Independent Study

The point of an independent study is to allow you to propose a course of study (not just a project) in an area for which we do not currently offer courses.

The director of the PPW program can support you in your independent study or you can ask a faculty member who teaches in the program to serve as your academic sponsor.

You may not propose an independent study that replicates a course that we already offer. The number of credits you register for is determined by the number of hours you will invest in the course:

Number of Credits to Be Earned Hours of Student Effort (reading, research, meetings)
1 3-5 hours/week
2 6-10 hours/week
3 12-15 hours/week

Most students propose 3-credit independent studies.

Please write a proposal in memo format that includes the below information:

  1. The name of your course of study and the number of credits you want to earn. The name should indicate a larger set of concerns, not just the project you want to do. (For example, we offer a course called “Grant and Proposal Writing,” not “A Proposal to Fund a New Children’s Program at the Pittsburgh Zoo”).
  2. Two or three paragraphs that explain why this is a relevant study for Public and Professional Writing.
  3. The specific material (books, articles, blogs, interviews) you will use to learn about this topic in general or to prepare for one or more of the projects you will create.
  4. Your plan for how you will learn about writing and rhetoric in this area. Your exploration can include reading texts about writing in this field if they exist. Otherwise, you may identify examples of writing in this field that you will study and write a research project about those examples (the focus of this project could be on the features, style, research methods, appeals to authority, or more, for example). You may also include interviews with professionals or other appropriate strategies for learning about your topic.
  5. A description of the projects you will write. You need to revise as part of your work, but that doesn’t mean that you have to revise all your writing. For example, you can write two short papers that don’t get revised along with a longer project that does get revised.
  6. A syllabus, with dates, that indicates when you will complete readings and writing projects or drafts. You cannot make all your writing due at the end of the term: writing projects (or drafts of writing projects) must be due throughout the term.

Be sure that your academic sponsor approves of your plan. It is worthwhile to have a couple of conversations with them while you are drafting. Submit your completed proposal to the director of PPW. When it is approved, the appropriate number of credits (usually 3) will be added to your schedule.

When the term starts, you are responsible for following your syllabus and for meeting with your academic sponsor regularly (at least once a month). You may alter your proposed plan only with the permission of your sponosr.

Students’ final projects for the independent studies are often interesting pieces for others in the program to read, so we like to post them online. You can see the final projects of some past PPW students below. Keep in mind that these projects represent only part of their independent study work.

Sample Materials Submitted as Part of an Independent Study Portfolio

Eliza Shearer: A Student's Guide to Technical Writing (Spring 2016)

Alissa Persichetti: A Guide to Working in Sports Writing (Fall 2015)

Julie Hallinan: Social Media for Social Good: A Case Study Analysis (Spring 2013)

Matthew Schreiber: The Changing Role of Social Media in the Job Search and on the Job (Fall 2012)

Lauren Elias: So You Want to Work in Television: A Beginner's Guide to Pre-Production (Spring 2012)

Mark Wanczak: Social Media Marketing (Spring 2009)

Niki Kalemnous: Professional Meeting Management (Spring 2009)

Becca Lehner: The Event Guide (Spring 2009)

Stephanie Selah: A Guide to the Contemprary Publishing Industry (Spring 2007)