Education and Training Requirements

High School

Build a broad educational foundation by taking courses in English, literature, foreign languages, history, general science, social studies, computer science, and typing. The ability to type is almost a requisite for all positions in the communications field, as is familiarity with computers.

Postsecondary Training

Competitive writing jobs almost always demand the background of a college education. Many employers prefer you have a broad liberal arts background or majors in English, literature, history, philosophy, or one of the social sciences. Other employers desire communications or journalism training in college. Occasionally a master's degree in a specialized writing field may be required. A number of schools offer courses in journalism, and some of them offer courses or majors in book publishing, publication management, and newspaper and magazine writing.

Learning HTML, a Web site authoring language, can also be helpful to digital writers and may qualify you for other writing opportunities. All writers should learn the most popular software programs and office tools that relate to their specialty.

In addition to formal course work, most employers look for practical writing experience. Those who have served on high school or college newspapers, yearbooks, or literary magazines, or worked for small community newspapers or radio stations, even in an unpaid position, are attractive candidates. Many book publishers, magazines, newspapers, and radio and television stations have summer internship programs that provide valuable training if you want to learn about the publishing and broadcasting businesses. Interns do many simple tasks, such as running errands and answering phones, but some may be asked to perform research, conduct interviews, or even write some minor pieces.

Writers who specialize in technical fields may need degrees, concentrated course work, or experience in specific subject areas. This applies frequently to engineering, business, or one of the sciences. Also, technical communications is a degree now offered at many universities and colleges.

To enter positions with the federal government, applicants must take a civil service examination and meet certain specified requirements, according to the type and level of position.

Other Education or Training

A variety of webinars, conference seminars, workshops, and other continuing education opportunities are offered by professional associations such as the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, News Leaders Association, Editorial Freelancers Association, MPA–The Association of Magazine Media, National Association of Science Writers, National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Online News Association, Society for Technical Communication, and the Society of Professional Journalists. Topics include writing, editing, interviewing, social media, and technology.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Certification is available for some types of writers, such as medical writers, offered by the American Medical Writers Association, and technical writers, offered by a number of groups. Be sure to carefully research the value of a specific certification for your career before obtaining one.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Any experience volunteering as a writer will be useful for those who aspire to enter the field. Contact community organizations, religious groups, or local businesses, and other organizations that require the skills of writers. 

To be a writer, you should be creative and able to express ideas clearly, have a broad general knowledge, be skilled in research techniques, and be computer literate. Other assets include curiosity, persistence, initiative, resourcefulness, and an accurate memory. For some jobs—on a newspaper, for example, where the activity is hectic and deadlines are short—the ability to concentrate and produce under pressure is essential.