Writers and Editors Career Information
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Significant Points· Most jobs require a college degree either in the liberal arts—communications,
journalism, and English are preferred—or a technical subject for technical writing
· Competition is expected to be less for lower paying, entry-level jobs at small daily and weekly newspapers, trade publications, and radio and television broadcasting stations in small markets.
· Persons who fail to gain better paying jobs or earn enough as independent writers usually are able to transfer readily to communications-related jobs in other occupations.
Nature of the WorkWriters and editors communicate through the
written word. Writers and editors generally fall into one of three categories.
Writers and authors develop original fiction and nonfiction for books,
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, appendices, or operating and maintenance
instructions. They also may assist in layout work. Editors select and
prepare material for publication or broadcast and review and prepare a writer's
work for publication or dissemination.
Nonfiction writers either select a topic or are assigned one, often by an editor or publisher. Then, they gather information through personal observation, library and Internet research, and interviews. Writers select the material they want to use, organize it, and use the written word to express ideas and convey information. Writers also revise or rewrite sections, searching for the best organization or the right phrasing. .
Creative writers, poets, and lyricists, including novelists, playwrights, and screenwriters, create original works--such as prose, poems, plays, and song lyrics--for publication or performance. Some works may be commissioned (at the request of a sponsor); others may be written for hire (based on completion of a draft or an outline). Copy writers prepare advertising copy for use by publication or broadcast media, or to promote the sale of goods and services. Newsletter writers produce information for distribution to association members, corporate employees, organizational clients, or the public. Writers and authors also construct crossword puzzles and prepare speeches.
Technical writers put scientific and technical information into easily understandable language. They prepare scientific and technical reports, operating and maintenance manuals, catalogs, parts lists, assembly instructions, sales promotion materials, and project proposals. They also plan and edit technical reports and oversee preparation of illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and charts. Science and medical writers prepare a range of formal documents presenting detailed information on the physical or medical sciences. They impart research findings for scientific or medical professions, organize information for advertising or public relations needs, and interpret data and other information for a general readership.
Many writers prepare material directly for the Internet. For example, they may write for electronic newspapers or magazines, create short fiction, or produce technical documentation only available online. Also, they may write the text of Web sites. These writers should be knowledgeable about graphic design, page layout and desktop publishing software. Additionally, they should be familiar with interactive technologies of the Web so they can blend text, graphics, and sound together.
Freelance writers sell their work to publishers, publication enterprises, manufacturing firms, public relations departments, or advertising agencies. Sometimes, they contract with publishers to write a book or article. Others may be hired on a job-basis to complete specific assignments such as writing about a new product or technique.
Editors review, rewrite, and edit the work of writers. They may also do original writing. An editor's responsibilities vary depending on the employer and type and level of editorial position held. In the publishing industry, an editor's primary duties are to plan the contents of books, technical journals, trade magazines, and other general interest publications. Editors decide what material will appeal to readers, review and edit drafts of books and articles, offer comments to improve the work, and suggest possible titles. Additionally, they oversee the production of the publications.
Major newspapers and newsmagazines usually employ several types of editors. The executive editor oversees assistant editors who have responsibility for particular subjects, such as local news, international news, feature stories, or sports. Executive editors generally have the final say about what stories are published and how they are covered. The managing editor usually is responsible for the daily operation of the news department. Assignment editors determine which reporters will cover a given story. Copy editors mostly review and edit a reporter's copy for accuracy, content, grammar, and style.
In smaller organizations, like small daily or weekly newspapers or membership newsletter departments, a single editor may do everything or share responsibility with only a few other people. Executive and managing editors typically hire writers, reporters, or other employees. They also plan budgets and negotiate contracts with freelance writers, sometimes called "stringers" in the news industry. In broadcasting companies, program directors have similar responsibilities.
Editors and program directors often have assistants. Many assistants, such as copy editors or production assistants, hold entry-level jobs. They review copy for errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling, and check copy for readability, style, and agreement with editorial policy. They suggest revisions, such as changing words or rearranging sentences to improve clarity or accuracy. They also do research for writers and verify facts, dates, and statistics. Production assistants arrange page layouts of articles, photographs, and advertising; compose headlines; and prepare copy for printing. 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 on small papers or in radio stations compile articles available from wire services or the Internet, answer phones, and make photocopies.
Most writers and editors use personal computers or word processors. Many use desktop or electronic publishing systems, scanners, and other electronic communications equipment.
Working ConditionsSome writers and editors work in comfortable,
private offices; others work in noisy rooms filled with the sound of keyboards
and computer printers as well as the voices of other writers tracking down information
over the telephone. The search for information sometimes requires travel
to diverse workplaces, such as factories, offices, or laboratories, but many
have to be content with telephone interviews, the library, and the Internet.
