How to Become a Content Writer or Content Strategist as an English Major

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A remarkable 2 million blog posts are written every single day. That’s a lot of words!

More importantly for you, English major, that’s a lot of words that need to be written.

As the amount of content consumed grows (we’re currently at an average of 10 hours, 39 minutes daily per person), the need for talented storytellers, writers, and creators to make this content will increase. The professional world will also need sensitive individuals who can design content experiences in accessible, strategic ways.

In this article, we’ll explain how you can leverage the skills you learn in your English coursework to land a career in content. We’ll also share some of the top skills you’ll need to learn outside of class so you’re a competitive job applicant.

Here’s the table of contents:

Job Overview: What Do Content Writers and Content Strategists Actually Do?

In the last few years – in the last five, especially – businesses have realized the value of web content in their marketing and promotional strategies. More recently – in the last three or so years – fields like user experience and content strategy have grown from tasks performed by general designers to separate positions.

This is great news for English majors. Employers are recognizing the value content writers and content strategists can bring to their organizations.

From a different perspective, content writers and strategists play an important role ensuring products, websites, and content experiences consider different audiences. Through the efforts of considerate strategists, problems like exclusive language or problematic assumptions can be overcome.

But what do content writers and content strategists actually do? And how are these roles different?

Content Writers

Let’s grab the definition from Wikipedia:

A website content writer or web content writer is a person who specializes in providing relevant content for websites. Every website has a specific target audience and requires a different type and level of content. Content should contain words (key words) that attract and retain users on a website.

Most story pieces are centered on marketing products or services that the website is selling or endorsing, though this is not always the case. Some websites are informational only and do not sell a product or service. In those instances, the content should be geared toward helping to educate the reader while providing them with complex information in a way that is easy to understand and retain.

The shape of that relevant content can vary significantly. Sometimes, content writers create a series of informational articles (like this one) designed to inform or education. OTher times, content writers need to share information that is compelling and fun, like most of Buzzfeed’s content. And in other cases, content writers write educational content so they can attract search engine traffic to a site, then build an email list or generate revenue through ads.

Wikipedia’s list of content writer functions is actually pretty great:

There is a growing demand for skilled web content writers on the Internet. This is because quality content often translates into higher revenues for online businesses.

Website owners and managers depend on content writers to perform several major tasks:

  1. Analyze all the tasks before sending to the content writer, and to give a task regarding promoting for the particular website given for reference URL.
  2. Check for keywords or generate a keyword and give it to the writers to use in the article, and provide them with the limitations for the keywords.
  3. Create or copy edit to inform the reader, and to promote or sell the company, product, or service described in the website.
  4. Produce content to entice and engage visitors so they continue browsing on the current website. This operates on the premise that the longer a visitor stays on a particular site, the greater the likelihood they will eventually become clients or customers.
  5. Produce content that is smart in its use of keywords, or is focused on search engine optimization (SEO). This means the text must contain relevant keywords and phrases that are most likely to be entered by users in web searches associated with the actual site for better search engine indexing and ranking.
  6. Create content that allows the site visitors to get the information they want quickly and efficiently. Efficient and focused web content gives readers access to information in a user-friendly manner.
  7. Create unique, useful, and compelling content on a topic primarily for the readers and not just for the search engines.

Website content writing aims for relevance and search-ability. Relevance means that the website text should be useful and beneficial to readers. Search-ability indicates usage of keywords to help search engines direct users to websites that meet their search criteria.

To summarize: content writers create web content intended to education, inform, sell, or entertain. This is an excellent entryway into the world of professional writing for English majors. In fact, English majors can begin working as content writers right now – today! – even without having completed a degree.

Content Strategists

A content strategist generally means one of two things:

  1. An individual who plans, executes, and manages business strategies revolving around content
  2. Someone who understands the role of content in design and ensures content supports design goals

Sometimes, a content strategist role will combine these two definitions.

