Writers and editors communicate through the written word. Writers develop original fiction and nonfiction prose for books, magazines, trade journals, newspapers, technical studies and reports, company newsletters, radio and television broadcasts, and advertisements. Editors supervise writers and select and prepare material for publication or broadcasting.
Writers start by selecting a topic or being assigned one by an editor. They then gather information on the topic through personal observation, library research, and interviews. Sometimes the information gathered may cases writers to change the focus to a related topic that is more interesting. From the information gathered, they select and organize the material to be used, and finally put it to the reader with the desired effect. Writers often revise or rewrite sections, searching for the best organization of the material or just the right phrasing. Newswriters--writers employed by newspapers and radio and television news departments--write news items for inclusion in newspapers or news broadcasts. Starting with information supplied by reporters or wire services, they write news stories or scripts for newscasters.
Technical writers put scientific and technical information into readily understandable language. They prepare manuals, catalogs, parts lists, and instructional materials used by sales representatives to sell machinery or scientific equipment and by technicians to install, maintain, and service it.
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 where they sell their work to publishers or publication units, manufacturing firms, and public relations and advertising departments or agencies. They sometimes are hired to complete specific assignments such as writing about a new product or technique.
Editors frequently do some writing and almost always do much rewriting and editing, but their primary duties are to plan the contents of the publication and to supervise its preparation. They decide what will appeal to readers, assign topics to writers, and oversee the production of the book, magazine, or newspaper. In small organizations, one editor has full responsibility for the publication. In larger ones, an executive editor oversees the activities of associate or assistant editors who have responsibility for particular subjects, such as fiction, international news, or sports. Administrative duties of editors include hiring and firing writers and other employees, planning budgets, negotiating contracts with freelance writers, and general managerial duties. In broadcasting companies, program directors have responsibilities comparable to those of editors.
Editors and program directors are often helped by assistants who may have the title of assistant editor, or production assistant. Many of these 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. Researchers, research assistants, and some editorial assistants perform research for writers and verify facts, dates, and statistics. Assistants also may help prepare material for publication or broadcast by arranging page layouts of articles, photographs, and advertising or by planning the use of films. They may also compose headlines, prepare copy for typesetters, and proofread the printer's galleys. Some editorial assistants read and evaluate manuscripts submitted by freelance writers or answer letters about published or broadcast material. Production assistants clip stories that come over the wire services' printers, answer phones, and make copies of material for newswriters, editors, and program directors.
Working conditions for writers and editors vary with the kind of publication they work on and the kind of articles they produce. Some work in comfortable, private offices; others work in noisy rooms filled with the sound of typewriters and other word processing equipment and 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. Night and weekend work is required to those who prepare morning or weekend publications and broadcasts. Some workers must also put in overtime to meet deadlines or to cover a late-developing story. The more frequently the publication is issued, the more frequent the deadlines and the greater the pressure to meet them. The need to understand complex technical data may also be a source of stress or pressure.
Writers and editors held about 221,000 jobs in 1991. Nearly 40 percent of writers and editors work for newspapers, magazines, and book publishers. Substantial numbers also work on journals and newsletters published by career and nonprofit organizations, such as professional associations, labor unions, and religious organizations. Others write and edit advertising and public relations materials for advertising agencies, public relations firms, and large corporations. Some also work in radio and television broadcasting; others develop publications for Federal, State, and local governments.
Many technical writers work for firms manufacturing aircraft, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and computer and other electronic equipment. Firms in the energy, communications, and computer software fields also employ many technical writers.
Persons who write and edit for major book publishers, magazines, broadcasting companies, advertising agencies and public relations firms, and the Federal Government tend to be concentrated in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. More widely dispersed throughout the country, on the other hand, are those who work for newspapers; corporations; and professional, religious, career, technical, and trade union magazines or journals. Technical writers are employed throughout the country but the largest concentrations are in the Northeast, Texas, and California.
Thousands of other persons work as freelancers--earning some income from their articles, books, and, less commonly, television and movie scripts. Most support themselves primarily with income from other sources.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Formal educational requirements for writing and editing jobs vary. A college degree is required by many employers, but there is little agreement as to the preferred major. Some employers look for a broad liberal arts background or a major in literature, history, philosophy, or one of the social sciences. Others prefer to hire people with degrees in communications or journalism.
