Nov 02 2011

Writing and Editing Skills Critical for Entry-Level Writers

Published by at 8:28 pm under Publishing Jobs

Scarily enough, I might be interviewing prospective marketing interns this year.  Here are some writing skills I’d really like to see.


1.  Basic proofreading skills.  Poor proofreading skills raise all sorts of red flags about a prospective writer (such as diligence, attention to detail and sometimes intelligence).  In contrast, good proofreading skills suggest the writer will be easier to work with, will require less hand-holding and can be trusted with proofreading assignments.  In particular, editors have more important things to do than double-checking everything written by publisher’s assistants or interns.  In an especially competitive field, like the publishing industry, a candidate with many typos in his/her resume or cover letter has virtually no chance of getting hired.


2. Conciseness.  Almost all corporate writing is shorter than 1000 words and longer writing probably isn’t entry-level (e.g. legal contracts or Gallup survey results or long-form journalism).  Besides proofreading, the ability to convey information quickly and clearly has probably been the most important writing skill in my brief professional experience.


3. The ability to vary writing style based on target audience and purpose.  For example, Notre Dame’s marketing materials will sound different and will probably focus on different themes than marketing materials for West Point or the University of Chicago.  Promotional copy for Grand Theft Auto will probably sound different than copy for Nintendogs, unless Rock Star and Nintendo are working on a very unorthodox crossover.

Grand Theft Auto Meets Nintendogs?
(Before you laugh, there actually was a Punisher/Archie crossover.  We can only pray that they aren’t already working on Grand Theft Ausky).


3.1. A basic understanding of motivations and thought processes.  For example, if you’re trying to convince teens not to smoke, I would definitely recommend NOT leading with long-term health consequences like cancer because most of your target audience isn’t thinking that far ahead.  (And any teen that is thinking 20+ years ahead almost assuredly does not smoke, regardless of your writing).  Instead, I’d recommend focusing on mundane, immediate concerns like bad breath/godawful kissing, stained teeth, a shortness of breath/athletic handicap, the financial costs, etc.  (For example, smoking one cigarette a day over the course of high school works out to something like $700, which is enough for maybe 25 high school dates or 10 pairs of Abercrombie pants or 50 meals out or 20 used copies of Grand Theft Ausky or whatever else teens like to spend money on).


4. The ability to maturely respond to professional criticism/advice.  It would be hard for an editor or another supervisor to work with someone that gets defensive or despondent whenever revisions are suggested.  Relatedly, quiet confidence is really helpful.  If the author is not convinced that he/she is (or at least could be) a talented writer, it will discourage anybody else from getting enthusiastic about his/her work.  DO NOT KNOCK YOURSELF IN YOUR COVER LETTER.  In some ways, it is even more dispiriting than addressing a supervisor as “Hey Homeboy.”  With substantial work, I might be able to teach someone about basic business etiquette, but there is absolutely no chance that I can convince someone to be confident in their work if they aren’t already.


4.1. A commitment to learning and improvement.  If your writing actually is perfect, I would recommend starting your own company and/or self-publishing rather than working for people that know less about writing than you do.  Otherwise, I would definitely working on improving your writing as much as possible.  As much as possible, try not to make the same mistake twice.  Entry-level writers aren’t expected to be master craftsmen, but are expected to be able to learn from setbacks.  When interns fail, it’s less because they don’t have the skills and usually more because they aren’t making enough progress learning the skills.


5. Appreciation for (and preferably knowledge of) the company’s products/services and industry.  Please spend at least a few minutes checking out the company’s website and Wikipedia page before writing your cover letter, because otherwise it’ll be pretty obvious.


