Guide to College Majors in Writing

The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any.
--Russell Baker

What Is Writing Studies?

A relatively new specialty, often found within the English department, is a writing or creative writing degree. A writing degree allows you to focus on the specific courses you need to begin a writing career. By its very specialized nature, it doesn't provide the same career options or foundations for further education that an English degree does. Nor does it provide the narrow focus of a journalism degree. However, there is a constant shortage of good writers in every field, from business to government, and skills in this area will serve you well no matter what you choose to do. Online college courses in writing can help you hone your communicative skills regardless of your profession.

An education in writing gives you the practice and skills in the craft so that when it comes down to producing the final piece, the words seems to flow "effortlessly" - at least to the reader. Creativity, curiosity, a broad range of knowledge, self-motivation, and perseverance are valuable. You should also apply good judgment and a strong sense of ethics in deciding what material to write or publish.

You may decide to specialize in nonfiction writing or in creative writing. Creative writers can write fiction or fanciful non-fiction; historical biographies or children's stories; poetry, lyrics, plays. Even advertising and copywriting careers can begin from your training in creative writing. Copywriters prepare advertising copy for use by publication or broadcast media promote the sale of goods and services.

Business writers provide clear, concise, and informative pieces for internal and external audiences. They may develop material for magazines and trade journals, newspapers, online publications, company newsletters, radio and television broadcasts, motion pictures, and advertisements.

Technical writers develop scientific or technical materials, such as scientific and medical reports, equipment manuals, catalogs, appendices, operating and maintenance instructions, or project proposals. They may assist in layout work and oversee preparation of illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and charts. These are often the highest-paid and most plentiful writing jobs, but many require additional scientific or technical knowledge.

Freelance writers earn from their articles, books, and less commonly, television and movie scripts. Most support themselves with income derived from other sources.

Some writers prepare material directly for the Internet - they may write text for web sites, electronic newspapers or magazines, create short fiction, or produce technical documentation only available online. Familiarity with Web technology and electronic publishing, graphics, and video production equipment is needed to combine text with graphics, audio, video, and 3-D animation.

Degree Programs in Business, Creative & Technical Writing

A college degree is generally required for a position as a writer or editor. Although some employers look for a broad liberal arts background, most prefer to hire people with degrees in writing, communications, or English. For those who specialize in a particular area, such as fashion, business, or law, additional background in the chosen field is expected. Knowledge of a second language is helpful for some positions.

What to Expect from a Writing Degree Program

Writing programs can focus on technical aspects such as syntax, subject/ tense agreement, vocabulary, and spelling. Other programs may focus on style, imagery, metaphor, and setting a tone. Or they can be a combination of both. Aspiring writers and editors benefit from choosing an appropriate minor to fill in any gaps in knowledge, either to qualify them as writers specializing in that discipline or to provide other career alternatives. Technical writing requires a degree in, or some knowledge about, a specialized field - engineering & constuction, business, or one of the sciences.

About 95% of working technical writers hold at least a bachelor's degree. A master's degree is often preferred since the subject matter can be so complex. The technological demands can also be a lot higher, so you're likely to need more coursework in software programs that provide a more advanced visual or auditory experience for the user.

As a creative writer, formal training can improve the quality of your work and open up career possibilities. Courses at the master's level will hone your original writing and critical reading skills. Students may choose to work in the areas of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, children's books, memoirs and biography/profiles, literary journalism, travel/ nature/ science, play and screen writing, or cross genre.

To succeed as a business writer, consider a bachelor's degree with extra business training. If you're already a working professional, using your experience or previous education to obtain a bachelor's degree in writing is an excellent was to advance your career or just polish your communication skills. A graduate certificate in professional writing will teach you the theory and practice of organizational writing.

Online Degree Programs in Writing

Options for online education vary from a Bachelor of Arts in writing to master's degrees, graduate certificates, and doctorates. Many online writing degree programs have some residency requirements, because of the irreplaceable benefits of meeting with your peers and professors periodically to attend workshops and lectures with established writers, share your work, and be exposed to the works of others.

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What Can I Do With a Major in Writing?

Employment of writers and editors is expected to grow at an average rate until 2012. Opportunities from newspapers, periodicals, book publishers, and nonprofit organizations are expected to increase with demand for these publications. Magazines and online publications and services have developed a variety market niches to appeal to special interest groups; if you have expertise in a particular field, look for publications in that area.

Many different businesses and organizations are using newsletters and Internet websites more, and the advertising and public relations fields are also providing a steady demand for new writing professionals. Demand for technical specialty writers in areas, such as law, medicine, and economics is expected to increase as technologies expand in these areas.

Almost 25% of jobs for writers and editors are salaried positions with newspapers, magazines, and book publishers. Substantial numbers, mostly technical writers, work for computer software firms. Some writers develop publications and technical materials for government agencies or write for motion picture companies.

Technical Writing

Job opportunities should be best for technical writers and those with training in a specialized field. Rapid growth and change in the high-tech and electronics industries has resulted in a greater need for people to write users' guides, instruction manuals, training materials, trade conference presentations, trade magazines and journals, and official documentation.

Technical writers can work in industry, technology, medicine, sciences, and engineering - any area where a bridge is needed between the technical lingo and common language. They also need to write for members of the industry using the appropriate jargon, with the same ease, sophisticated vocabulary, and overall fluency that any communicator would have. The technical writer is a truly bilingual communicator. Writing training helps you maintain a logical flow, which is important for manuals and instruction.

Salaries for technical writers tend to be higher and based on educational credentials and experience. This can be a very lucrative field for freelancers. Median annual earnings in 2002 for salaried technical writers were over $50,000, as compared to almost $43,000 for salaried writers and authors.

Freelance Writing

Freelance writers sell their work to publishers, publication enterprises, manufacturing firms, public relations departments, or advertising agencies. Others may be hired on a temporary basis to complete specific assignments such as writing about a new product or technique. As with any freelancing career, it can be a stressful one, without a steady paycheck--but once you've built up a healthy client base, it's a great way to own your own time.

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Editing

Editors select and prepare material for publication or broadcast, and review and prepare a writer's work for publication or dissemination. In the publishing industry, an editor's primary duties are to plan the contents of books, technical journals, trade magazines, and general interest publications. Additionally, they oversee publication production. Some small publications hire freelance copyeditors as backup for staff editors or as additional help with special projects. Job opportunities are more common for editing positions with small daily and weekly newspapers and in small radio and television stations, where the pay is low, than those in larger media markets.

Publications

Publication assistants, who work for publishing houses, may read and evaluate manuscripts submitted by freelance writers, proofread printers' galleys, or answer letters about published material. Production assistants at small papers or radio stations compile articles available from wire services or the Internet, answer phones, and make photocopies.

Other Writing Careers

Novelists, creative writers, and poets are in limited demand, but for the talented few who do make it, it can be a very rewarding career. If you're interested in the media, you can consider working as a reporter, editor, researcher, publisher or literary agent. Public relations and advertising are also fields which are appreciative of formal writing degrees. Business opportunities exist for writers in finance, professional services such as real estate, law, unions, public administration and government, nonprofit, education, and industry, and wholesale and retail corporations. Writer salaries average over $54,000 in advertising and related services. The average income for editors is $41,000; it's over $33,000 in newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishing.

Certification, Licensure and Professional Associations

The professional group you choose will depend on where you decide to apply your writing skills. Certification is not required, but these organizations can provide valuable job listings, guest speakers to inspire and educate you, and the inside news of what's going on in your profession. Technical writers, editors, business writers, and freelancers may find these organizations useful:

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