major?

Most of our faculty currently work or have worked as technical writers at places like Dell, IBM, and National Instruments. Others do contract technical writing, going from contract to contract as necessary. Several do writing-related work for government agencies. One of our faculty operates a writing, editing, indexing, and publishing service. Another provides XML and DITA services to local enterprises.

How can I learn about this career, profession?

Here are some good books:

  • Michael Bremer. Untechnical Writing - How to Write About Technical Subjects and Products So Anyone Can Understand. Untechnical Press. The most recent edition.
  • Alan S. Pringle, Sarah S. O'Keefe. Technical Writing 101: A Real-World Guide to Planning and Writing Technical Documentation. Scriptorum. The most recent edition.
  • Price, Jonathan and Henry Korman. How to Communicate Technical Information: A Handbook of Software and Hardware Documentation. Redwood City, CA: Benjamin/Cummings, 1993.

Do some reading in these two sites:

  • EServer TC Library. Super collection of links related to all aspects of this field.
  • Employment Articles. Lots of articles on getting started and working as a technical writer from TECHWR-L.

You can also read a number of articles we have collected here:

And, finally, go to some monthly meetings of the STC–Austin Chapter. You'll find plenty of friendly techical writers happy to discuss the profession with you.

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