Careers in Professional Writing

Today, Professional Writing graduates find work as usability specialists and user experience designers, information architects, technical documentation managers, and social media coordinators in addition to work as documentation and content authors, editors, technical writers, and organizational researchers. Purdue Professional Writing graduates work in international publishing houses, nonprofit organizations, high-technology companies, and engineering firms throughout the Midwest and across the nation.

These jobs often do not exist when students begin their study. Professional Writing is an exciting field in part because students in the program are energetic, driven, creative, and innovative—our students learn how to assess organizations’ needs and then they determine what opportunities to pursue. While at Purdue, students take advantage of flexible course requirements in the major, and complete a technical or humanistic minor to prepare for lifelong engagement with knowledge and commerce, while preparing to be active citizens—participants—in democratic society.

Our alumni are the best representatives of the program, and some describe their careers below. In explaining their expertise, innovative and successful organizations have recognized the value of an education in Professional Writing at Purdue University. It is an exciting time to be a student; if you are creative, innovative, and are interested in participating at the cutting edge of knowledge making, consider Professional Writing as a major.

Professional Writing brings the ancient arts of Rhetoric together with digital communication tools of postindustrial work with primary and secondary research to effectively serve as knowledge managers in a variety of business contexts. Contemporary rhetorical study is attentive to culture and technology. Rhetoric is an ancient art of communication and persuasion (although we know it is so much more), and Professional Writing marries this ancient techne with postindustrial digital knowledge to create a unique and powerful educational base and career foundation. Research—and the ability to recognize what is known, what is unknown, and to build new knowledge in response—remains an important part of Purdue’s Professional Writing curriculum, even as we articulate new opportunities in gaming, usability, and documentation.

Within 2 years of graduating, 96% of Purdue Professional Writing majors report finding satisfying work in their field. This survey was made during the long, slow recovery after the economic downturn (2012-13) and it seems hard to imagine alumni satisfaction increasing as the economy improves; the program looks forward to adding interesting new positions to this list of careers held by alumni. Alumni: email a description of your position to the director if you do not see your job title and description listed here. Some respondents have preferred to remain anonymous.

Courtney Ginder, Class of 2013, Content Manager for LHP Telematics, Westfield, Indiana
My Professional Writing degree, and the well-rounded set of courses that came with it, gave me the skills I needed to succeed in my position as Content Manager for a heavy equipment remote monitoring company. My position was created for me, and while I started out covering the documentation for products and services, my role expanded into digital marketing and managing the company website and social media accounts.

The skills learned in English 309: Computer-Aided Publishing and English 419: Multimedia Writing helped me develop our documentation style guide and branding guidelines – when I first started, we didn’t have much in the way of concrete style and branding guides. My comprehensive and detailed style of designing and writing user guides and product documentation is a result of English 421: Technical Writing. My job keeps me busy, but being able to manage our customer-facing product documentation as well as our digital marketing strategy has been extremely fulfilling and rewarding.

Ben Wachtel, Class of 2013, Social Media Specialist, Element Three, Indianapolis, Indiana
I write brand-focused advertising and marketing copy for print and digital media while also helping shape our overall marketing strategies. I also fill many roles beyond my job description. The PW program taught me to be always curious, eager to take on new challenges, and the immense value in saying, “I don’t know how to do that, but I’ll learn.”

Ben also devotes time and energy to a variety of community organizations:
I’ve also done my best to stay involved with my community, supporting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Art with a Heart, Special Olympics of Indiana, and Wheeler Mission among others. I’m also coaching two nights a week at Hamilton Southeastern (and helping with online marketing. I love working with the kids and giving back to a sport that, like the PW program, helped shape the person I’ve become.

Carolyn Shaffer, Class of 2012 Social media coordinator, Bauer College of Business, University of Houston
My PW degree gave me a well-rounded background that helped me land my current position in higher education social media. Computer-aided publishing and multimedia writing taught me graphic design skills that I use to create graphics frequently. I use choice architecture techniques taught in Intro to PW when crafting posts for different social media platforms with different audiences. As a social media coordinator, I manage all the official social media channels for the Bauer College of Business.

Bridget Johnston, Class of 2012, Interactive Projects Coordinator at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
I conceptualize and implement high-tech exhibit and web projects. My enthusiasm for high-tech communication across age, culture, and geographic locations sparked my interest in the museum, and my Professional Writing education has helped fuel my success. It prepared me with excellent project management skills, multitasking capabilities, and a healthy perspective on what the worlds of academics, sciences and humanities have to offer.

Technical Author, Rolls-Royce, Indianapolis, IN and Birmingham, UK
As the Technical Author for Rolls-Royce, I conduct research by interviewing Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and interpret engineering drawings. I create procedure documents by witnessing component builds. Being able to accurately capture what is being performed so that it can be replicated thousands of times and understood by non-native speakers of English is a challenge, but one that is really rewarding.

Senior Technical Author, Navistar, Chicago, Illinois
Collaborate with SMEs and mechanics to author safety-critical repair schemes for a fleet of global trucks. Author Service manuals for new products, and facilitate translation in fifteen different languages.

Kate Cochran, Class of 2010, Senior UX Strategist for Siegel + Gale in New York City
I’m part of the Simplification Practice at Siegel + Gale, a full-shop branding agency headquartered in Manhattan after spending time as a freelance digital strategist and UX Designer. Our team helps brands simplify communications and websites: through a rigorous set of workshops to find how effectively they’re communicating with clients and customers. I was Chief Information Architect on a recent project, building the website blueprint through wireframes, sitemaps and process flows.

I’m also teaching UXD at the Miami Ad School’s Brooklyn campus and having a blast. My students are all budding copywriters and art directors and helping them understand the guts and interactions of a website is a lot of fun.