All Things Political

Writer / Editor Training

A college degree generally is required for a position as a writer or editor. Good facility with computers and communications equipment is necessary in order to stay in touch with sources, editors, and other writers while working on assignments, whether from home, an office, or while traveling.

Education and training. Some employers look for a broad liberal arts background, while others prefer to hire people with degrees in communications, journalism, or English. For those who specialize in a particular area, such as fashion, business, or law, additional background in the chosen field is expected. Increasingly, technical writing requires a degree in, or some knowledge about, a specialized field—for example, engineering, business, or one of the sciences. Knowledge of a second language is helpful for some positions. A background in web design, computer graphics, or other technology field is increasingly practical, because of the growing use of graphics and representational design in developing technical documentation. In many cases, people with good writing skills may transfer from jobs as technicians, scientists, or engineers into jobs as writers or editors. Others begin as research assistants or as trainees in a technical information department, develop technical communication skills, and then assume writing duties.

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Other qualifications. Writers and editors must be able to express ideas clearly and logically and should enjoy writing. Creativity, curiosity, a broad range of knowledge, self-motivation, and perseverance also are valuable. Writers and editors must demonstrate good judgment and a strong sense of ethics in deciding what material to publish. In addition, the ability to concentrate amid confusion and to work under pressure often is essential. Editors also need tact and the ability to guide and encourage others in their work.

Familiarity with electronic publishing, graphics, and video production increasingly is needed. Use of electronic and wireless communications equipment to send e-mail, transmit work, and review copy often is necessary. Online newspapers and magazines require knowledge of computer software used to combine online text with graphics, audio, video, and animation.

High school and college newspapers, literary magazines, community newspapers, and radio and television stations all provide valuable—but sometimes unpaid—practical writing experience. Many magazines, newspapers, and broadcast stations have internships for students. Interns write short pieces, conduct research and interviews, and learn about the publishing or broadcasting business.

Advancement. In small firms, beginning writers and editors hired as assistants may actually begin writing or editing material right away. Opportunities for advancement and also full-time work can be limited, however. Many small or not-for-profit organizations either do not have enough regular work or cannot afford to employ writers on a full-time basis. However, they routinely contract out work to freelance writers.

In larger businesses, jobs usually are more formally structured. Beginners generally do research, fact check articles, or copy edit drafts. Advancement to full-scale writing or editing assignments may occur more slowly for newer writers and editors in larger organizations than for employees of smaller companies. Advancement often is more predictable, though, coming with the assignment of more important articles.

Advancement for writers, especially freelancers, often means working on larger, more complex projects for better known publications or for more money. Building a reputation and establishing a track record for meeting deadlines also makes it easier to get future assignments. Experience, credibility, and reliability often lead to long-term freelance relationships with the same publications and to contacts with editors who will seek you out for particular assignments.

The growing popularity of blogging could allow some writers to get their work read. For example, a few well-written blogs may garner some recognition for the author and may lead to a few paid pieces in other print or electronic publications. Some established staff writers contribute to blogs on the on-line versions of publications in conjunction with their routine work. However, most bloggers do not earn a considerable amount of money writing their blogs.

Source:  Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition

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