Some jobs, such as technical writing, require a degree in, or some knowledge about, a specialized field--engineering, career, or one of the sciences. Relatively few technical writers enter the occupation directly from college. The majority work initially in other jobs, usually as technicians, scientists, or engineers. Some begin as research assistants, editorial assistants, or trainees in a company's technical information or advertising department. In time, these people may assume writing duties and develop technical communication skills.
Whatever their educational background, writers and editors must be able to express ideas clearly and logically. Creativity, intellectual curiosity, a broad range of knowledge, self-motivation, and perseverance are also valuable assets. For some jobs, the ability to concentrate amid confusion and to produce under pressure is essential. Familiarity with word processing equipment is useful, because a growing number of organizations are using the equipment for writing and editing. Since writing requires research, writers must be familiar with research techniques. Editors must have good judgement in deciding what material to accept and what to reject. They must also have tact and the ability to guide and encourage others in their work.
All prospective writers need practical writing experience. High school and college newspapers, literary magazines, and small community newspapers and radio stations all provide valuable--but sometimes unpaid--experience. Many magazines, newspapers, and radio and TV stations have summer internships in which students can learn about the publishing and broadcasting career. Interns might run errands, answer phones, conduct some research and interviews, or even write short pieces, depending on the employer.
Advancement for writers and editors depends, in part, on the size of the organization for which they work. In small firms, beginning writers and editors may do a little bit of everything, not only working as editorial or production assistants but also writing or editing material right away. They often advance by moving to other firms, so turnover among beginning writers and editors is high. In larger firms, jobs are usually structured more formally. Persons in entry level positions 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 to write or edit.
Employment of writers and editors is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2000. Employment of salaried writers and editors by newspapers, periodicals, book publishers, and nonprofit organizations--including research agencies and religious, career, professional, and civic associations--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 to researchers, corporate managers, sales representatives, and technicians. With the increasing complexity of industrial and scientific equipment, more users will depend on the technical writer's ability to prepare precise but simple explanations and instructions. Besides jobs created by increased demand for writers and editors, many job openings will occur as experienced workers in this field transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
Each year, thousands of young people with college degrees in English, journalism, communications, and the liberal arts seek writing and editing jobs. Many end up in other occupations because the number of people qualified to work as writers and editors greatly exceeds the number of positions available, despite the high turnover in these occupations. Throughout the mid-1990's, the outlook for writing and editing jobs is expected to continue to be keenly competitive. Opportunities will be best in firms that prepare career and trade publications and in technical writing. Persons considering careers in writing and editing should keep their options open. Academic preparation in a field unrelated to writing may prove useful to some people, either to qualify them as writers specializing in that field, or to qualify them for a job in the field itself in the event that they are unable to get a salaried writing job.
In 1990, beginning salaries for writers and editorial assistants ranged from $19,100 to $28,200 annually, according to surveys by the Executive Compensation Service. Salaries for experienced writers and researchers generally ranged between $22,000 and $40,200 a year, depending on their qualifications and the size of the publication on which they worked. Technical writers had salaries ranging from $21,000 to $49,100. Experienced editors generally earned between $23,500 and $42,200 a year; supervisory editors, $34,600 to $52,700 a year.
Starting salaries for copy editors on daily papers in towns with a population of less than 20,000 averaged $10,300 in 1990; a copy editor in cities of 500,000 or more earned $13,800, according to a survey by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund. Senior editors on large circulation newspapers and magazines, however, averaged over $63,600 per year. In addition, many writers and editors supplement their salaried income by doing freelance work.
Writers and editors employed by the Federal Government earned an average of $33,100 a year in 1990.
Writers and editors communicate ideas and information to individuals for their education and entertainment. Other communications occupations include newspaper reporters and correspondents, radio and television announcer, advertising and public relations workers, and teachers of journalism.
Sources of Additional Information
For information on writing and editing careers in the field of communications, contact:
Women in Communications, Inc., P.O. Box 9561, Austin, TX 78766.
For a guide to journalism careers and scholarships, contact:
The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, P.O. Box 300, Princeton, N.J. 08540.
For information on college internships in magazine editing, contact:
American Society of Magazine Editors, 575 Lexington Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022.
For information on careers in technical writing, contact:
Society for Technical Communication, Inc., 815 15th St. NW., Suite 516, Washington, D.C. 20005.
For information on careers in career communication, contact:
The Association for career Communications, 100 English Building, 608 South Wright St., Urbana, IL 61801.