Here’s how Search Engine Journal describes content strategy:

A content strategy is essentially a business’s blueprint that lays out exactly how its onsite/offsite content will be used to accomplish business goals. A good content strategy answers any and all content usage questions such as:

  • Why should the content be published?
  • Where are we going to publish this content?
  • When should we roll out this content to viewers?
  • Who do we want to see it?
  • What reaction are we hoping to receive from the content?
  • What in the world do we do with the content after we’ve published it?

When you have tackled a few of these broader questions, it’s time to dive into some more nitty-gritty questions like:

  • What types of content do your multiple audiences need or want?
  • How should you organize and structure your content?
  • Who is posting and maintaining your content?
  • How often is content being published?
  • How does your audience find and interact with your content?

What is listed is a sliver of what should be gone over when creating a content strategy. This process requires time, research, thought, and strategic planning. By coming up with a great content strategy, you will know exactly what, why, and how your business is planning on using content to better accomplish your goals.

In other cases, a content strategist can be a more technical role. These types of strategists help plan the backend of website architecture to ensure content is properly supported by technology. For example, which type of content management system (CMS) should a website use (such as WordPress)? How should the information be organized on the site (should some pages be clumped together)? How can content be repurposed throughout a website so the same information doesn’t need to be created again and again?

Feel confused? You’re not alone. Because content strategy is a relatively new field, it’s still trying to figure out how it should be defined.

There’s a lot that goes into being a good content strategist. You need deep design training (more than just knowing which colors go together). You need audience research and user experience skills. And you need some technical experience to boot.

Naturally, jumping right into a content strategist role is a bit more challenging than a content writing role. We recommend getting experience creating content first, such as during your undergrad, then moving into a strategist role.

Why Content Writing and Content Strategy are Great Jobs for English Majors

Working in content is a natural move for English majors. Here’s a sample of the skills you need for these jobs:

  • Persuasive writing – you practice this whenever you write an essay
  • Audience analysis – a key rhetorical tool
  • Realistic planning and project management – learned during group projects (yes, those are actually useful when done correctly)
  • Understanding of how different pieces connect together and influence each other – critical theory, anyone?
  • Training and presentation skills – those presentations weren’t for nothing
  • Researching and using good sources – how many “research” papers have you written?
  • Interest in any topic – if we were to name something English majors are good at, we might name curiosity, or the ability to be interested in anything

Content Marketing Institute (CMI) has a nice breakdown of what they think a content strategist should be.

CMI also has a breakdown of top skills for content writers:

  1. Polished writing skills – “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter”
  2. Headline creation – “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”
  3. Awareness of user experience – How will your audience react to your content? Is this in line with how you’d like them to react?
  4. Specialization – Finding the right audience
  5. Marketing awareness –

What Kind of People Do Well in Content Writer or Content Strategist Positions?

If you love telling stories, teaching, or explaining complicated topics in simple ways, then a career in content could be a great fit for you.

Content writers need to learn how to quickly research and learn new topics. They also need to write compelling, engaging content that accomplishes multiple goals. This is a tricky balancing act, but it gets better with experience.

Content strategists need strong design skills. They have to understand the human experience, especially how to design with compassion.

What Challenges Do Content Writer or Content Strategists Jobs Face?

Since both content writer and content strategist are relatively new positions, it’s not clear how these roles will evolve. We do know something that give us an indication of potential future challenges.

First, content is shifting beyond simply written content and into other media. Video is quickly on the rise. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’re out of a job because someone has to write those scripts. But it does mean we have to be flexible and constantly update our skills.

Since the world of online marketing changes so quickly, as do design trends, English majors who want to work as content writers or content strategists will need to constantly keep their skills updated.

What Would a Career Path in this Field Look Like?

In this new field, a career path is not certain. But here’s what it’s likely going to be, based on our experience.

Don’t those numbers look great? So much for English majors not being able to pay the bills! It’s not all about the money, but like writer/artist Lynda Barry said, “The key to eternal happiness is low overhead and no debt.” With frugal living and a good salary, you could retire after 15 years and dedicate the rest of your life to writing (or whatever your passions are).

