person writing in notebook with laptop in back ground

Certificate in Professional Writing

Professional communication continues to be one of the fastest growing areas of expertise in the United States, as it crosses many disciplines. Appropriate and accurate communication has never been more important for any career, and writers are needed in every field, from marketing and engineering, to nonprofits and finance.

Technical communication, one important branch of professional communication, takes those needs to an advanced level, since understanding technology demands we provide detailed and accurate information.

Business, government and nonprofit organizations produce a prodigious amount of print and online material. They need trained, sophisticated writers and editors who understand the audiences, purposes and contexts of messages, and can communicate ideas successfully, design information effectively and manage complex documentation projects smoothly.

SDSU’s Certificate Program in Professional Writing is an important part of the Rhetoric and Writing Studies Department and includes faculty who are active in both industry and research. Students in the program focus on using language and accurate messaging to increase specific written communication skills that answer precise needs.

The Certificate Program in Professional Writing has a long history of partnering students with the business, tech and nonprofit community and of funneling graduates into San Diego’s high-impact industries. If you are looking to train for a new career, increase the job skills needed for a promotion, or connect with professional networks, the Certificate Program can help.

Professional and technical communicators interpret information and make it relevant and accessible to their audiences. They transform information—often, but not exclusively, scientific and technical information—into easily understandable language. In fields such as public relations, nonprofit organizations, technology companies, marketing departments, the medical industry, or government, they may prepare and edit scientific and technical reports, grant proposals, operating and maintenance manuals, marketing materials, strategic plans, or project proposals.

You will learn skills that can be used in:

  • Data and research environments  
  • Engineering and technical industries
  • Grant writing and fund development departments

And adapt that learning to tasks such as:

  • Creating information architecture and modifying messages to reach particular audiences
  • Analyzing and assessing academic and commercial research that addresses markets and interpret trends
  • Developing marketing collateral, including messages designed for social media.
Professional communicators work at the intersection of many different workplace activities. If you interact with programmers, engineers, marketers, or project managers, courses in the Certificate Program can help you develop or improve practical employment skills in areas such as scientific writing, content editing, medical writing, grant writing, technical writing and project management.


As a university, SDSU has a distinguished history of creating collaborative programs that connect the university, our region and local industry, a practice supported by the Professional Writing Certificate Program. Ours is the most successful professional writing program in the region; SDSU Professional Writing has placed interns and hires throughout Southern California for more than 20 years. The program has maintained a solid reputation among employers and students have gone on to work in a diverse array of companies and organizations:

  • Genentech
  • Hologic (formerly Gen-Probe)
  • Hewlett-Packard (Boston, San Diego)
  • General Atomics
  • Leidos
  • Eset
  • UCSD
  • SDSU
  • USD
  • Qualcomm
  • HPE Vertica
  • Imperial Beach Community Clinic
  • Father Joe’s 
  • Mama's Kitchen
  • Intuit
  • San Diego Medical Foundation
  • Artemis Biomedical
  • Communications
  • IPS Group, Inc.
  • Sony Electronics (San Diego)
  • Corelation (San Diego)
  • San Diego Unified School District
  • San Diego Women's Foundation
  • Project Concern International (PCI)
  • Los Angeles Unified School District
  • National Credit Union Association (Salt Lake City)
  • Bank of the West (san Diego)
  • National College Resource Foundation (Los Angeles)
  • DemandForce (San Francisco)
  • Palomar College
  • Intercept Pharmaceuticals (San Diego)
  • Barrio Logan College Institute
  • Tax Connections
  • The Startup Garage
  • Stitch (New York)
  • Nintendo of America (Seattle)
  • Airbnb (San Francisco)
  • IDW (San Diego)
  • Home Controls (San Diego)
  • United States District Court for the Central District of California (Los Angeles)
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • Adventist Health (Sacramento)
  • BD Medical Devices (San Diego)
  • Synteract (Sacramento)
  • Amgen (Los Angeles)
  • 500px (Toronto)
  • Flatirons Solutions (Phoenix)
  • Advanced Communication Services (San Diego)
  • Design Studio West (San Diego)

Real-world curriculum based in an academic department

Unlike other certificate programs, SDSU’s Certificate in Professional Writing is based in an academic department of the university: the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies. Our certificate curriculum offers courses that model workplace communication, reinforce best practices of collaborative writing, and encourage hands-on, real-world skills. For example, the gateway Professional Writing course (RWS 503) focuses on linking such practical documents as user tests, inter-office reports, memos, proposals and technical documentation to concepts of audience, purpose and context.  In the Grant Writing for Nonprofits class, students learn about persuasion strategies by partnering with a local nonprofit to write a winnable grant proposal. By the time students complete their certification, they have a professional portfolio that represents these and other academic skills to prospective employers.

