I got an interesting question from a Millennial friend, asking why don’t they include technical writing skills as part of a typical master’s of business administration (MBA) degree. Honestly, the thought hadn’t occurred to me, but I’m willing to poke around and offer some suggestions, in case any program directors are reading.
Why Would You Need Tech Writing for an MBA?
I can see my business-major friends scratching their heads and wondering why on Earth they would need education in something usually done by English majors. However, I would emphasize a few things:
- The friend who suggested this notion is an engineer, likely looking to manage other engineers.
- If you’re going to be a manager, you should have excellent written and oral communication skills, regardless of which industry you serve.
- As a manager, you will likely have to write reports and presentation, at a minimum, as well as the usual emails and memos.
Admittedly, the basic college English courses emphasize discussing literature and writing essays–things you don’t do too much in the business world–and some people take tests to demonstrate their proficiency so they don’t have to take those classes. These fortunate souls then spend the rest of their college career studiously avoiding whole semesters of Shakespeare or Interpreting Poetry.
The course I taught at University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) was a 300-level Business Writing class required for multiple majors, and covered most of the business “forms” a professional is likely to encounter in an office environment. Technical writing courses are often required for science and engineering majors at the undergraduate level. While these classes might have some overlap with business writing (writing reports or memos), they often focus on writing in a technical environment. To answer my friend Nathan’s question on why it’s not included at the MBA level, I suppose they assume you took business or technical writing at the undergrad level.
However, let’s say you didn’t get business or technical writing as a required class during your four-year program and now you’ve discovered an absolute need for it. Now what do you do? To save yourself an extra semester and many hundreds of dollars, I recommend you pick up a tech writing handbook that addresses the basics of the business. That way when a specific question comes up, you have a reference handy.
Or, if I may be so bold, you might consider a tech writing book written by someone who’s worked with scientists and engineers, like me! 🙂 Heroic Technical Writing covers a lot of territory required by people working in science, engineering, and business, including reports, proposals, articles, and white papers.
It’s also good to talk with leaders at your workplace and obtain some internal templates or “gold standard” examples of writing done by your organization. You can also discuss with your leaders or peers what your audience’s expectations are, why you’re writing a particular document, and what specific outcome(s) you want to get after your audience receives it. And hey, if you have a specific tech writing question, you can also email me! I won’t write it for you (not without being paid, anyhow), but I can help you sort out your document structure and other critical needs. All this won’t help you become a professional technical writer overnight, but if you are an engineer, manager, or scientist and find that the writing you have to do can’t be fobbed off on a staff writer, you at least have a good starting point.