What Does it Mean to Study Writing?
An Arts & Humanities degree in writing allows you to focus on the specific courses you need to begin a writing career. Contrary to what you might expect, a writing degree it is not the same as an English degree, nor even as a journalism degree. There is some overlap in the courses and skills these programs may expect of you, but a writing degree program is meant to focus on creativity, curiosity, a broad range of knowledge, self-motivation and perseverance. Good writing goes far beyond grammar and spelling; the understanding, judgment, empathy and ethics of writing can be utilized in fields from business to politics, science to psychology.
- Creative writers can write fiction or fanciful non-fiction. They might write historical biographies or children's stories; novels or novellas; poetry, lyrics, plays or anything else that requires a streak of imagination.
- Copywriters devise advertising copy, which can be used by publication or broadcast media to promote the sale of goods and services.
- Business writers create 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 the creation of illustrations, photographs, diagrams and charts.
- Freelance writers earn from their articles, books, and less commonly, television and movie scripts. Most support themselves with income derived from other sources.
Types of Business, Creative, & Technical Writing Degrees
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. Alternately, they can be a combination of both! Aspiring writers and editors can benefit from choosing a minor appropriate to their interests as well, either to qualify them as writers specializing in that discipline or to lend fresh perspective to their writing. On the other side of the coin, if you're already a working professional, earning a bachelor's degree in writing can be an excellent way to polish your skills and broaden your understanding of the art.
About 95 percent of working technical writers hold at least a bachelor's degree in some specialized field: engineering & construction, business, or one of the sciences. In fact, a master's degree is often preferred, since these subject matters can be so complex and the technological demands can be so high.
As a creative writer, formal education can improve the quality of your work and give you new techniques to spice up your ideas or your style. Creative writing students may choose to specialize 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.
If aiming to be a business writer, a bachelor's degree program in writing could be well-supplemented with added courses in business. Pursuing a business minor, or even a double-major in writing and business together, could be a clever way to learn the nuances of the business world and figure out ways to apply them to your 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.
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Writing?
Employment of writers and authors is expected to grow at an average rate until 2012. Opportunities from newspapers, periodicals, book publishers and nonprofit organizations are expected to increase. Magazines and online publications and services have developed a variety of market niches to appeal to special interest groups; if you have expertise in a particular field, consider looking for publications in that area.
Many different businesses and organizations use newsletters and Internet websites, and the advertising and public relations fields use the skills of writing professionals to create them. In particular, technical specialty writers in areas such as law, medicine and economics are needed to describe as technologies expand in these areas.
Almost 25 percent 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.
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 based on educational credentials and experience. 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 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 stressful not to have a steady paycheck -- but once you've built up a healthy client base, you may find great pleasure in the amount of control you have over your time and schedule.
Editors conceptualize material for publication or broadcast, then review the finished work to check if it is suitable for publication or dissemination. In the publishing industry, an editor's primary duty is to plan the contents of books, technical journals, trade magazines and general interest publications. Some small publications hire freelance copyeditors as backup for staff editors or as additional help for special projects.
Publication assistants work for publishing houses, reading and evaluating manuscripts submitted by freelance writers. They may also proofread printers' galleys, or answer fan-mailed letters about published material. Production assistants can also be found at small papers or radio stations, where they may 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. Opportunities for writers may be found 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.
Writing 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 offer valuable job listings, guest speakers to inspire and educate you, and news about what's going on in your profession. Technical writers, editors, business writers and freelancers alike may find these organizations useful:
- Society for Technical Communication
- The Writers Guild (for movies, television and radio professionals)
- American Society of Magazine Editors