You’re likely creating a paycheck for a team of content writers if you find yourself constantly checking for the latest updates on your favorite website. Content writers may have trained as journalists, English majors or marketers and spend their days — and often nights — figuring out ways to capture your interest online.
Their jobs vary depending on their employer and can include writing text for graphics, online how-to manuals, e-books, sales copy, podcasts and blogs. They set the tone of the website, tightly curating content to bolster their product and make sure the links you click are not only functional but engaging.
Although there are many educational paths to a content writing career, certain programs may provide skill sets maximized for success.
Michael Sackley, the senior communications specialist for LDS Philanthropies, said his degree in English from BYU-Idaho and his experience in journalism at the university’s newspaper, The Scroll, paved the path to his career in content writing.
“English helped. Surprisingly, studying poetry helped with being concise and interesting at the same time,” he said. “But journalism really helped because I got to be a really good interviewer.”
Sackley said being able to interview is just as important as being able to write because it’s easier to write an interesting piece of content based on someone’s interesting story than to write an interesting piece of content from scratch.
Sackley said content writers with varying degrees can be successful. In his previous position as an editing director and communications executive at Melaleuca, Sackley hired students from public relations, international studies and economics as well as English and journalism.
Having a degree in a field outside of English or journalism can be helpful because the student will have a specific subject matter they have some level of expertise in instead of just basic writing skills, Sackley said.
At times, content writers need to produce content quickly and handle one-off projects. If writers are familiar with what they are writing about, then these projects may be completed more easily, Sackley said. But the writers will also need to produce a story from interviews, potentially not based on their area of expertise. For this, they need to know how to ask questions, steer a conversation and dig into interesting answers, he said.
“The first student we hired was not great at interviewing. She lacked the journalism edge,” he said. “We needed someone we could put on the phone with someone and who could produce a story from an interview.”
“There’s not as much money in journalism itself anymore, but the skill sets that it gives you and that it yields are invaluable,” Sackley said. “Nowadays, if you’re going to work in marketing, journalism is a really good background to have going into it.”
With the general decline in reporting jobs, content writing has become an attractive and fitting position for journalists. Writers and authors can expect an 8% job outlook increase over this same time period, with technical writers seeing an 11% job outlook increase, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The growing number of writing jobs require skill sets similar to those learned in journalism.
“A college degree in English, journalism or communications is generally required for a full-time position as a writer or author,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Experience can be gained through internships, but any form of writing that improves skill, such as blogging, is beneficial.”
BYU pre-management student Hailey Bunker said her marketing management and entrepreneurial marketing classes have been most valuable for her current position as a marketing manager for the BYU Marketing Association.
While school classes can be valuable, they are only a foundation for what can be learned on the job, according to Bunker.
Avetta Marketing Content Manager Christine Hogge said a specific type of degree does not matter as much as having the ability to adapt. New content writers will never know the company or product as well as current employees, but they can be trained. It’s more important that they can take the training and adapt to writing standards that may not be their preference, she said.
Hogge, who graduated from BYU with a communications degree, said her education taught her to follow instructions.
“In college, you learn how to do projects for professors, and every semester you have a new professor that is very different than your last professor,” she said.
In a previous job as a freelance writer, she said she could have 20 different clients who wanted slightly different styles, and she had to learn quickly to meet their needs.
Emma Calderwood, the marketing content manager at Kaplan Test Prep, said advanced writing skills were the most important skills she gained before her current job. Calderwood, who received her degree from BYU in Russian with an English minor, said that along with advanced writing and understanding of language, Russian taught her to be independent and move forward with tasks, even if she wasn’t fully sure about how to begin.
Learning quickly and having advanced writing and interviewing skills is important, Hogge said, because content creation can have a large impact on businesses.
“For our company, (content is) paramount,” Hogge said. “We would not be able to get as many leads or sales without our content teams.”
The content writers under Hogge recently wrote a whitepaper that generated more than 500 new leads for the sales team. Each customer these leads create can turn into a $30,000 to $50,000 sale, she said.
“One piece can have a huge impact on the company, and that wouldn’t be possible without a team to create them. So I would say it’s one of the crucial pillars (of marketing),” Hogge said.
Hogge oversees content writers that produce anything that needs to be written: social media posts, reports and whitepapers, blog posts focusing on SEO, email campaigns, a webinar series, infographics, pop-quizzes and more.
Not only can content writers generate leads but they also have the power to change perceptions and influence both customers and employees, according to Bunker.
“In my opinion, the marketing department is just as important as operations in a company. The product is extremely important, but if you have no customers to buy it, then a wonderful product is useless,” she said.
Students interested in gaining skills applicable to a content writing career can opt into a major program that provides these skills, or they can look for opportunities to gain experience.
Sackley recommends students get involved with BYU’s student-run news publication The Daily Universe, both in writing and editing. He also suggested looking for public relations internships with different colleges on campus or working for BYU Publications and Graphics as an editor.
Other experience with publishing programs like WordPress can be helpful, Calderwood said.
“The bottom line is that experience is more valuable to you, if you want to get into this career, than your degree,” Sackley said.