Note that these aren’t the only positions open to English majors who begin work as content writers or content strategists. There are many other types of positions, like project manager, that you can pursue depending on your interests and experience.

What Are Some Entry-Level Jobs to Research?

Job alerts are the best way to stay on top of content writer jobs. (Learn how to set those up here.)

Since content writer and content strategist are relatively new positions, you’ll want to set up job alerts for the following:

You’ll note that a lot of job postings ask for 1-2 years of experience. Don’t let this get you down. If you follow our site’s advice to begin working before you graduate, you could leverage that into a great first job.

Top Skills Required for Content Writers and Content Strategists

We reviewed a few dozen job postings for content writers. Then, we tracked which skills seemed to be msot in-demand. Finally, we foudn resources where you can learn these skills on your own (and get real-world experience) while you’re still in school.

Based on our findings, the top skills for content writers are:

  • Create compelling headlines
  • Research good sources
  • Write blog posts, articles, case studies, and other marketing materials
  • Knowledge of SEO best practices
  • Interviewing subject matter experts
  • Knowledge of content management systems
  • Knowledge of marketing automation systems
  • HTML/CSS
  • Experience with Adobe creative suite
  • Email software

Other soft skills and requirements included detail and deadline oriented, strong organizational and communications skills, ability to gain understanding of all roles and responsibilities for business units, and self-motivation.

How to Learn to Create Compelling Headlines

The ability to write compelling headlines is a must in the modern world. Sites like UpWorthy have built their empires based on the strength of their headlines alone.

You probably won’t learn how to create headlines in your coursework. However, there are lots of resources you can use to learn this critical skills.

Above all, you’ll want to practice. Eventually, writing great headlines will become second nature to you.

How to Learn How to Research for Web Writing

There’s currently a glut of mediocre content on the web. Brands who can publish great, informative content will rise to the top. The same brands who want to publish quality information for their audience are more likely to respect the value of great content and pay their workers well. You want to work for these brands.

The same research skills you develop for homework assignments apply to work as a content writer. You know how to find quality sources, you’re comfortable with academic-style writing (which is great for white papers), and you’ve probably learned some tricks to speed up research.

Writing for the web is slightly different because you need to be a bit more strategic. You’ll want to quote certain blogs because those blogs’ authors might be willing to link back to your article. (Influencer marketing is a growing part of content strategy.)

The best resource for web writing research is How We Research Blog Posts at Buffer. (Pretty much everything on the Buffer blog is worth reading.)

How to Write Blog Posts, Articles, White Papers, Case Studies, and Other Types of Web Content

Content writing is a game of “yes, I can do that”, especially when you’re starting out. You’ll be asked, “Can you write a white paper?” And you’ll say, “Sure!” Then you’ll think, “What’s a white paper, and can I really write one?”

The good news is yes, you can write any type of content you need. And because you’re an English major, you’re probably good at researching a new topic and writing persuasively on it. (If you’re like us, you probably have lots of experience waiting until the last possible moment to start this research.)

Here are some solid guides explaining how to write the most common types of web contnet:

How to Learn Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

A lot of web content is created to bring in traffic from search engines (like Google or Bing). Basically, websites that show up on the first page of search results for specific phrases (like “Best restaurant in Los Angeles”) will get far more traffic than sites on page two. Thus, websites will use search engine optimization (SEO) to improve their chances of ranking higher.

Understanding SEO is critical to writing web content. Knowing how to gracefully integrate keywords into content is an art.

You don’t need to be an SEO expert to create great content, but it helps. The best resource to learn SEO is Moz’s SEO: The Beginner’s Guide to SEO. Moz is an SEO industry leader, and their always up-to-date guide will get you started in everything you need to know to include SEO on your resume.

How to Learn Content Management Systems (CMS) or WordPress

Many content writer jobs give bonus points for being familiar with content management systems. WordPress is one of the most widely used CMS options and a good introduction to the tech. It’s robust, yet approachable for beginners. If you can learn WordPress, you can pick up other CMS options quickly.

