What Can I Do With a Writing Degree?

In this guide we explore the most notable professional outcomes for professional writers and how to get there. For those who want a quick look at the resources throughout, we have compiled them in this FAQ section. 

As discussed in the guide below, writing is a profession that benefits tremendously from an established academic or professional speciality. And in the section of the guide entitled, “The Distinction between Writers and Authors,” we discuss the entrepreneurial and business-minded factors of success for an author or self-employed writer. 

For these reasons, professional writers will likely want to pursue further education–either to establish a writing speciality or to build the necessary business ‘know-how’ for succeeding in the entrepreneurial arena of writing and authorship. If you are wondering how the following resources might aid you in your writing endeavors, then be sure to read through our guide to find out. 

Helpful specializations for writers: 

Marketing

Information Technology (IT)

Data Science  

Business 

Entrepreneurship 

What Does a Career in Writing Look Like in 2021?

Five years ago, many expert economists pointed to diminishing book sales and shrinking writing jobs to announce the approaching death of the writing industry. In 2021 we see a far different tale unfolding–as of 2019, printed book sales have risen to 650 million per year, and the audiobook industry blasted off to the billion dollar mark.

The economists were not entirely wrong though. As the BLS reports, the overall job outlook for writers is projected to shrink by 2% from 2019 to 2029. Considering the overall job market grows at a rate of 4%, a shrinking job market is always a major concern. So why is the job market shrinking? 

Writing is a profession that many consider to be an independent career: writers can write anywhere, anytime, about anything. But the truth is that writing is an industry that is inseparably linked to many other industries, trends, and evolutions of technology. For instance, the development of editing software has led to tremendous impact in the writing industry. 

Specifically, job opportunities for professional editors are growing at a far-reduced rate  as compared to other areas of the writing job market. Similarly, technical writing–who specialize in communicating complex information more easily–is growing much faster than traditional writing jobs. The BLS reports a projected growth of 7% in the technical writing job market from 2019 to 2029–about 4 times greater than the traditional writer’s job market. 

Salary Outcomes of Writers 

According to the BLS, Writers and Authors made up a job market to the tune of 131,000 jobs. These professionals showcased the following career-outcomes: 

  • 131,200 jobs as of 2019
  • Education level: Bachelor’s 
  • Salary of $63,200 per year 
  • Equates to an hourly wage of about $30.39 per hour 
  • Declining job market at a rate of -2% (from 2019 to 2029)
  • Bottom 10% earned less than $33,660
  • Top 10% earned more than $122,450
  • Often self-employed or contract workers
  • Self-set schedules or work hours 

As mentioned in the introduction however, the far-more promising area of the writing industry is that of technical writing. While it is admittedly a much smaller market, technical writing is a more promising job market due to the factors laid out below: 

  • 58,400 jobs as of 2019
  • Education level: Bachelor’s 
  • Salary of $72,850 per year
  • Equates to an hourly wage of about $35.03 per hour
  • Growing job market at rate of +7% (from 2019 to 2029)
  • Bottom 10% earned less than $44,320
  • Top 10% earned more than $117,250
  • Often self-employed or contract workers
  • Self-set schedules or work hours

While both groups of writers often find opportunities working as contract workers or as self-employed professionals, technical writers are finding more opportunities of full-time employment with a single employing entity. This is because technical writing is often called for by both mid-to-large sized companies that develop and sell complex technology. 

Technical writers have their work cut out for them in these companies, and are typically tasked with developing manuals, instructions, or user-guides for clients and consumers. The more products that are developed, the more work technical writers will have. For this reason the technical writing market is looking noticeably more promising in terms of long term growth, stability, and sustainability. 

With these considerations in mind, aspiring technical writers may want to establish additional expertise in the areas of information technology or data science. If these areas are intriguing to you, consider these resources: 

Information Technology (IT)

The 10 Best Online IT MBA Degree Programs

Data Science  

What Can I Do with a Data Science Degree?

How to Become a Professional Writer

The path to becoming a professional writer is relatively simple. Typical degree programs for writers include college level education in English, Communications, or Journalism. Most entry level writing jobs however, will only require a Bachelor’s level education and might not even specify a particular major. In other words, it is not always necessary to earn a Bachelor’s of English, Communication, or Journalism (or a Bachelor’s of Creative Writing).

