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Nature of the Work
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Sources of Additional Information
(D.O.T. 052.067-010; 131 except .262-010 and -018; 132; and 203.362-026)
* Most jobs require a college degree in the liberal artscommunications, journalism, and English are preferredor a technical subject for technical writing positions.
* Less competition is expected for lower paying jobs at small daily and weekly newspapers, trade publication, and radio and television broadcasting stations in small communities.
* Persons who fail to gain better paying jobs or earn enough as independent writers, are usually able to readily transfer to communications-related jobs in other occupations.
Writers and editors communicate through the written word. Writers develop original fiction and nonfiction for books, magazines and trade journals, newspapers, technical reports, company newsletters, radio and television broadcasts, movies, and advertisements. Editors select and prepare material for publication or broadcasting and supervise writers.
Writers first select a topic or are assigned one by an editor. They then gather information through personal observation, library research, and interviews. Writers select and organize the material and put it into words, effectively conveying it to the reader, and often revise or rewrite sections, searching for the best organization of the material or the right phrasing.
Newswriters prepare news items for newspapers or news broadcasts, based on information supplied by reporters or wire services. Columnists analyze news and write commentaries, based on personal knowledge and experience. Editorial writers write comments to stimulate or mold public opinion, in accordance with their publication's viewpoint. Columnists and editorial writers are able to take sides on issues, be subjective, and express their opinions while other newswriters must be objective and neutral in their coverage. Reporters and correspondents, who may also write articles or copy for broadcast, are described elsewhere in this section of the Handbook.
Technical writers make scientific and technical information easily understandable to a nontechnical audience. They prepare 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.
Copy writers write advertising copy for use by publication or broadcast media, to promote the sale of goods and services.
Established writers may work on a freelance basis; they sell their work to publishers or publication units, manufacturing firms, and public relations and advertising departments or agencies. They sometimes contract to complete specific assignments such as writing about a new product or technique.
Editors frequently write and almost always review, rewrite, and edit the work of writers. However, their primary duties are to plan the contents of books, magazines, or newspapers and to supervise their preparation. They decide what will appeal to readers, assign topics to reporters and writers, and oversee the production of the publications. In small organizations, a single editor may do everything. In larger ones, an executive editor oversees associate or assistant editors who have responsibility for particular subjects, such as fiction, local news, international news, or sports, or who edit one or a few publications. Editors hire writers, reporters, or other employees; plan budgets; and negotiate contracts with freelance writers. In broadcasting companies, program directors have similar responsibilities.
Editors and program directors often have assistants, with the title of assistant editor, editorial assistant, copy editor, or production assistant. Many assistants hold entry-level jobs. They review copy for errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. They check manuscripts for readability, style, and agreement with editorial policy. They add and rearrange sentences to improve clarity or delete incorrect and unnecessary material. Editorial assistants do research for writers and verify facts, dates, and statistics. Assistants may also arrange page layouts of articles, photographs, and advertising. They may compose headlines, prepare copy for printing, and proofread printer's galleys. Some editorial assistants read and evaluate manuscripts submitted by freelance writers or answer letters about published or broadcast material. Production assistants on small papers or in radio stations clip stories that come over the wire services' printers, answer phones, and make photocopies. Most writers and editors use personal computers or word processors; many use desktop or electronic publishing systems.
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 travel and visits to diverse workplaces, such as factories, offices, laboratories, the ballpark, or the theater, but many have to be content with telephone interviews and the library.
The workweek usually runs 35 to 40 hours. Those who prepare morning or weekend publications and broadcasts, work nights and/or weekends. Writers may work overtime to meet deadlines or to cover late-developing stories. They often face pressure to meet deadlines. On some jobs, deadlines are part of the daily routine.
Writers and editors held about 286,000 jobs in 1996. Nearly a third of salaried writers and editors work for newspapers, magazines, and book publishers. Substantial numbers also work in advertising agencies, in radio and television broadcasting, in public relations firms, and on journals and newsletters published by business and nonprofit organizations, such as professional associations, labor unions, and religious organizations. Others develop publications for government agencies or write for motion picture companies.
