Skills Needed for a Job in Writing and Editing

Written language skills are an integral part of many positions in almost every industry. Even staff positions and freelance opportunities that center around writing or editing skills can occur in multiple fields that don’t overlap. For example, just because you can create advertising copy or web content does not mean you can be a technical writer or a journalist – and vice versa.

Yet, there are certain core skills that all writers and editors share, plus there are other skills that are important features of many forms of professional writing. Highlight your most relevant skills in your resume and cover letters, as well as during job interviews.Take the time to match your qualifications to those the employer is seeking.

In-Demand Skills for Writers and Editors

Here are some of the most in-demand skills for writers and editors.

Excellent Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation

Automatic spell-checkers and similar services are useful, but they aren’t fully reliable. Excellent editing still requires an analytical, detail-oriented human eye.

Tip: Show prospective clients and employers you can spell by making sure the writing in your pitch is perfect and by including any experience you have as a proofreader.

If you are familiar with a specific usage style, such as The Chicago Manual of Style or Associated Press, put that down. And if you're trained in other style guides such as medical or legal, mention those as well.

Examples of Related Skills:
  • Copy Editing

  • Copy Writing

  • Digital Media

  • Drafting

  • Editing

  • Establishing Tone

  • Formatting

  • Grammar

  • Identifying Theme

  • Establishing Purpose

  • Journalist Ethics

  • Language

  • Media

  • Microsoft Office

  • Proofreading

  • Revising

  • Spelling

  • Structure

  • Style

  • Structure

  • Punctuation

  • Strong Vocabulary

  • Using the Rhetorical Triangle

  • Devise Structure

  • Establish Tone

Examples of Media Writing Skills:
  • Newsletters

  • Business Storytelling

  • Blog Writing

  • Journalism

  • News Writing

  • Organizing

  • Print Writing

  • Proposal Writing

  • Social Media

  • Web Writing

  • Presentation Writing

  • Creative Writing

  • Feature Writing

  • Magazine Writing

Examples of Journalism Skills:
  • Applying Inductive Reasoning in Generating Storylines

  • Applying Specialized Knowledge in Business, Health, Economics, Politics, to Stories

  • Asking Tough Questions

  • Convincing Editors to Let You Pursue Stories

  • Coping with Deadline Pressure

  • Creating an Effective Social Media Presence to Promote Articles

  • Distinguishing Fact from Opinion

  • Establishing Rapport with Others Quickly

  • Evaluating the Legitimacy of Research Studies

  • Extracting Information from Primary Sources

  • Gauging What Will Interest Readers

  • Grammatically Correct Writing

  • Handling Criticism from Editors and Readers

  • Incorporating the Right Data to Support Storylines

  • Interviewing Experts

  • Networking to Identify Sources

  • Overcoming Objections from Reluctant Sources

  • Protecting the Confidentiality of Sources

  • Questioning Witnesses

  • Reconfirming Facts

  • Researching Background Information for Stories

  • Tapping Social Media to Identify Experts

  • Utilizing Deductive Reasoning to Guide Research for Stories

  • Verbal Communication

  • Writing with a Who, What, Where and When Focus

Examples of Personal Attributes:
  • Accuracy

  • Budgeting

  • Consistency

  • Creativity

  • Detail Oriented

  • Flexible

  • Interpersonal Skills

  • Team Player

  • Patience

  • Negotiation Ability

  • Organization

Professional Writer Research Skills

As a professional writer, you could be called upon to write on topics you don't know much about. This requires research, sometimes online. If you are good at finding and assimilating large amounts of information quickly, say so – and provide examples from your history to prove it.

Examples of Related Skills:
  • Analysis

  • Reporting

  • Report Writing

  • Online Searches

  • Identifying Audience

  • Content Review

  • Content Management

Familiarity with Relevant Software and Platforms

Some clients require the use of certain word processing programs, file sharing services, collaboration apps, blogging platforms, or website templates. Projects may also require other types of software, such as spreadsheets or video editing. The more of these you already know how to use, the better – be sure to list them on your resume, especially if a job announcement specifically states that they are a requirement. If you can advise your client on which programs, apps, and platforms to use, that is even better.

Examples of Related Skills:
  • Content Management Systems (CMS)

  • Microsoft Office

  • Online Editing

  • Software

  • WordPress

  • InDesign

  • Word Processing

  • Design Supervision

  • Mark-ups

  • Mock-ups

  • Marking Color Breaks

  • Marking Head Levels

  • Typesetting

  • Working Sketches

Collaboration and Communication

Writing is often collaborative, and editing always is. And the reality is that many people hire writers and editors because their own communication skills are poor. To succeed, you must be able to work effectively with others, even when these others are difficult to get along with. Active listening and needs assessment skills will go a long way toward building a positive rapport with your clients, no matter what their personality or background.

Examples of Related Skills:
  • Coordinating

  • Project Management

  • Teamwork

  • Author Meetings

  • Consulting

  • Contracts

  • Project Coordination

  • Verbal Communication

  • Written Communication

  • Working with Reviewers

Technical Writer Skills

A technical writer prepares instructional and supporting documents to communicate complex technical information in a user-friendly manner.

They develop and gather feedback from customers, designers, and manufacturers to help identify areas of confusion, and present solutions to the design and development teams. A technical writer is responsible for creating FAQs, charts, images, and training documents that can be easily understood by people in a wide range of backgrounds.

A technical writer must have strong communication skills, along with exceptional writing and grammar skills. A bachelor’s degree in Journalism, English, or Communications is often required. However, some companies require a degree and/or knowledge in a specialized field, like computer science, engineering, or finance.

Examples of Related Skills:
  • Ability to Work Autonomously

  • Analyze Information and Draw Conclusions

  • Create Diagrams, Drawings, and Charts to Explain Product Usage

  • Develop and Maintain Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

  • Develop Style Guide

  • Ensure Consistency

  • Excellent Grammar and Punctuation

  • Gather User Feedback

  • Generate Help Files and FAQs

  • Help Users Understand Intricate and Technical Information

  • Knowledgeable of Industry Regulations

  • Limit Product Complexity

  • Maintain and Update Document Library

  • Microsoft Office

  • Multitask Assignments

  • Prepare Internal and External Technical Documents

  • Proficient in Microsoft Word

  • Provide Solutions to Product Issues

  • Review Documents for Completeness and Accuracy

  • Standardize Product Content

  • Strong Attention to Detail

  • Strong Understanding of Product Features and User Needs

  • Strong Writing Skills

  • Strong Research and Product Knowledge

  • Understand Information Design and Architecture

  • Work Closely with Technical and Non-Technical Team Members

  • Work Well Under Pressure to Meet Deadlines

  • Write and Edit Product Publications

  • Write and Organize Instructional Documents

Applying for Work as a Writer or Editor

Besides a traditional resume, you will likely have to provide a portfolio of successfully completed projects and a collection of writing samples when you apply for work as a writer or editor.

For your portfolio, choose those projects and writing samples that are most relevant to the client’s project (even if this means downplaying favorite or well-received projects you’ve written for a non-related field).

Tips: Use your cover letter and other communication avenues to point out how the skills demonstrated by your history relate to the client’s needs.

Also draw attention to any relevant awards, publishing credits, or occasions where your work led to documented improvements in your client’s bottom line. Because clients vary in what they want, be prepared to re-organize your materials for every single pitch.

In many cases, educational or work history not directly related to writing or editing might be relevant to a particular job or project. For example, you might be hired to edit a book, and knowledge of a book’s subject matter would be a definite plus. Always be on the lookout for the possibility that your special expertise may be relevant because the client might not think to ask.

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