In fact, many employers favor a writer’s background in other specialties. For instance, earning a Bachelor’s of History, of Psychology, or of Art History, allows writers to leverage a particular speciality in their writing. A professional writer with a background in art history might find employment with a local arts magazine. A writer with a background in psychology, might find employment writing for a science and research-based website. And so on. 

So in essence, the base requirements for becoming a professional writer are relatively simple–just a Bachelor’s level education–but what really sets the tone and direction for one’s career is the area of specialty one chooses. Additional education and work experience are similarly helpful in establishing a writer’s area of speciality. For instance, if a professional works for years in the IT industry and then wishes to become a professional writer, they will be perfectly positioned to write within the IT industry–either for blogs or websites, IT products companies, or tech-focused magazines.  

It should also be noted that a skillful writer does not necessarily need a background in a subject to find employment writing about said subject, however it certainly helps and will increase one’s ability to cover the subject comprehensively. For this reason, writers are also almost-always researchers–as few to none have the inherent knowledge to write effectively about a topic without conducting research. So any form of training or education in research methods or data science will be helpful in preparing one for a career as a writer.

The Distinction between Writers and Authors 

The BLS considers professional writing to be organized into two main groups:

  • Writers and Authors 
  • Technical Writers 

But for the purposes of this guide we will separate writers and authors, because book-authoring is a totally unique pursuit with its own totally unique challenges. In 2018 there were about 45,000 authors in the United States, but only about 20% of full-time published authors earned all of their income from published works. If anyone has ever advised you against becoming an author to fulfill financial dreams, then rest-assured: it was accurate advice.

The counterargument of course is that there are many reasons to become an author beyond just financial gain. For instance if it is your life’s dream to become an author then financial considerations might take a backseat, but this doesn’t have to be the case. As we see it, the distinction between authors and writers is the choice between selling your writing and building your writing into a business. 

Writers can work full-time as journalists, article writers, or technical writers and build their work into a brand. They can then keep a portfolio of all works and promote themselves for contract work–where companies pay per assignment, rather than paying a full-time salary. This can be extremely lucrative for efficient writers who may not need a full-time schedule to complete smaller assignments, and what’s more is that it positions the writer to be in charge of his/her schedule, so that when pursuing a dream of authorship, they will have the flexibility to do so. 

Writing, Authorship, and Business 

For any writer who wishes to work as a self-employed professional or wishes to self-publish books, having a background in business will be tremendously helpful. Likewise a background in entrepreneurship will prepare students for handling the small-business responsibilities of managing a writing business and positioning it to capitalize on market opportunities.  

Similarly, conducting research on business intelligence and market opportunities is a niche career in itself for writers. Many publishing companies rely on market intelligence to direct their publishing decisions. For an aspiring author, building proficiency in business intelligence will pay off in dividends–that is, if you are flexible enough as a writer to let market trends direct your writing efforts. 

Another point to make about establishing a background in business as an author or professional writer is that employers and future clients love to see a tangible focus and practical specialties–anyone can become a writer, but far fewer professionals can leverage a background in business to become a writer. So whether you’re interested in starting your own writing business, you aspire to self-publish a novel, or you want to build analytics skills–these resources will help take you to the next level:

Starting Your own Writing Business 

Business & Writing 

Business Intelligence and Analytics 

Writing Entrepreneurship 

Writing Degree Program Specializations 

One of the first decisions a writer will need to make is how they wish to specialize early in their education. What you can do with a writing degree will depend largely on the type of writing degree one has earned. 

With that in mind let’s breakdown some of the most common writing degree specializations:

  • Journalism 
  • English 
  • Poetry 
  • Creative Writing 
  • Communications 
  • International Communications 
  • Philosophy 
  • Technical Writing 

Journalism, english, and creative writing are among the most common degree specializations for aspiring authors and professional writers. Journalism confers a specialized focus on the first and second-hand reporting of events. Writers often pursue a journalism specialization to excel in highly concise and descriptive writing. 

An english degree however, focuses more on the craft of writing in general as well as the history of the craft. English majors engage the most formative writings of all the great authors of history and current times. Students typically pursue an english degree to build a strong overall understanding of the writing craft–both future and current. 

Creative writing programs are less constrained by a singular focus, and look to foster a free sense of creativity in students. Creative writing programs are students who feel comfortable with the english language but want to work on fostering creative inspiration. Poetry programs typically fill this same niche, but of course with the inherent focus on the medium of poetic writing. 

Philosophical writing is ideal for writers interested in a legal career, or who wish to write at a high level of academic pedigree. Philosophy programs challenge students’ notions of what words even mean in the first place, and then leverage the ensuing wisdom to inform students’ writing crafts. 

Communications programs are typically more business-minded. Students of these programs engage coursework that trains them in the art of communication, which of course is the pillar of negotiation. Students often enroll in global/international communications programs to establish a specialization in cross-culture or even cross-global communications.

Marketing and Writing 

Writing professionals will be interested in marketing for a number of reasons. Marketing as a profession relies on writers in countless ways: 

  • To write the copy for an advertisement 
  • To write creative product descriptions 
  • To develop brand narratives or creative concepts 
  • To write promotional content on a website
  • To write promotional articles, reviews, etc. 

Because marketing is a profession based on the successful communication of businesses to consumers, and communication is based in language and writing, writers at the core of the marketer’s craft. With this in mind, writers will want to build a familiarity with marketing for one of two reasons. 

In one case, they will wish to familiarize with marketing strategy in order to promote their own works or their own brand. If a writer is able to conduct his/her own marketing efforts then they are much closer to the independence needed to excel in the self-publishing arena. In the other case, they will wish to leverage writing skills to excel as writer-marketing professionals, which is why many english majors transition into a marketing career after graduation. 

In either case, consider these resources if you wish to build a marketing specialization: 

Most Promising Industries for Professional Writers 

A recurring theme in this guide is that a writer’s early-decisions will determine the course of his or her career. Degree specialization, education level, and professional experience will all contribute to a writer’s career destination. For many writers though, in order to make informed decisions early on they will want to know where to aim their efforts. 

For this reason we have gathered information on the most promising industries for writers, so that they can begin establishing specialization as early and effectively as possible. Here’s a breakdown of the most well-performing industries for writers and authors, and technical writers:

For Writers and Authors 

  • Performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries 
    • Median Annual Wages: $70,990
  • Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations
    • Median Annual Wages: $68,560
  • Professional, scientific, and technical services
    • Median Annual Wages: $63,920
  • Information
    • Median Annual Wages: $60,440

According to the BLS, performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries is made up of the following industry groups: 

  • Performing Arts Companies
  • Spectator Sports
  • Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events
  • Agents and Managers for Artists, Athletes, Entertainers, and Other Public Figures
  • Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers

The performing arts sector is the most promising area for writers and refers to the area of the market that is concerned with live performances of actors and actresses, singers, dancers, and musicians. Writers work in this industry both on the creative side and on the promotion side. Promotion writers come with the creative copy to promote events, while creative writers, or independent writers, often help performers come up with the creative material for an event–even working as the event producers or directors. 

For Technical Writers 

  • Publishing industries (Excluding internet publishing)
    • Median Annual Wages: $77,120
  • Professional, scientific, and technical services
    • Median Annual Wages: $73,960
  • Administrative and support services
    • Median Annual Wages: $73,170
  • Manufacturing
    • Median Annual Wages: $73,160

The publishing industry (excluding internet publishing) is the most promising sector for technical writers. According to the BLS, this area of publishing refers to the industry engaged in the publishing of various forms of content. Content that falls within this industry is any of the following:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Periodicals
  • Books
  • Directory and Mailing Lists
  • Software

In short, the publishing industry is a gold mine for technical writers for obvious reasons. Virtually every publishing effort will create a role for a technical writer, which is why salaries within this job market remain competitive in order to attract talent to positions of most repute. 

And within this group, the area of software publishing seems to offer the most lucrative positions. Top-end salaries (upper 15%) of software technical writers sits around 6-figures with the top 25% making about $92,000. For technical writers interested in a burgeoning field with top-dollar salaries, software publishing is the holy land to work towards. 

Carrie Morris
Author

Warren Dahl
Editor-in-Chief