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Writers and editors

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Writers and editors communicate through the written word. Writers develop original fiction and nonfiction for books, magazines and trade journals, newspapers, online publications, company newsletters, radio and television broadcasts, motion pictures and advertisements. Editors select and prepare material for publication or broadcast and review and prepare a writer's work for publication or dissemination.

Nonfiction writers either select a topic or are assigned one by an editor. They gather information through personal observation, research and interviews before organizing what material they will use to express ideas and convey information.

Creative writers, poets, and lyricists, including novelists, playwrights and screenwriters, create original works for publication or performance.

Copywriters prepare advertising copy for use by publication or broadcast media, or to promote the sale of goods and services.

Technical writers and science and medical writers put technical, scientific and medical information into easily understandable language.

Freelance writers sell their work to publishers, publication enterprises, manufacturing firms, public relations departments or advertising agencies.

Editors review, rewrite and edit the work of writers. They sometimes do original writing. In the publishing industry, an editor's primary duties are to plan the contents of books, technical journals, trade magazines and other general interest publications. Editors decide what material will appeal to readers, offer comments to improve the work and suggest possible titles.

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, 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, clarity, grammar, style and agreement with editorial policy.

Writers and editors who prepare morning or weekend publications and broadcasts work some nights and weekends. Freelance writers generally work more flexible hours. Deadlines and erratic work hours may cause stress, fatigue or burnout. Writers and editors who use computers for extended periods may experience back pain, eyestrain or fatigue.

Training and qualifications

Although some employers look for a broad liberal arts background, most prefer to hire applicants with college degrees in communications, journalism or English. For those who specialize, additional background in the chosen field is expected.

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.

Most writers and editors use personal computers or word processors. Many use electronic publishing systems. Writers who prepare material directly for the Internet should be knowledgeable about graphic design, page layout and desktop publishing software. And they should be familiar with interactive technologies so they can blend text, graphics and sound.

Job outlook

Employment of writers and editors is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2010. Employment of salaried writers and editors for newspapers, periodicals, book publishers and nonprofit organizations is expected to increase as demand grows for their publications. Magazines and other periodicals increasingly are developing special-interest niches. Online publications and services are growing in number and sophistication, spurring demand for writers and editors. Businesses and organizations are developing newsletters and Web sites, and more companies are experimenting with publishing directly for the Internet. Advertising and public relations agencies are growing.

The outlook for most writing and editing jobs is expected to be competitive. Opportunities should be best for technical writers and those with training in a specialized field. Opportunities for editing positions on small daily and weekly newspapers and in small radio and television stations, where the pay is low, should be better than those in larger media markets.


Writers and editors held about 305,000 jobs in 2000. About 126,000 jobs were for writers and authors; 57,000 were for technical writers; and 122,000 were for editors. Nearly one-fourth of jobs for writers and editors were salaried positions with newspapers, magazines and book publishers. Median annual earnings for salaried writers and authors were $42,270 in 2000. Median annual earnings were $26,470 in the newspaper industry. Median annual earnings for salaried technical writers were $47,790 in 2000. Median annual earnings for salaried editors were $39,370 in 2000. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of editors were as follows:

Computer and data processing services $45,800
Periodicals 42,560
Newspapers 37,560
Books 37,550

Related links

For information on careers in technical writing, contact:

Society for Technical Communication, 901 N. Stuart St., Suite 904, Arlington, VA 22203.

For information on union wage rates for newspaper and magazine editors, contact:

The Newspaper Guild-CWA, Research and Information Department, 501 Third St. NW, Suite 250, Washington, DC 20001.

Adapted from the Labor Department's Occupational Outlook Handbook.