Where Do Professional Writers Work?

Professional writing is a vast, ever-expanding field, and certain aspects of it remain constant in any field of work. A professional writer must always have:

  • good communication skills
  • good technical skills
  • good organizational skills

And most importantly:

  • good writing skills (duh)

All professional writers need these skills, but not all professional writing jobs and careers are exactly the same. There are numerous job opportunities and career goals for professional writers, in various fields of work and almost anywhere in the world.

But where to start?

It’s understandable to be a little overwhelmed, but luckily Chatham University’s Masters of Professional Writing online program is incredibly flexible, allowing you to choose a concentration, or do a little of everything and see what appeals to you. Here’s a brief glimpse at the different types of professional writing you’ll hear about during this program and the various careers they offer, which will help you narrow down (or maybe broaden!) your course of study and future academic plans:

Technical Writing

Technical writing takes complex, intricate material and makes it presentable and accessible to different audiences. There’s an ever-expanding field for writers who can cut through all the technical verbiage and make the information easy-to-follow and resonate with a non-technical audience. Types of technical writing include:

  • Letter Reports
  • Technical Reports
  • Copy Editing
  • How-to Guides and Technical Manuals

Web Content

This aspect of professional writing centers on developing web content, such as designing websites and writing content for websites. It uses skills in web design and media software, and uses authoring tools and various multimedia techniques to convey information in a practical, available manner. Types of web content writing include:

  • Designing websites
  • Managing websites
  • Designing/managing social media pages
  • Designing/managing wikis and blogs

Nonprofit Professional Writing

Writing for a nonprofit organization is an extensive communications profession that requires creating persuasive content in a variety of settings. Your writing has to convince the reader to give you their money. Types of nonprofit writing include:

  • Public Relations Coordinating
  • Grant Writing
  • Fund Raising
  • Development Coordinating

Communication Professional Writing

Communications writing involves fusing critical thinking, creative expression and data strategy. It involves clear, concise writing and often is targeted at a particular audience or focus group. Types of communication writing include:

  • Public relations
  • Marketing
  • Advertising
  • Corporate Writing

This quick look into the various types of professional writing will give you a better understanding of the Masters of Professional Writing programs’ numerous courses of study. As mentioned, the field of professional writing is always growing and expanding, and therefore the career options and job opportunities will continue to expand and grow as well. These different concentrations of professional writing demonstrate just how many different jobs and careers this program opens you up to, and each of these concentrations has a curriculum in this program. If you would like more information on these curriculums, go to Chatham’s Masters of Professional Writing website: www.chatham.edu/ccps/mpw/index.cfm#reqs

Good luck, future professional writers!


The Power of Digital Portfolios






Résumés are boring.  Necessary, but boring.  I always feel like I sound robotic when I’m writing my accomplishments and skills, and as much as I try to use expressive adjectives, I feel like a résumé cannot capture my personality or really show potential employers how my skills and experience set me apart from everyone else.

When we learned about digital portfolios in class, I decided that I needed to create one in order to provide a fuller and more accurate account of who I am as an employee and as a person.  They are the perfect complement to a well-written résumé.

Select a Platform

I researched many portfolio platforms specifically geared towards writers.  I was looking for a website that was easy to use and had the most features for the “free account” option. I definitely think the extra features, such as a distinct domain name are worth the extra monthly or yearly fee, but since I’m basically starting from scratch in terms of an online presence—no Facebook, Twitter, blog, outdated LinkedIn profile, and no online samples of work—I can upgrade later after I build up my portfolio.  I settled on www.journoportfolio.com because it offers the ability to upload multiple types of media, such as videos, photos and PDFs, and I can customize the look of my portfolio.

Design the Layout

After a quick registration process, I was able to choose my layout, upload a cover photo, customize my background, and write a quick introduction.  I didn’t have any of my own images available, so I used pictures of a sunset and a starry night from a stock photo website (www.freeimages.com) to prevent copyright infringement.

 Add Content

Journo Portfolio also allows you to add links to your multimedia and personal websites, and a copy of your résumé can be prominently displayed above your logo.

Projects and articles can be added directly to your home page.  You can blog directly onto your home page also, which is a great feature—no need to link to a blog on another website.  Additional pages can be created and edited.   I chose to add a “Projects” and “About Me” page.

Final Product

final blog2(www.gabriellebackner.journoportfolio.com)

My portfolio is definitely not complete.  Most of the content and links are placeholders for future multimedia sites and projects, but building it gave me an idea of the possibilities of a digital portfolio. The visual impact that they create and the user’s ability to upload different types of media in many different designs has convinced me that portfolios are an essential tool for creating a strong and personal internet presence. No matter what platform you choose, a digital portfolio will set you apart and help you to deliver your unique message.