For some writers, the typical workweek runs 35 to 40 hours. However, writers occasionally may work overtime to meet production deadlines. Those who prepare morning or weekend publications and broadcasts work some nights and weekends. Freelance writers generally work more flexible hours, but their schedules must conform to the needs of the client. Deadlines and erratic work hours, often part of the daily routine for these jobs, may cause stress, fatigue, or burnout.
Changes in technology and electronic communications also affect a writer's work environment. For example, laptops allow writers to work from home or while on the road. Writers and editors who use computers for extended periods may experience back pain, eyestrain, or fatigue.
Writers and editors held about 320,000 jobs in 2009. More than one-third were self-employed. Writers and authors held about 142,000 jobs; editors, about 127,000 jobs; and technical writers, about 50,000 jobs. About one-half of the salaried jobs for writers and editors were in the information sector, which includes newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers; radio and television broadcasting; software publishers; motion picture and sound-recording industries; Internet service providers, Web search portals, and data-processing services; and Internet publishing and broadcasting. Substantial numbers also worked in advertising and related services, computer systems design and related services, and public and private educational services. Other salaried writers and editors worked in computer and electronic product manufacturing; government agencies; religious organizations; and business, professional, labor, political, and similar organizations.
Jobs with major book publishers, magazines, broadcasting companies, advertising agencies, and public relations firms are concentrated in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco; however, many writers work elsewhere and travel regularly to meet with personnel at the headquarters. Jobs with newspapers, business and professional journals, and technical and trade magazines are more widely dispersed throughout the country.
Thousands of other individuals work as freelance writers, earning some income from their articles, books, and, less commonly, television and movie scripts. Most support themselves with income derived from other sources.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.A college degree generally is 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 communications,
journalism, or English. For those who specialize in a particular area, such
as fashion, business, or legal issues, additional background in the chosen field
is expected. Knowledge of a second language is helpful for some positions.
Technical writing requires a degree in, or some knowledge about, a specialized field—engineering, business, or one of the sciences, for example. In many cases, people with good writing skills can learn specialized knowledge on the job. Some transfer from jobs as technicians, scientists, or engineers. Others begin as research assistants, or trainees in a technical information department, develop technical communication skills, and then assume writing duties.
Writers and editors must be able to express ideas clearly and logically and should love to write. 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. Editors also need tact and the ability to guide and encourage others in their work.
For some jobs, the ability to concentrate amid confusion and to work under pressure is essential. Familiarity with electronic publishing, graphics, and video production equipment increasingly is needed. Online newspapers and magazines require knowledge of computer software used to combine online text with graphics, audio, video, and 3-D 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.
In small firms, beginning writers and editors hired as assistants may actually begin writing or editing material right away. Opportunities for advancement can be limited, however. In larger businesses, jobs usually are more formally structured. Beginners generally do research, factchecking, or copy editing. They take on full-scale writing or editing duties less rapidly than do the employees of small companies. Advancement often is more predictable, though, coming with the assignment of more important articles.
Job OutlookEmployment of writers and editors is expected to
In addition to job openings created by employment growth, many openings will occur as experienced workers retire, transfer to other occupations, or leave the labor force. Replacement needs are relatively high in this occupation; many freelancers leave because they cannot earn enough money.
Despite projections of fast employment growth and numerous replacement needs, the outlook for most writing and editing jobs is expected to be competitive. Many people with writing or journalism training are attracted to the occupation. Opportunities should be best for technical writers and those with training in a specialized field. Rapid growth and change in the high technology and electronics industries result in a greater need for people to write users' guides, instruction manuals, and training materials. Developments and discoveries in the law, science, and technology generate demand for people to interpret technical information for a more general audience. This work requires people who are not only technically skilled as writers, but also familiar with the subject area. Also, individuals with the technical skills for working on the Internet may have an advantage finding a job as a writer or editor.
Opportunities for editing positions on small daily and weekly newspapers and in small radio and television stations, where the pay is low, should be better than those in larger media markets. Some small publications hire freelance copy editors as backup for staff editors or as additional help with special projects. Aspiring writers and editors benefit from academic preparation in another discipline as well, either to qualify them as writers specializing in that discipline or as a career alternative if they are unable to get a job in writing.
Median annual earnings for salaried writers and authors were $44,350 in May 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $31,720 and $62,930. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,330, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $91,260. Median annual earnings were $54,410 in advertising and related services and $37,010 in newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers.
Median annual earnings for salaried editors were $43,890 in May 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $33,130 and $58,850. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,780, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,020. Median annual earnings of those working for newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers were $43,620.
Median annual earnings for salaried technical writers were $53,490 in May 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $41,440 and $68,980. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,490, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $86,780. Median annual earnings in computer systems design and related services were $54,710.
According to the Society for Technical Communication, the median annual salary for entry level technical writers was $42,500 in 2009. The median annual salary for midlevel nonsupervisory technical writers was $51,500, and for senior nonsupervisory technical writers, $66,000.
Related OccupationsWriters and editors communicate ideas and information.
For information on careers in technical writing, contact:
Sources of Additional Information
For information on careers in technical writing, contact: