By Susan Hoffman
Edge Managing Editor
Professional communicators have long been involved in the workplace. Some writers choose to study a particular field and become technical writers who write instruction manuals, white papers, and other similar documents. Others choose to enter the creative world, becoming screenwriters, novelists or playwrights.
Start a B.A. in communication at American Public University.
Still other writers focus strictly on the business world. They may become grant writers for nonprofits, work as copywriters for marketing agencies or turn into professional bloggers, like Australian blogger Darren Rowse.
A great deal of today’s writing now ends up on websites. But creating the type of content that is easily readable and converts people from prospects to actual customers isn’t easy. Ideally, today’s writers need to know five essential skills.
Skill #1 for Today’s Writers: Web Writing
Research has shown that Web readers tend to be skimmers. They may often check out a headline, the first sentence of an article, and some subheaders before choosing to read an entire article.
Ideally, paragraphs for such articles should have short sentences and short paragraphs. This type of material is easier for a Web reader to understand, especially if that person uses a mobile device. In addition, shorter paragraphs allow for plenty of white space (blank space) to appear on a webpage, so that it doesn’t appear jammed with text and there is sufficient room for images to appear on the webpage as well.
Skill #2 for Today’s Writers: Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) involves how search engines track down material that is published on the web and decide where to rank that content on their search engine result pages. Each search engine uses different ranking factors to make these decisions; Google alone has over 200 ranking factors.
Knowing SEO is useful if you’re a writer creating material intended to be put online because it helps search engines more easily understand what you write. Although maximizing the effectiveness of SEO for a business requires the services of a specialist, understanding at least the basics of SEO to write material that search engines can easily understand is a good start.
Skill #3 for Today’s Writers: Collaboration Tools
With the shift to working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, some software programs have risen in popularity. For instance, many businesses routinely use Zoom to allow their employees and leaders to easily communicate with each other.
Becoming familiar with collaboration tools such as Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides is essential, especially when your coworkers are in different locations. These tools enable several people to have easy access to the same documents, without the necessity of emailing multiple versions of a document back and forth to one another.
Skill #4 for Today’s Writers: Web Analytics
There are multiple tools available — such as Google Analytics, Open Web Analytics and Matomo — that an organization can use to measure how well the pages on its website perform. For instance, tools such as Google Analytics can determine how many people see your webpages, the links they click, their path through your website and their geographic location.
Having a basic understanding of web analytics helps a business to determine what is working and what isn’t for customers. As a result, the organization can then use the feedback from web analytics to adapt its business strategy, attract more customers and retain its current customers.
Skill #5 for Today’s Writers: Graphics and Website Design Skills
In the past, writers merely needed to have a good grasp of spelling and grammar, as well as the ability to write in a way that held readers’ attention. But as the web grew and more organizations felt the necessity of creating websites to advertise their company’s products and services, working as a professional writer became much more technical.
Many writers choose to work as communication specialists for businesses of various sizes. However, be sure to read ads for such positions very carefully; some organizations prefer their employees to be skilled in creating graphics and websites, in addition to being good writers. Often, this requirement is because a company wants to save money, rather than hiring for two separate positions of graphics designer and writer.
Overall, there are multiple industries where the services of professional writers come in handy. But taking the time to acquire technical skills and staying aware of market requirements is always a good idea.