Tips and Tricks for Surviving Chatham’s MPW Program

You’ve decided to begin your adventure as a grad student attending an online program. Like me, the decision was the easiest part. Now I have to figure out how to transition to a student’s schedule while working full-time and having other grown-up responsibilities. Let’s dust off the cob webs from our brain and prepare ourselves with a tool bag of online resources to survive the journey.


Start thinking of yourself as a writer by reading. You may have only written Facebook post, sick notes, to-do list and work emails over the past few years, but don’t fret, you are not the only one. Before you begin class feeling like you snuck into a room of scholars by accident, immerse yourself in the blogosphere. Yes, it is your basic anticipatory socialization, but it will kickstart that part of your brain that has been on snooze. Check out blogs from successful writers to get thinking about modern professional writing.  Positive Writer has a list of the Top 25 Writing Blogs full of entertaining and stimulating post to get you excited about that homework! Dailywritingtips.com has a team of four professionals churning out daily tips on grammar, editing, business writing and even 40 Yiddish Words You Should Know. Ann Hadley has a Writing GPS to rethink your process (or create one for the first time) and The Procrastiwriter gives some motivation and encouragement for those trying to “be a successful writer around a full-time life.”

Update from a paper planner to an app. You might have been the student who has a different color ink pen busterfor each class and correlating highlighter colors to indicated task and urgency. That won’t cut it now. Check out a planning app that goes with you everywhere and can set unavoidable reminders. My Study Life is free and works with all platforms so you can copy and paste from your syllabus on your laptop, and task while in traffic. iStudiez Pro has been awarded as being the best app for college students, parents and even educators for it’s usability. Feel a little more savvy and need more than a calendar? Try Evernote to organize your draft and research materials. So busy you don’t have time to app it out? Try Dragon Dictation to speak to text your notes, drafts and reminders. Don’t underestimate the power of a whiteboard on display. Seeing your week’s task laid out may not only help you when the battery is dead, but may show everyone else in the house how much you have to get done (maybe you can get some sympathy chore assistance).

Now you’re ready to get to work. Don’t panic. It will all get done. Being smart about how you approach it will help. Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. offers 12 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in Grad School  and What I Wish I Knew In Grad School: Current and Former Students Share 16 Tips, written toward Psych students. She suggest a new approach to reading with purpose, and learning how to stop yourself when the piece no longer meets your goals. Letting go of perfectionism, focusing on perseverance and the imposter phenomenon are great for calming the anxiety and feeling normal about the challenge at hand.

Give it up when you have to. Running errimagesands that is. Time stealers like housework and everyday errands will leave you frustrated and exhausted and sitting down to start homework at 9 pm is not the way to approach this investment. Take that shinny new chatham.edu for a spin at Amazon Prime for Students! Free 6 month trial and only $50 after for a year membership. Receive free 2 day shipping on practically anything you would buy at Target. You might even save money without having the browsing  temptation. Free 2 day shipping and return shipping even on rental text books.  Click, add to cart, get it delivered, and done.

Take a break. You may not have a day or two free for relaxing with these 7 week intensive classes. Don’t reach for the wine, you’re not Hemingway, and you will need to get back to work soon. Instead check out a medication break app like Calm. With guided medication you can refresh yourself in 2 to 20 minute session and get back to being productive. This is not a new age hokey thing, download or go to their website and choose a soothing nature scene to stare at and let the trickling waters wash out your anxiety.


Take advantage of every tool available to make your life easier during the new period. Don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged. This phase will go by so much faster than you think, enjoy being a student again. The hard work will be worth it. 

Learning to Live Out Your Dreams

Harlem by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore– 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over– 
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

A Dream Deferred…

Pursuing a master’s degree has always been a personal and professional goal for me. I had planned and fully expected to go straight into a master’s program after completing my undergrad degree, but that didn’t happen.

I applied to a program at the University of Pittsburgh where I had completed my undgrad degree, and to my surprise, was not admitted. This was a devastating blow to my 20 something ego because up until that time, I was quite accustomed to academic success. I had done well in undergrad and been admitted to two honor societies, so I was obviously devastated. I questioned my intellect, my purpose, even myself. The rejection forced me to enter the work force prematurely and put me on a path that made me feel like Alice when she fell down that hole. And it also forced me to put my dream of an advanced degree in a box and up on a high, high shelf.

I started working at a news radio station, then went into freelancing and then did a 180 and started working for a communication company—in customer service. I had truly lost my way. No longer did I yearn for academic stimulation, intellectual conversation or the pure joy that I had once received from just learning new things. I had settled for a paycheck without purpose. This went on for far too many years. I was like a dried up raisin, festering in the hot sun.

A New Dream Still…

In 2002, I was blessed with a beautiful baby girl. She was perfect in every way and I fully committed myself to providing her with a good life, and raising her to be happy and well-adjusted child. I made sure that she attended the best schools and that she participated in engaging activities. We traveled to places like Disney and Universal Park for her birthdays and she has even been to Hawaii to dance at Pearl Harbor. I was determined to give her reasons to dream big and to pursue her dreams with vigor and determination. So far, she has had a GREAT life (not perfect), and I have been blessed to be her mom. She is now a thriving 13 year old who is kicking butt and taking names. And yes, she has big dreams. She’s a dancer and no one can tell her that she won’t make it to Broadway. But wherever life leads her, she will be well prepared and ready to walk into her destiny. And the best part about this is that she has inspired me to dream again.

A Dream Realized…

About two months ago a feeling hit me that I had misplaced something important. It was a nagging feeling that would not allow me to rest. I was feeling quite unfulfilled with my professional work and I was no longer satisfied with just seeing my daughter’s accomplishments. There was something missing from my life. Then it hit me like a bolt of lightening. It was time for me to do something for me. But what, was the question that I asked myself over and over. After a few weeks of deep thought and prayer, I remembered that dream that had been hidden away in the box in the back of that closet. Graduate school, the dream that was not yet realized.

It was now late April and every program that I researched would be starting their summer sessions in less than two weeks. How could I possibly pull that off? After many late nights and distracted days at work, I discovered the Chatham program for a Master’s in Professional Writing. I applied using my iPhone. It would take less than a week to go from pushing send to receiving a congratulatory email stating that I had been admitted. I rented a book from Amazon and can now call myself a candidate for a master’s degree. (Go, Girl! seems appropriate here) I didn’t think about how this would fit into my family’s already crazy schedule or how I could make this work with a career that can be pretty demanding. I just did it. And I feel great about that. I finally did something just for me and I am now one step closer to realizing my dream.

Living the Dream…

My story is not as unique as I would like to believe. Deferring or putting off personal plans is a far too familiar scenario for myself and 8 million other adults over the age of 25 in this country. I am certain that the bulk of that number are working parents. We want to ensure that our children are receiving the proper support and encouragement from us that we fail to do much for our own personal development or growth.

So I share this with you to encourage you and to give you a look into how it looks to live out a dream. Here are some key steps that helped me:

Steps to Living Out Your DreamDreams Road Sign

1) Acknowledge Your Dream: By acknowledging that you have an aspiration allows it takes on life. From this point it can grow and mature, and not just be a nagging thought in the back of you mind.

2) Set a Date for Achieving Your Dream: This step will hold you accountable and give you benchmarks that you have to meet. It also forces you to act, which transforms your dream into a goal, with clear objectives.

3) Develop a Plan for Pursuing Your Goal: Now, if you read my story, you have probably figured out that I sort of skipped this step. But I am developing a plan now. I know what classes I will be taken and even have an anticipated graduation date. It would, however, had made things a bit less stressful if I had done this first. I would have had greater direction.

4) Take the First Step: I applied using that tiny screen on my iPhone. This was my first step. I could have waited until I was in my office and sat down and actually fully read what I signing up for. But that would have allowed fear and doubt to set in. You have to put one foot forward if you want to walk.

5) Enjoy the Journey That Come with Living Out Your Dreams: This is the best part. Once you start this train rolling, the ride is all down hill as they say. You may get a few bumpy patches, but with determination and hard work, you will reach the end of the line and realize your dream and have nothing but road behind you.

I am in no way saying that this is an easy process. In fact, graduate classes have challenged me. I am being stretched mentally, academically, financially and spiritually. I find it difficult at times to devote time to studying and it can be quite difficult balancing my role as mother and employee with my new identity as student and professional writer. What I am saying, however, it that it is worth the effort and is, for me, turning out to be a dream come true.

Writing for a Global Audience

With the rise of the Internet, the world is smaller than ever before. Whether you’re designing websites for a global marketplace or managing translation of user manuals, you need to make sure your content can reach a global audience.

Going Global

Copyright chainat / 123RF Stock Photo
Used with permission.


Don’t worry – you won’t have to dust off your high school French. Translation is a specialized skill best left to professional translation services.

As a writer, though, you will be deeply involved with the translators: developing statements of work, packaging materials to send to them, answering questions, and ultimately reviewing and managing multiple versions of the content.


Translation is just a piece of a broader process called localization. The W3C Consortium defines localization as:

The adaptation of a product, application or document content to meet the language, cultural and other requirements of a specific target market (a locale).

Besides just translating the words themselves, localization can include changing number formats, date and time formats, currency, symbols, graphics and more. You can still localize a document for different markets, even if you’re only presenting it in English.


The translation service usually handles the bulk of localization, but there are things you can do as a writer to make the localization process go more smoothly. This is called internationalization. Looking again at the W3C definition:

Internationalization is the design and development of a product, application or document content that enables easy localization for target audiences that vary in culture, region, or language.

Localization happens at the end – after the document is locked down in English and ready to be adapted to other markets. Internationalization, on the other hand, is something you need to be aware of throughout the writing process.

Here are some tips to help internationalize your document:

  • Avoid Idioms and Metaphors – Because idioms are not taken literally, it can be difficult to translate them into other languages. Sports metaphors and cultural references are also problematic. “We’re batting a thousand” will be readily understood in America. In Russia? Not so much.
  • Write Out Dates – 01/05/15: Is that January 5th or May 1st? It depends on where you are. You can avoid ambiguity by always writing out month names.
  • Keep Text and Images Separate – An image that contains text can be a nightmare to localize. Charts and graphs are also something to watch out for. Have the original data handy so you can regenerate it in a different language when the translations are available.
  • Be Clear and Concise – If something is hard to understand in English, it’s probably going to be even harder to translate. Write simple sentences and avoid jargon, acronyms and abbreviations.
  • Be Careful with Graphics – A thumbs-up status icon may be innocent enough to American audiences, but in some parts of the world it’s horribly offensive. You may also need to swap out graphics to highlight different regional offices/teams or product variants.
  • Leave Space – Translated text will take up more or less space than its English counterpart. In some documents this is usually not a problem, but web pages and software applications are particularly vulnerable to layout issues when the text is suddenly too big to fit in the size allotted.
  • Know Your Regulatory Requirements – Translators deal with words, not law, and it is your responsibility to be aware of any applicable documentation regulations in your industry. For example, European regulations often require that you include a CE Mark symbol in your manuals. Region-specific warnings, notices and disclaimers may also be required.

Bottom Line

Now, more than ever, professional writers need to be aware of their global audiences. By taking the time to consider internationalization up front, writers can save their organizations (and themselves!) a great deal of time, money and effort in the localization process. You can be the one to help your company go global.

Further Reading

W3C Internationalization

Designing for International Users: Practical Tips

Think Globally, Write Locally

Text Size in Translation

Returning to School | What New Journey Doesn’t Start with a Few Challenges?


Today is someday.

Has anyone ever asked you, “Have you ever considered going back to school?” If you and I are similar in any way, it may be the way we answer this question. “Yeah, someday.”

My someday comes 28 years after I packed my things and bid farewell to my favorite little college town of Indiana, PA. It was 1987 and I was taking the world by storm! Fast-forward to 2015, and I finally applied, was accepted, and started my first class in the professional writing graduate program at Chatham University. Now I’m the old guy sitting in class. But wait, I’m not sitting in class, I’m sitting at home and the class is online. I just worked nine hours. I have to read. I need to post responses to the forums. Then there’s my forum to moderate. Oh man, don’t forget the narrative! What’s a narrative? And the weekly paper assignment! Five pages, single-spaced?!


That’s when the earworm starts and it’s the Kinks singing Destroyer.
STOP! Hold on . . . Stay in control . . .

I stop, and and realize that there is no need to second-guess. I have this!

Continue reading

Creative? No Problem! – Professional Writing, Creativity, & You

Source: Steve Petrucelli

Source: Steve Petrucelli, “Ghost Writer” Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

Close your eyes and envision yourself as a professional writer at work. What do you find yourself doing every day? Do you see the field of professional writing as boring, consisting of slaving away laying out phone books or writing dull instruction manuals no one will ever read? Are you under the impression that professional writing is selling out and abandoning your creativity for a paycheck?

If you have any of the misconceptions listed above, think again! Professional writing is a field where you can embrace your creative side, while earning a paycheck doing something you love. Contrary to popular belief, professional writing isn’t just laying out phone books or writing manuals. The field itself is incredibly diverse and there’s a niche for just about anyone, with plenty of opportunities to exercise your creativity.

Here are just a few of the more creative aspects you may encounter.


Think about the last time you encountered issues with a product. Maybe an app wasn’t running properly, or perhaps you just wanted to know how to use some of the product’s advanced features. Where did you go? I’m willing to bet that you went online and looked it up. Companies have caught on to the fact that people turn to the Internet to find information, advice, or instructions for products. One of the best ways for companies to utilize that fact is through blogging.