A good place to learn WordPress basics is the official WordPress site. WordPress.com Learn offers a nice primer aimed at beginners.

If you’re a premium member of English Major’s Guide, you can get instant access to our own WordPress guide. In about an hour, our video series will walk you through configuring your own WordPress site, installing a theme, and building an attractive portfolio site. Get access through becoming a premium member.

Content Writing and Content Strategy Websites You Should Read

There’s a lot to know about creating web content. The field changes quickly. What worked six months ago might not work today.

This makes keeping up-to-date with the latest content writer and content stratregist information essential.

We’ve curated a list of the top sites for aspiring content writers and content strategists. While there are many sites that could have been included, the follow sites were selected for the following reasons:

  • They publish frequently
  • They have a good starting point for beginners
  • Other sites see these as being authoritative voices in the field
  • They give a broad view of the kinds of discussions happening in this field

If there’s a blog or website we missed you think we should have included, let us know on our Facebook page or email matt@englishmajorsguide.com.

We’ll also include a Feedly collection for these sites.

Here’s the list, in no particular order.

Copyblogger

copyblogger-blog

One of the top sites for content marketing, Copyblogger has developed some of the best content about content. (Meta-content?)

From educational resources to professional certifications to a wide network of podcasts, Copyblogger can share everything an aspiring content writer or content strategist might need begin.

Every English major should be reading Copyblogger regularly to discover how content marketing is changing – and how to stay relevant to employers.

(You’ll also notice we shamelessly ripped off Copyblogger’s site layout for our beta launch.)

Quicksprout

quicksprout-blog

We have a love-hate relationship with Quicksprout. On the one hand, their content is generally great. On the other hand, visitors to the site are bombarded with subscribe forms/offers/other annoying things. (How many pictures of your goofy grin do you really need on your site, Neil Patel?)

Still, the sheer volume of high-value content both provides instruction and a model for great blog writing. Quicksprout also posts journeys to keep you up-to-date on changing trends in the content space. Even if you don’t have time to read every post word-for-word, you’d do well to follow what Quicksprout is publishing.

The Buffer Blog

buffer-blog

We love Buffer. They put a lot of effort into making their web content thorough, well-researched, and well-designed – and it shows. You can pick just about any post to learn all you need about a subject. Plus, their corporate voice is one of the best in the industry.

HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Blog

hubspot-blog

HubSpot built a $3 Billion company through content marketing. We’d say they know what they’re doing.

Frequently publishing articles, templates, case studies, and other useful content, HubSpot’s blog helps readers understand the whys and hows of inbound marketing (which is a fancy term for content marketing, and a debate we don’t want to get into here).

Seth’s Blog

seth-godin-blog

Marketing guru Seth Godin is one of our favorite authors. His sensitive, thoughtful approach to marketing changed web marketing forever with the publication of his book Permission Marketing. His daily thoughts cover a broad variety of topics, sometimes marketing and sometimes life in general, but they’re always worth a read.

Other Content Writing and Content Strategy Resources

In addition to the sites we listed, you’ll want to check out some of these books to learn about content writer and content strategist roles. (Purchasing these books through the links below may generate a small commission that helps this site keep operating. Thanks!)

The book I recommend most highly for content strategy beginners is The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane (also available on Amazon). It’s a fantastic primer from the always insightful A Book Apart series.

Next, you’ll want to read Permission Marketing by Seth Godin. This helps you understand the ideology underneath content marketing efforts, of which content writing is a big part. When you understand the “Why”, the “How” will take shape.

Here are some other great books to read:

Some of Our Best Articles for Aspiring Content Writers and Content Strategists

We’ve published a few articles we think will be useful for you if you’d like to become a content writer or content strategist. Here’s what we think you should read:

Have Questions?

We’re happy to help you learn how to jumpstart your career as a content writer or content strategist. Reach out to us by emailing matt@englishmajorsguide.com or visiting our Facebook page.


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