Christchurch branch report: Ara Information Design in 2018 – all systems go!

On Wednesday 18 October we of the Christchurch branch were excited to welcome representatives of Ara Institute of Canterbury, and of the University of Canterbury, to discuss three new post-graduate qualifications on offer from February 2018.

Bruce Russell and Shanthini Govindasamy of Ara confirmed the resurrection of the Graduate Diploma in Information Design (GDID). We were tickled to discover that NZQA had approved not only one but two qualifications geared specifically to technical communicators. Ara Institute now offers a Graduate Certificate in Information Design (GCID) in addition to the remodelled Graduate Diploma in Information Design and Management (GDIDM).

And not only that, the University of Canterbury has replaced their Master of Fine Arts with a whole suite of applied Master’s degrees, among them a Master of Writing (MWRIT).

Katie Haggath reports on “what we found out on Wednesday” …

First of all, why pursue post-grad study?

We all expect that post-graduate study will increase your value as an employee, particularly if you are a young or relatively inexperienced technical writer. However, if you are a veteran of the industry, you may wonder what a post-graduate course can offer that you haven’t already got in industry experience.

Post-graduate courses are usually very flexible, and you can enrol in one even if your Bachelor’s degree or industry experience relates to a very different subject.  This can enhance the value of your undergraduate degree or be a first step to a new career or further study. It also allows you to broaden your skillset in areas which you might not necessarily need for your current role, but which may be valuable to have, such as picking up UX or visual design skills while working as a content writer. Post-grad study allows you to dip your toe into other areas of interest within your field, without having to change jobs to find out if it might be an area you’re interested in.

Not only that, but having a post-graduate qualification under your belt demonstrates your passion for the industry and commitment to improvement, which may prove a solid foundation to back up your application for promotion or request for a raise.

So what’s on offer?

Graduate Certificate Information Design, and Graduate Diploma Information Design and Management

Ara Institute’s Graduate Diploma in Information Design and Management has been designed to meet the demand and expectations of the technical communication industry. It is an NZQA Level 7 qualification delivered online, and in previous years it was made up of five courses and an internship.

Over twenty years the course grew from technical writing to include UX, information architecture, knowledge management, visual language, and other specialty topics based around a core of professional writing and editing. Ara withdrew the qualification in 2015 in order to refresh the curriculum and delivery model.

So what does the new qualification involve?

The GCID comprises four foundational courses. Note that the same four courses make up the first year of the Graduate Diploma, which means that you can enrol in the Diploma and take the Certificate as an early-exit option, or you can complete the Certificate and decide to continue studying for the Diploma.

These foundation courses cover professional writing and editing, an introduction to user experience, professional issues in information design and an introduction to visual design. In the “old days” the courses were delivered in two-week chunks, but in the new delivery model, the courses will be divided into larger modules. This means that you have more flexibility as a student; you can spread out your study over six weeks, or get it out of the way early and go on holiday. You also have flexibility in the order and number of papers you take. You can study part-time or full-time, though Bruce and Shantini do recommend only one paper at a time if you have a job, partner, children, pets, hobbies or a social life of any kind.

Ara advertises the Graduate Certificate courses as “meta-skills that will enable you to be adaptable and to carry out a wide range of tasks in diverse roles.” It’s important to note that Ara’s GCID and GDIDM are still the only graduate-level programmes offered online in the Information Design field in Australasia. Both courses are aimed at individuals who are working in the industry and want to upskill, or those making a career change. This means that while there are pre-requisites for students, credit recognition is available. If you have related skills, knowledge and/or experience in the industry, it may count towards part or even all of the qualification.

Once you’ve completed the four papers which make up the Certificate i.e. Professional Writing, Technical Communication, User Experience, and Visual Design, you can either graduate with the GCID, or continue your studies with two fifteen-credit papers and a thirty-credit internship for the Graduate Diploma in Information Design and Management.

Students of the old qualification will be glad to know that they can still graduate with the old GDID, and have until September 2018 to complete their internship. Under the new qualification, the internship is worth 30 credits instead of 20, but the requirements remain the same. This means that you can still make arrangements with your current employer to count a project you’re working on toward your internship. You will need to discuss this with both your employer and Ara.

Email for more information on the the GCID, GDIDM, internship or enrollment requirements.

Master of Writing

Former students of the University of Canterbury will know that the only Master level qualification they offered in the past was a Master of Fine Arts (Creative Writing). This course was withdrawn in 2013 and its courses slowly phased out along with the other specialised subjects that fell under the Master of Fine Arts banner. However, Philip Armstrong announced on Wednesday that the degree has been replaced with a whole suite of applied Master’s degrees, aimed at prepping university leavers for a career in their chosen field. The Master of Writing is for students with an interest in professional, academic, creative and technical writing, and will allow students to specialise and deepen their expertise.

UC says “Students will apply skills of advanced textual analysis and written communication to a wide range of contexts, audiences, and styles, and also connect their studies to the community and the workplace. By bringing together a diverse range of writing modes, graduates of the new Master of Writing degree will be set up for diverse careers, from business to government.”

So what does the new MWRIT involve? The Master of Writing is a coursework-based degree, meaning that to graduate you will need to complete 180 points of coursework (unlike a research-based degree, which requires a thesis). The Master’s degree consists of three thirty-point courses and an extended writing project worth 60 points. If you’re unfamiliar with the point system, points are the same as credits (such as Ara uses) and indicate the amount of work involved in a course. Most tertiary education providers expect that a 15-point course (most undergrad courses are 15 points each) will take about 10 hours per week to complete in one semester.

Since courses at Master’s level are worth 30 points, Philip recommends that full-time students take just one course a semester and allow 18 months to complete the degree. To complete the Master’s degree part-time, he recommends spreading the coursework out over 36 months.

You must complete Advanced Reading and Writing, plus Professional Writing and/or Creative Writing to be eligible for graduation, and you may choose from a selection of English, digital research, or professional/community engagement papers to make up the remainder of the points needed.  It’s up to you how you approach your Extended Writing Project; you can either complete it in one semester at the end of your degree, or you can slowly chip away at it over the year.

Unlike Ara’s qualification, the Master of Writing is not offered online, and you will have to attend daytime lectures at Canterbury’s Ilam Campus. It’s also important to note that if you have an Honours degree, you will have to “trade in” your Honours for your Master’s degree (you’ll still have your Bachelor’s qualification) but in doing so you may be able to count your honours courses toward your Masters. For more information on how this works, contact Philip.

Which degree is right for me?

Level 7 7 9
Duration of Study




2 years

1 year


3.5 years

2 years



1.5 – 3 years

1 – 1.5 years


Option to choose papers No No Yes
TC-specific papers Yes Yes No
Choice of internship/writing project? N/A Maybe Yes
Online/Extramural study Yes


Yes No
Access to campus services/facilities No No Yes

What next?

Both Ara’s Graduate Certificate in Information Design and the University of Canterbury’s Master of Writing are taking enrolments for February 2018. There is a second intake in July 2018. Ara’s Graduate Diploma in Information Design and Management will be open for enrolment in 2019, so students who wish to take this will need to enrol in the GCID first, and will be given the option of continuing to the GDIDM in February 2019.

You can find more information at the links below:

I want more information on the GCID

I want more information on the MWRIT


Are you interested in another qualification? Have you recently completed a different qualification and you’d like to offer a review? Contact the Student Outreach Coordinator, Katie Haggath.

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