Corporate blogging is a way to connect with consumers and help them find the information they need. Since blogging is a very different style of writing than say, your traditional instruction manual, it’s an excellent way to exercise your creativity while working as a professional writer.

Useful Skills

It’s nice to have a working knowledge of HTML and CSS, but Content Management Systems like WordPress make it not so necessary anymore. The more customized you want your content the better it is to know how to code.

Videos, Podcasts, & Screencasts

Coming up with creative and informative ideas, writing scripts about them, and recording those ideas, is another opportunity to be creative. Since most people seek out information on the Internet, this gives organizations (and professional writers) a chance to show off their writing, editing, and/or animation skills.

Consumers love using audio and visual tools to learn how to use products or how to do something. It’s an approachable way to share content and information with others, and more companies are utilizing these tools to engage with their customers than ever before.

Useful Skills

Knowing how to use tools like Adobe’s Framemaker or Flash can be really helpful. So is having a basic knowledge of recording and editing video and audio.

Designing Documents & Websites

Content not only has to be well written, it has to look great too! Professional writers are responsible for not just creating the written word, but they’re also responsible for designing readable, informative, and visually oriented documents and websites.

Whether it’s coming up with visually engaging brochures, a beautiful looking website, an informative infographic, or anything else, really, if you know your way around a graphic design program and can create usable, visually stunning content, you’re going to be a huge asset to the organization you work for.

Useful Skills

Adobe Photoshop and InDesign (and the entire Adobe Creative Suite for that matter) have become industry standards. Knowing how to use these programs to create visually appealing documents and websites will be of benefit to you!

Don’t Check Your Creativity at the Door!


Source: Christy Sheffield, “Create” Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

These are only a few of the ways writers may be expected to show off their creative sides in the professional world. If your workplace doesn’t “do” any of the above, there may be other more creatively bent things you can do, or you can take the initiative to start up a blog, make videos/podcasts/screencasts, or become more active in document and website design.

Professional Writers: Redesigning the Landscape of Corporate Culture

graphic“Culture means rhetoric,” I wanted to scream as I read an insightful article on Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/fdc/welcome_mjx.shtml). The article highlighted how approaching the workplace as a culture seems to be the latest trend. In fact, last year Merriam Webster cited the word culture as the most used word of 2014. Corporations are now seeking a means wherein they can do more than simply employ people. They must now address the totality of the needs of job seekers.

Engagement, work-life balance, retention, and professional development are all aspects of corporate culture. In sustaining such workplace culture, it then becomes necessary to have a form of discourse between employer and employee—one that silently communicates unspoken operational procedures. This is where professional writers come into play, because they’ve mastered the art of rhetoric. And, because they have such a firm handle on scribbling inside the confines of various social spaces, what better person to communicate the ins and outs of corporate culture, than a proven professional writer?

Fortunately for professional writers, there’s some great news on the horizon. First, we must consider that the unemployment rate (5.4% as of April) is the lowest it’s been since May 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Secondly, writing as a core competency in Corporate America is in high demand. In today’s numbers-driven society, it seems many learning institutions are emphasizing math and science courses to propel students ahead. And while this creates a deficit of writers, it makes the emerging need of writers in the workplace explosive. Though many of the jobs professional writers may not be formally titled as a writing job, the truth is, more and more jobs require significant amounts of writing.

Today, there are jobs being filled by writers that were almost nonexistent fifteen years ago. Consider the widespread number of jobs in the following fields:

• Project Management
• Social Media
• Digital Content Development

These positions are hotbeds for writers, not just because they’re becoming more widespread; rather, they are key in managing and leveraging culture within the workplace. Understanding rhetoric, I mean culture gives professional writers the platform to become indispensable. With culture being a buzzword in the professional world today, we must then provide a working definition for it. The online publication, Entrepreneur, defined corporate culture as:

“A blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time.”

Professional writers today are so in demand not only because of their innate abilities to pen strong content across many mediums, but also because they can apply the framework of rhetoric to the discourse of corporate culture. Also, as technology continues to expand the plane of the job market, it then becomes necessary to employ professional writers who possess a strong ability to persuade and influence using the digital tools that are becoming increasingly popular. Corporate culture, just like professional writing, can often be looked at as socially situated, and it deals with a constant interaction between employee and employer. What better person to constantly liaise these grounds than the professional writer who has proven their ability to create superior content, communicate effectively, translate complex information into clear messages, and meet the constantly evolving needs of a particular organization.

Pens up, writers, because of the ever-evolving needs of Corporate America, success, longevity, and continual achievements are all at our fingertips.