Faculty with industry experience

The courses are taught by scholars with academic and industry experience. The program’s diverse faculty has decades of experience both within the university and in industries such as biotech, finance, scientific and medical writing, and corporate training.


The program requires an internship in which students work closely with a faculty member and employer on a real-world project. With its roots in the San Diego area, our Professional Writing Program has developed relationships with organizations who recognize the value of interns based in an academic department.

These professional websites are invaluable resources for those interested in a career in scientific and technical writing.

Society for Technical Communication (STC)
The Society for Technical Communications is the world's largest professional association for technical communicators. With more than 20,000 members across the globe, STC provides unparalleled opportunities for continuing education, peer networking, and access to STC's database of job openings.

EServer Technical Communication Library
The EServer Technical Communication Library provides tech comm practitioners, students, teachers and managers a single location from which to access the best resources available online.

American Medical Writers Association (AMWA)
The American Medical Writers Association, founded in 1940, is the leading professional organization for biomedical communicators with more than 4000 members from around the world.

The EServer is a unique website where the digital humaities; writers, artists, editors, and scholars gather to publish and discuss their works (over 35,000).

Certificate Requirements

The Certificate Program offers an interdisciplinary, self-designed class of study tailored to your individual background, needs, and career goals.

The Program consists of 21 units of study:

  • 9 units (3 classes) of core classes
  • 12 units (4 classes) of elective classes selected from a range of writing, technical, business, science, computer, graphics, art, and instructional design classes.

The Program also offers an internship for students who wish to gain workplace experience in technical communication.

There are three required courses in the Certificate Program:

RWS 503W - Professional Writing

How is technical writing different from academic or other kinds of writing? How does it vary from one field, such as biotechnology, to others, such as software and web development?

In this class, students learn the principles and practices of writing in a variety of technical and scientific environments. The communication requirements of the various fields will be addressed throughout the semester, as well as appropriate writing styles and rhetorical strategies in designing technical documents.

RWS 504 - Advanced Professional Writing

This course is designed for the advanced technical writing student interested in developing more sophistication into already existing skills.

During the semester, the class works with various types of technical documents, including reports, manuals, and proposals. Students attain hands-on experience in manuscript editing and proofreading, as well as in solving problems unique to different kinds of documents.

Other problems in technical writing, including those specific to design, printing and the reproduction of documents, are explored in depth, using a variety of techniques and tools throughout the semester. The development of problem-solving skills as it pertains to professional writing and technical communication is integral to the course. Issues regarding audience, including analysis and readability, are examined and explored during the semester. The writing and recognition of clear technical prose are essential elements in the course.

RWS 607 - Writing Project Management

This course builds on the skills taught in RWS 503W and 504, helping you build a solid foundation for project success and exposes you to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) framework.  

You will learn to plan and manage projects in a team environment as well as learn and practice valuable collaboration skills culminating in the delivery of a complex documentation project to a workplace partner.

With the approval of the Program Coordinator, you may select 12 units of electives toward the certificate.

Electives in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies include:

RWS 411 - Digital Rhetorics

Exploration of digital writing and new media literacies from a rhetorical perspective. Includes research on digital rhetoric and history of literacy to investigate new media literacies, texts, and writing practices.

RWS 414 - Rhetoric in Visual Culture

This course begins with the assumption that visual language is one of many available means of persuasion and that it can neither replace nor work entirely independently from other modes of communication. By studying visual rhetoric, we will investigate how frameworks used to explore the rhetoric of writing and speech provide strong starting points for analysis, but also fail in other ways to account for the rhetorical affordances of the visual.

RWS 501 - Editing

What does an editor do? How is a document assessed and prepared for publication? This class prepares students for basic professional editing.

The functions of an editor are explored, as well as document design and development, style and style guides. Students learn how to effectively use editing tools and technologies in appropriate ways, as applicable to a variety of documents. Effective methods for working with writers efficiently and effectively are addressed and analyzed. By the end of the semester, students become adept at applying a systematic approach to preparing a text for publication and production.

