Putting Your English Degree to Work

Many people go into English with the goal of writing the next great novel. Although that is a great goal, writing a novel takes time, and a number of job opportunities are available for English majors so they can make a decent living while they write.

Technical writers

The best opportunities for a writing career are in technology. Technology is becoming increasingly more complex and more prevalent, creating a demand for technical writers who can teach people about products and how to use them or who can take complex information (scientific or medical information, for example) and convey it to a lay audience.

As a technical writer, you may research and write about products. Types of publications you might create include user manuals, catalogs and parts lists, training materials, marketing information, and so on. You might also write proposals requesting funds and facilities for research.

If you want to pursue a career in this arena, you need a degree plus some specialized technical knowledge depending on the field in which you want to work. For example, you might specialize in law, medicine, engineering, or computers by taking classes in these subjects, getting a minor in these fields, or pursuing relevant work experience.

Editors

In addition to pursuing a writing career, some English majors look for work as an editor. Editors work for newspapers, magazines, book publishers, business and not-for-profit organizations, advertising agencies, public relations firms, radio and TV stations, government agencies, and online entities. Some small and many large companies have in-house newsletters and other materials that require an editor or writer.

Editors assess the needs of their particular audience and then plan and create publications based on these needs. They may use in-house writers or hire outside writers and negotiate contracts. Or if the publication has a writing staff (for example, a newspaper or magazine), the editor may assign articles. Once the work is received, the editor reviews, edits, checks facts, and rewrites as needed. Finally, the editor may oversee the production of the final product.

An English major is a good fit for a career as an editor. If you want to pursue newspaper or magazine editing, you may also consider getting a certificate or minor in journalism. For all editing work, seek out experiences working as a writer or editor.

Public relations specialist

Public relations specialists prepare and distribute information about clients to the media, often in the form of press releases. Many businesses, not-for-profit organizations, universities, hospitals, government agencies, and other organizations hire public relations staff to manage their image. The public relations specialist promotes noteworthy events and keeps the public informed about an organization's policies, activities, and accomplishments.

Public relations specialists have contacts in the media and collaborate with the press, providing them with information on stories and events. PR staff also plan conventions, host community events, prepare comments or speeches for company or government officials, prepare annual reports for in-house use as well as for the public, make presentations, create training manuals, and write proposals.

Most employers require a degree or advanced degree in journalism or public relations, although someone with an English degree and excellent writing skills can also succeed in this field. Key criteria for getting a job in public relations include a relevant internship or summer work, as well as a portfolio of published work. For example, you may work for your school's alumni association, publishing stories for the newsletter or writing press releases for the local media.

Like journalists, public relations specialists often have to be on call in case of breaking news stories, emergencies, or other crises. The typical work day is usually not 9 to 5, and travel may also be required.