6. The ability to anticipate and address objections and obstacles.  For example, if you’re writing a cover letter but don’t have much experience in the field, one obstacle your application will face is whether you’re qualified to succeed in the job.  It would really help to talk about something you’ve done that’s vaguely related to the field because (particularly in this economy) you might be competing against applicants that have some experience.  For example, if the job description mentions that the job is very fast-paced and that the deadlines are tight, it’d be helpful if you could give a concrete example.  For example, “Over my two years as an editor for our college newspaper, I didn’t miss any 3 AM print deadlines.”


7. A basic grasp of business etiquette and professionalism.  For example, if a writer’s cover letter is addressed to “Hey Homeboy,” then that person is probably not ready to write professionally.  I would recommend “Dear Ms. Smith” or “Dear Mr. Smith,” unless Dr. or Professor fits better.   (If you’re looking at a position that involves correspondence with government officials, I’d recommend reading this protocol guidesome officials take protocol too seriously).

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Writing and Editing Skills Critical for Entry-Level Writers”

  1. steton 03 Nov 2011 at 6:38 am

    Does this mean you have a new job? Are congratulations in order, homeboy?

  2. B. Macon 03 Nov 2011 at 7:22 am

    In ~2 weeks, I will be the marketing director of an apparel company. (Incidentally, my boss likes SN and I feel it has prepared me pretty well for some of the search engine optimization work I’ll be doing).

  3. steton 03 Nov 2011 at 7:43 am

    Then congratulations are -definitely- in order! Well done. And your boss sounds smart. SN certainly showcases your commitment, determination, organization, and intelligence. Anyone who can start and maintain a site like this can tackle other projects without any trouble.

  4. B. McKenzieon 03 Nov 2011 at 11:27 am


  5. Mynaon 03 Nov 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Whoa, that’s pretty cool! Congrats B. Mac : ) Although I’m a little confused, maybe this is ’cause I haven’t been on in awhile, but I thought you were teaching in SK…?

  6. Wingson 03 Nov 2011 at 12:57 pm

    So you’re taking the job, homeboy? Good for you! You’re bound to be awesome at it.

    – Wings

  7. Milanon 03 Nov 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Congratulations B.Mac!

    Best part is your boss liking SN. Must be a good person. But it also means he might be able to tell when you’re not working on his stuff 🙂

  8. B. McKenzieon 03 Nov 2011 at 9:06 pm

    “But it also means he might be able to tell when you’re not working on his stuff.” Haha.

    My main suggestions for professionals that blog on the side would be:
    1) Never post during working hours unless it’s part of your job (obviously). Especially if your boss reads your blog! 🙂

    2) I don’t name any company I’ve worked with.

    3) I wouldn’t talk about a coworker without asking him/her first. (I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about a workplace in anything but the most general terms, but I definitely haven’t identified any coworkers).

    4) Don’t engage in any online behavior that would embarrass you if it became public (e.g. shady marketing strategies, being malicious to inexperienced commenters, trolling, etc). If you’re getting trolled, banning the offender is almost always cleaner and more professional than venting.

    5) Don’t complain about past employers, clients/customers or coworkers. There’s zero benefit and some risk. Even if you are COMPLETELY faultless, complaining about it raises questions that the problem lies (at least in part) with you. Also, it raises some risk of a defamation case if you’re totally off-base. (For example, if you publicly claim that freelancer John Doe is defrauding you because he has your money and hasn’t responded to your emails in a week, you might look like a total jackass and maybe get sued if it turns out that he was actually in the emergency room after getting hit by a car).

  9. B. Macon 04 Nov 2011 at 2:43 am

    “Although I’m a little confused, maybe this is ’cause I haven’t been on in awhile, but I thought you were teaching in SK…?” That was originally my plan–I had the offer and was set to go, but I declined because I didn’t think I could manage a classroom with 30+ kids aged 6-10 with limited English proficiency. In the interim, I’ve been working at a tutoring center with smaller groups of mostly high school students. I think it went well–my supervisor asked me to stay when I gave my two weeks’ notice, whereas if I had been working with 30+ grade school students, my supervisor would have been giving ME two weeks’ notice to pack my bags.

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