RWS 506 or 796B - Writing Internship

Intensive experience in writing and editing documents while student is under the joint supervision of an academic instructor and a professional coordinator.

RWS 507 - Professional Communications in Nonprofit Organizations

This course is unique in its specific orientation to the non-profit field. Non-profits encompass a wide range of focuses, but they all require specific knowledge and skills in regard to their extensive communications needs.

The class addresses the special technical communication skills that employment in the non-profit sector demands. All aspects of non-profit documentation are included, such as proposals, mission statements, advertising, member surveys, and capital campaigns.

Other features of the non-profit field that are addressed are the promotion of volunteerism, interacting with non-profit boards, and adherence to state and federal regulations. The course covers specific technical communication skills for nonprofit organizations, types of nonprofit documentation, the promotion of volunteerism, interaction with nonprofit boards, adherence to regulations, and other topics.

RWS 508W - Scientific Writing

RWS 508 develops the writing skills necessary for scientific amid medical research and communication. It introduces the scientific documentation process and covers adherence to standards and regulations.  It is intended for majors in the sciences and professional scientific writers. Documentation covered includes the research article, research proposal, case report, review, abstract, and promotional material.

RWS 543 - Rhetoric of Visual Composing

The focus throughout the course will be on learning to evaluate and craft texts that integrate effective visual strategies to create user-friendly, informative, and persuasive texts for professional audiences. In addition to focusing specifically on the visual, this course will also consider these affordances and constraints in relation to other modalities, including textual, spatial, gestural, and auditory. Being better aware of how multimodal rhetorical choices influence an audience can help you to be more critical of what others are saying to you, as well as to make use of these strategies in your own communication.

RWS 696 - Literacy, Technology, and Rhetoric

This course is about looking closely at what people say and do in digital spaces and how they make meaning with the different communication resources at their disposal. We’ll investigate the social, communicative and rhetorical strategies they use and the impact this has on our broader culture.
Through a lens of literacy studies, we will explore the everyday reading, writing, and communication practices people engage in online and the ways in which this impacts identity, social relationships, and participation in public spaces. We will also draw on rhetorical perspectives to better understand audience, persuasion and the use of digital tools to create rhetorically effective texts in online environments.

Customizing Classes

You may also work with your Program Coordinator to select other elective courses from other departments, depending on your background and specific career goals. The following departments may offer courses of interest to your area of specialization:

  • Biological Sciences
  • Business Administration
  • Communications
  • Computer Science
  • Educational Technology
  • Engineering


How to Apply

To apply to the Certificate Program in Professional Writing, applicants should send the following three documents to the program director identified below:

  • A brief letter describing the applicant’s academic and professional history
  • A Resume or CV
  • A 10-page writing sample (consisting of academic or professional writing)

The program director usually schedules a meeting with the potential student after receiving the admission material. All applicants are encouraged to contact the program director at any time for admission information or status.

Once approved, students have two options to complete their coursework and earn the Certificate. Both options offer the exact same final Certificate signed by the University Provost.

Non-matriculating SDSU students—i.e., community members—take all of the required 21 units of Certificate courses through SDSU’s Global Campus Open University Program.

Learn more on how to register on the SDSU Global Campus.


You can apply to the Certificate in Professional Writing Program using option one at any time, and applications are reviewed on an ongoing basis. Open University registration deadlines usually correspond to the beginning of each semester’s classes.

Option Two allows anyone to earn the Certificate as an SDSU student rather than taking all units through Open University. In this option, Certificate students must become matriculating (registered) SDSU students in order to complete the Certificate beyond 9 units. Certificate students apply online to the University using SDSU’s admission portal Cal State Apply.  

In other words, students may begin their Certificate coursework through Open University (up to 9 units) under this option, but the Certificate is granted by the Undergraduate Division of the University itself and cannot be completed through Open University.

After a student applies through Cal State Apply, the Undergraduate Division will determine whether the student meets the minimum eligibility requirements for admission into the University. Once admitted, Certificate students register for classes as standard matriculating SDSU students.


Students applying for admission into the University (Option Two) may begin taking classes up to 9 units, but must adhere to the standard University admission deadlines posted on Cal State Apply. Applications for the fall semester usually close on the previous March 1st. Potential students are encouraged to confirm all admission deadlines with the Certificate Program Coordinator, as late applications to the University are never accepted.



Dr. Linn Bekins
Email: [email protected]

Important Links

Class ScheduleSDSU University CatalogAcademic Calendar