Most jobs in this occupation require a college degree in communications,
journalism, or English, although a degree in a technical subject
may be useful for technical-writing positions.
The outlook for most writing and editing jobs is expected
to be competitive because many people are attracted to the occupation.
Online publications and services are growing in number and
sophistication, spurring the demand for writers and editors,
especially those with Web experience.
Nature of the Work
Communicating 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,
trade journals, online publications, company newsletters, radio
and television broadcasts, motion pictures, and advertisements.
Editors examine proposals and select material for publication
or broadcast. They review and revise a writer’s work for publication
or dissemination. Technical writers develop technical materials,
such as equipment manuals, appendixes, or operating and maintenance
instructions. They also may assist in layout work.
Most writers and editors have at least a basic familiarity with
technology, regularly using personal computers, desktop or electronic
publishing systems, scanners, and other electronic communications
equipment. Many writers prepare material directly for the Internet.
For example, they may write for electronic newspapers or magazines,
create short fiction or poetry, or produce technical documentation
that is available only online. Also, they may write text for Web
sites. These writers should be knowledgeable about graphic design,
page layout, and multimedia software. In addition, they should
be familiar with interactive technologies of the Web so that they
can blend text, graphics, and sound together.
Writers—especially of nonfiction—are expected to establish their
credibility with editors and readers through strong research and
the use of appropriate sources and citations. Sustaining high
ethical standards and meeting publication deadlines are essential.
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 by a sponsor; others may be written
for hire (on the basis of the completion of a draft or an outline).
Nonfiction writers either propose a topic or are assigned one,
often by an editor or publisher. They gather information about
the topic through personal observation, library and Internet research,
and interviews. Writers then 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. 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 memberships,
corporate employees, organizational clients, or the public.
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 an article. Others may be hired to complete
specific assignments, such as writing about a new product or technique.
Bloggers write for the Internet. Most bloggers write personal
reflections on a subject of close personal or professional interest.
Some blogs take the form of a personal diary; others read like
reports from the field—first-hand, subjective accounts of an event
or an activity. Most blogs are written for recreational reasons
with little expectation of earning a fee; however, some blogs
promote a business or support a cause and may generate interest
or income through other activities.
Editors review, rewrite, and edit the work of writers.
They may also do original writing. An editor’s responsibilities
vary with the employer and type and level of editorial position
held. Editorial duties may include planning the content of books,
technical journals, trade magazines, and other general-interest
publications. Editors also 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. In addition,
they may oversee the production of the publications. In the book-publishing
industry, an editor’s primary responsibility is to review proposals
for books and decide whether to buy the publication rights from
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, such as small daily or weekly newspapers
or the membership or publications departments of nonprofit or
similar organizations, a single editor may do everything or share
responsibility with only a few other people. Executive and managing
editors typically hire writers, reporters, and 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
Editors and program directors often have assistants, many of
whom hold entry-level jobs. These assistants, such as copy editors
and production assistants, review copy for errors in grammar,
punctuation, and spelling and check the copy for readability,
style, and agreement with editorial policy. They suggest revisions,
such as changing words and rearranging sentences, to improve clarity
or accuracy. They also carry out 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, and answer
letters about published material. Production assistants on small
newspapers or in radio stations compile articles available from
wire services or the Internet, answer phones, and make photocopies.
Technical writers put technical information into easily
understandable language. They prepare operating and maintenance
manuals, catalogs, parts lists, assembly instructions, sales promotion
materials, and project proposals. Many technical writers work
with engineers on technical subject matters to prepare written
interpretations of engineering and design specifications and other
information for a general readership. Technical writers also may
serve as part of a team conducting usability studies to help improve
the design of a product that still is in the prototype stage.
They plan and edit technical materials and oversee the 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 convey research findings for scientific or medical
professions and organize information for advertising or public
relations needs. Many writers work with researchers on technical
subjects to prepare written interpretations of data and other
information for a general readership.
Some 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 that writers travel to diverse workplaces,
such as factories, offices, or laboratories, but many find their
material through telephone interviews, the library, and the Internet.
Advances in electronic communications have changed the work environment
for many writers. Laptop computers and wireless communications
technologies allow growing numbers of writers to work from home
and even on the road. The ability to e-mail, transmit, and download
stories, research, or editorial review materials using the Internet
allows writers and editors greater flexibility in where and how
they complete assignments.
Some writers keep regular office hours, either to maintain contact
with sources and editors or to establish a writing routine, but
most writers set their own hours. Many writers, especially freelance
writers, are paid per assignment; therefore, they work any number
of hours necessary to meet a deadline. As a result, writers must
be willing to work evenings, nights, or weekends to produce a
piece acceptable to an editor or client by the publication deadline.
Those who prepare morning or weekend publications and broadcasts
also may regularly work nights and weekends.
While many freelance writers enjoy running their own businesses
and the advantages of working flexible hours, most routinely face
the pressures of juggling multiple projects with competing demands
and the continual need to find new work in order to earn a living.
Deadline pressures and long, erratic work hours—often part of
the daily routine in these jobs—may cause stress, fatigue, or
burnout; use of computers for extended periods may cause some
individuals to experience back pain, eyestrain, or fatigue.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
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 law, additional background
in the chosen field is expected. Knowledge of a second language
is helpful for some positions.
Increasingly, technical writing requires a degree in, or some
knowledge about, a specialized field—for example, engineering,
business, or one of the sciences. In many cases, people with good
writing skills can acquire specialized knowledge on the job. Some
transfer from jobs as technicians, scientists, or engineers. Others
begin as research assistants or as trainees in a technical information
department, develop technical communication skills, and then assume
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. 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,
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. Many writers look for
work on a short-term, project-by-project basis. 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 checking, or copy editing.
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
Advancement for freelancers often means working on larger, more
complex projects for more money. Building a reputation and establishing
a track record for meeting deadlines also makes it easier to get
future assignments, as does instituting long-term freelance relationships
with the same publications.
The growing popularity of blogs could allow some writers to get
their work read; 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. However, most bloggers do not earn
much money writing their blogs.
Writers and editors held about 320,000 jobs in 2004. 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.
Employment of writers and editors is expected to grow about as
fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2014.
The outlook for most writing and editing jobs is expected to be
competitive because many people with writing or journalism training
are attracted to the occupation.
Employment of salaried writers and editors for newspapers, periodicals,
book publishers, and nonprofit organizations is expected to increase
as demand grows for these publications. Magazines and other periodicals
increasingly are developing market niches, appealing to readers
with special interests. Businesses and organizations are developing
newsletters and websites, and more companies are experimenting
with publishing materials directly on the Internet. Online publications
and services are growing in number and sophistication, spurring
the demand for writers and editors, especially those with Web
experience. Advertising and public relations agencies, which also
are growing, should be another source of new jobs.
Opportunities should be best for technical writers and those
with training in a specialized field. Demand for technical writers
and writers with expertise in areas such as law, medicine, or
economics is expected to increase because of the continuing expansion
of scientific and technical information and the need to communicate
it to others. Legal, scientific, and technological developments
and discoveries generate demand for people to interpret technical
information for a more general audience. 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. This work requires people who not only
are technically skilled as writers, but also are familiar with
the subject area.
In addition to job openings created by employment growth, some
openings will arise 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.
Median annual earnings for salaried writers and authors were
$44,350 in May 2004. 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
2004. 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
Median annual earnings for salaried technical writers were $53,490
in May 2004. 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
2004. The median annual salary for midlevel nonsupervisory technical
writers was $51,500, and for senior nonsupervisory technical writers,