Program White Paper: Expanded Writing Program

Science Writing (MS) and Rhetoric and Writing Studies (MA) Online

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION: Building on the strength of the existing MA and MFA in creative writing, the MS in Science Writing (online) and MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies (online) would provide enhanced professional training to those seeking careers in the respective fields of scientific writing and post-secondary teaching.

THE LANDSCAPE: while both Science Writing and Rhetoric and Writing Studies are well established disciplines, the Chicago area and Midwest markets are currently under-served by programs in these fields.

As a field, Science Writing is represented primarily by three professional organizations, the National Associate of Science Writers,  the American Medical Writers Association, and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, although just a handful of graduate certificate and degree programs exist to the support the field.

Johns Hopkins offers an MA in Science Writing, and MIT offers a one year graduate program in science writing. The University of California at Santa Cruz offers a 9-month graduate certificate in Science Communication. None of these programs are available online.

In terms of rhetoric and writing studies, while the field has enjoyed significant growth over the past two decades, there are few graduate programs offered online—and certainly none at the caliber or reputation that NU could offer.  Currently, Bowling Green State University offers an online MA in Professional Writing and Rhetoric. Northern Arizona University offers an MA in Rhetoric, Writing and Digital Media Studies, and Indiana University East offers an online Graduate Certificate in Composition Studies.

STRATEGIC ADVANTAGES: With outstanding programs in the natural and behavioral sciences, medicine, engineering, and journalism, a program in science writing would allow SPS to capitalize on existing strengths at Northwestern while offering a professional program that would not directly compete with any current program. Similarly, while Northwestern offers graduate programs in English through the Graduate School, these programs focus on literary studies and textual analysis.

TARGET AUDIENCES: Both the MS in Science Writing and MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies programs would have strong internal and external audiences.  Courses in the MS in Science Writing would appeal not only to current Northwestern students and staff seeking to enhance their communication skills, but working professionals in the sciences/applied sciences hoping to transition into scientific journalism and marketing.

The MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies would potentially appeal to current graduate students in English and the humanities at Northwestern and throughout the Chicago-area, particularly those hoping to prepare for careers in the teaching of writing. The program would also appeal to current teachers in both secondary and higher education settings seeking to make themselves more competitive.


Courses in the MS in Science Writing track might include:

  • Writing in the Biological and Natural Sciences
  • Writing in the Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Nature Writing/Environmental Nonfiction
  • Investigative and Policy Reporting in the Sciences
  • Science Writing and Editing Workshop

Courses in the MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies track might include:

  • History of Rhetoric
  • Composition Theory and Pedagogy
  • Rhetoric and Writing in the Digital Age
  • Research Methods in Writing Studies
  • Teaching Writing in Online and Blended Contexts
  • Internship in Teaching Writing Online