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PhD in Writing: Online and Campus-Based Programs

Ph.D. programs in writing offer a broad range of specializations, including professional and creative writing. Learn about what types of doctoral programs are available, the classes you can take and your employment opportunities.

What Are My Options for a Ph.D. in Writing Program?

Most doctoral writing programs are Ph.D. programs in English with a specialization in a certain field of writing, such as creative writing, professional writing, rhetoric or technical writing. While creative writing programs typically teach students how to hone their writing skills in the fields of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and plays, professional writing programs teach students how to compose technical documents for businesses, government agencies and consumers. Writing-based doctoral programs are widely available as on-campus programs but are not currently available in online formats.

The majority of doctoral writing programs seek applicants who already hold master's degrees in English or a related field. You may be required to pass a comprehensive qualifying exam or have advanced knowledge of a second language. The most important part of the Ph.D. application is generally the writing sample, which may be academic or creative, depending on your writing program.

Program OptionsEnglish doctoral program specializations available in creative writing, professional writing, rhetoric and technical writing
Online Learning Online doctoral programs in the field not available
Common CoursesWorkshops, literature, genres, professional writing theory, literary translation
Career OptionsEnglish or creative writing professor, technical writer, grant writer
Median Salary (2018)$66,590* (for postsecondary English language and literature teachers)
Job Outlook (2016-26)10%* (for all postsecondary English language and literature teachers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Courses Might I Take?

Doctoral courses in creative writing are usually geared toward developing your knowledge of historical literature, theoretical issues and writing skills. Courses in professional writing and related fields tend to focus more on the study of textual rhetoric, pedagogy and technical writing. In these programs, you can usually develop your teaching skills by serving as a teaching assistant (TA) or by teaching introductory-level English courses on your own. You may also be expected to complete an internship.

As a Ph.D. candidate, you'll likely be required to pass scheduled examinations and produce a dissertation, consisting of either a critical scholarly work or an innovative novel, play, collection of essays or volume of poetry. You coursework might consist of classes like the following:

  • Writing workshops
  • English literature
  • Literary translation
  • Professional writing theory
  • Professional writing genres
  • Environmental writing

What Can I Do With a Ph.D. in Writing?

Ph.D. programs in professional writing may qualify you to work as a technical writer or grant writer, whereas programs in creative writing typically prepare you for a career in scholarly research or university-level teaching. As a college professor, you'll be required to keep up with developments in your field by reading current literature, corresponding with colleagues and participating in professional conferences. You also may be expected to conduct research to expand knowledge in your field and publish your findings in scholarly journals or books, or via electronic media.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for postsecondary English teachers are expected to increase by 10% from 2016-2026 due to increased college enrollment; however, competition for tenure positions is expected to be intense. As of May 2018, the median salary for English language and literature postsecondary teachers is $66,590.