In theory, my English major is enough education for a professional writing job. After all, I’ve always been good with words, and I always got A’s on my soundly argued, logically constructed, and perfectly cited essays. Oh, and I’m a creative writer! Words are my craft! Perfect, right?
Not quite… but not to worry!
I love professional writing partly because it is so different from academic writing. It is writing for an audience as part of an organization. This includes genres from advertising to help guides, from proposals to company Facebook pages. Call it “practical writing.”
I am relearning how to write. I stop relying on long words, turning “therefore” into “so.” I split my paragraphs into bite sizes. And I think extra hard about the first words of each paragraph, since blog visitors will be scanning my article before they read it. I write to get my point across.
But there’s more. I consider all of my possible audiences, their backgrounds, how they may receive my writing, and how they may be affected by it. I consider if they’re visual or verbal learners, what words to use, and what images to include. I consider my professional and ethical responsibilities. I learn computer programming language to format blog posts and web pages.
That’s why I’m getting a Master’s degree to learn these skills.
Many studies show I’m not the only one going through a learning curve. There are a lot of studies about workers – ranging from email marketers to doctors – adjusting from academic to professional writing. My favorite is a British article about social work students: after years of never using first person in academic papers, they were thrown off by using “I” as the observer in case reports.
I’m not bashing academic writing. It has many principles that apply to professional writing, like evidence-based argument and logical organization. But there is a divide between writing for work and writing for school, and schools need to start closing that divide.
In the United States, professional writing programs are relatively rare. I live in central Ohio, home to numerous colleges and universities, and I had to do a lot of looking before going with an out-of-state online program. More schools need to include professional writing education, both degree programs and non-degree classes. Regardless of your job, you will write at some point – whether you are emailing supervisors or presenting to shareholders – and you need to know how to write professionally.
As a professional writing student, you will expand your concept of writing. You will consider your audience – busy executives glancing at a report, customers frowning at a troubleshooting guide, moms researching local daycare centers on smartphones – and write specifically for them. You will write to inform, to persuade, to alert, to move. You will do more than arrange words: you will visualize, design, and collaborate. You will write practically, but you will find that creativity is still one of your most valuable tools.
Professional writing is a change from academic writing, but it will hone your skills and open doors to a world of possibilities. And that is an exciting change.