Many technical writers work for computer software firms or manufacturers of aircraft, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and computers and other electronic equipment.
Jobs with major book publishers, magazines, broadcasting companies, advertising agencies and public relations firms, and the Federal Government are concentrated in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Jobs with newspapers; and professional, religious, business, technical, and trade union magazines or journals are more widely dispersed throughout the country. Technical writers are employed throughout the country, but the largest concentrations are in the Northeast, Texas, and California.
Thousands of other individuals work as freelancers, earning some income from their articles, books, and less commonly, television and movie scripts. Most support themselves primarily with income derived from other sources.
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.
Technical writing requires a degree in, or some knowledge about a specialized fieldengineering, 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, editorial 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 are also valuable. 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 is increasingly needed. Online newspapers and magazines require knowledge of computer software used to combine online text with graphics, audio, video, and 3-D animation. Editors must have good judgment in deciding what material to accept and what to reject. They need tact and the ability to guide and encourage others in their work.
High school and college newspapers, literary magazines, and 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 may not only work as editorial or production assistants, but also write or edit material right away. They often advance by moving to other firms. In larger firms, jobs usually are more formally structured. Beginners generally do research, fact checking, or copy editing. They take on full-scale writing or editing duties less rapidly than do the employees of small companies. Advancement comes as they are assigned more important articles.
Through the year 2006, the outlook for most writing and editing jobs is expected to continue to be competitive, because so many people are attracted to the field. However, opportunities will be good for technical writers because of the more limited number of writers who can handle technical material. Online publications and services, which are relatively new, will continue to grow and require an increased number of writers and editors. Opportunities should be better on small daily and weekly newspapers, and in small radio and television stations, where the pay is low. Some small publications are hiring freelance copy editors as back-up for their staff editors, or for additional help with special projects. Persons preparing to be writers and editors should also have academic preparation in another field as well, either to qualify them as writers specializing in that field, or to enter that field if they are unable to get a job in writing.
Employment of writers and editors is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2006. Employment of salaried writers and editors by newspapers, periodicals, book publishers, and nonprofit organizations is expected to increase with growing demand for their publications. Growth of advertising and public relations agencies should also be a source of new jobs. Demand for technical writers is expected to increase because of the continuing expansion of scientific and technical information, and the continued need to communicate it. Many job openings will also occur as experienced workers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Turnover is relatively high in this occupationmany freelancers leave because they can not earn enough money.
In 1996, beginning salaries for writers and editorial assistants averaged $21,000 annually, according to the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund. According to the Newspaper Guild those who had at least 5 years experience averaged more than $30,000 and senior editors at the largest newspapers earned over $67,000 a year.
According to the 1996 Technical Communicator's Salary Survey, the median annual salary for technical writers was $44,000 annually.
The average annual salary for technical writers and editors in the Federal Government in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions was about $47,440 in 1996; other writers and editors averaged about $46,590.
Writers and editors communicate ideas and information. Other communications occupations include newspaper reporters and correspondents, radio and television announcers, advertising and public relations workers, and teachers.
For a guide to journalism careers and scholarships, contact:
The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, P.O. Box 300, Princeton, NJ 08540.
For information on college internships in magazine editing, contact:
American Society of Magazine Editors, 919 3rd. Ave., New York, NY 10022.
For information on careers in technical writing, contact:
Society for Technical Communication, Inc., 901 N. Stuart St., Suite 904, Arlington, VA 22203.
For information on union wage rates for newspaper and magazine editors, contact:
The Newspaper Guild, Research and Information Department, 8611 Second Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20910.
For career information and a pamphlet entitled Newspaper Careers and Challenges for the Next Century contact:
National Newspaper Association, 1525 Wilson Blvd., Suite 550, Arlington, VA 22209.
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