English majors are known for many things. They're literate, consummate communicators, who know how to value and harness the power of the written word. They're sensitive to nuance and subtext. And, once they graduate, they're ready to become English teachers or write the next great novel. Is that all? That's not all.
As an English major, your word-nerd smarts can open plenty of other doors. Here’s a peek at what might pique your interest.
Can you spot a typo a mile away? Do misplaced modifiers make you want to pull your hair out? Do your roommates turn to you to peek at essays before turning them in? Put your eagle-eyed tendencies to good use (and help others in the process) by considering a career in copywriting or proofreading.
While they’re closely aligned, copyediting concerns improving writing’s structure (and spotting errors along the way), while proofreading is the last defense against mistakes before a written pieces goes live. Both require the ability to read materials with an incredibly discerning eye—a skill you undoubtedly honed in English classes.
This field goes far beyond spellcheck. If you really want to up your game, consider taking an additional certificate class and becoming well acquainted with different style guides (like Chicago and AP). Your fluency in publishing standards and polished prose doesn’t only spare you from sending emails with embarrassing errors, but can be a major asset to any employer that values precise messaging. (Hint: It’s just about all of them.)
Do you adore the power of storytelling to convey vital information? Are you able to weave an intriguing tale out of anything? Perhaps content writing is your calling.
While “content" has become a somewhat diluted buzzword, it essentially translates to written materials in various formats—text, video, infographics, quizzes...heck, even this very article you’re reading—that are accessible and timely. Typically, they’re online. (In ye olde print, they’re usually just referred to as “articles"—remember those?)
Content is often housed within the marketing realm, but it’s by no means a limited affair. With thousands of niche topics to be covered—and in formats of all lengths and configurations—the realm of content feels endless.
While that can spell opportunity for you, be prepared to work nimbly in this field, as the content cycle moves fast. Themes are often driven by SEO, trends, and other marketing metrics that run behind the scenes of whatever organization is hosting the content. A minor in marketing—or a course in content specifically—can be a strategic supplement to your stellar storytelling skills.
Are you a whiz at wordplay? Capable of communicating with dazzling concision? As content tends to be longer form, copywriting in the marketing and advertising arenas—where brevity is often the goal—could be more your jam.
Whether you’re crafting quippy social media captions, trotting out product taglines, whipping up startup names, or cranking out witty words for websites, the world of marketing and advertising copywriting is as varied as it is creative. Short form verbiage is needed everywhere, and if you’ve got the chops, those words on signs, digital ads, brochures, and more could be yours.
Be aware, however, that copywriting is a specific craft that differs from, say, the familiar practice of writing essays at school. Often, a company will have brand voice guidelines that dictate the tone and personality you should convey, and creative briefs will contain insights into specific messages that you need to communicate. There’s likely also specific jargon you’ll need to adapt. (Think of it as worldbuilding!) Deadlines can be fast, with revisions from various stakeholders. Learning to write precisely and concisely takes practice and a thick skin. If advertising—which often involves concepting and writing a rapid-fire, attention-grabbing short story—is what appeals to you, just watching funny ads online won’t cover it all. (Although it can be an enjoyable place to start.)
Classes—or even grad school!—in advertising will encompass a huge range of material, from historical ads (Mad Men style) to current political campaigns. Media literacy is always relevant, perhaps increasingly so. Building up your capabilities to use these powers for good can be a fulfilling and worthwhile endeavor (especially if the companies for which you write share your values).
Your English courses indubitably analyzed narrative flow, whether you were perusing a poem or tearing into a treasured tome. As such, you likely have a refined sense of pacing, plot, and character development. While the written word offers copious opportunities to put this prowess into practice, you may want to add another creative dimension: the visual one.
With screens just about everywhere, video’s everywhere, too. The ability to not only craft a script, but work with video clips to tell a complete and compelling story, can give you a serious leg up in the job world. It can also bring storytelling to life in a way that’s especially appealing if you pursued film classes alongside your English curriculum.
Luckily, as devices become more omnipresent, so, too, do software options—especially for novices. But while you can likely create some pretty nifty video pieces using barebones equipment, additional classwork (like a continuing education program), internships, or even collaborative community projects can take your work to the next level.
Narrative flow isn’t just for writing or video—it’s all over anything interactive, from how you navigate a news app to booking tickets through a music festival’s microsite. UX and UI design specializes in the user experience (it’s literally how the field was named), and that usability journey can be viewed as a story, with motivations, shortcuts, and dead ends.
Although your narrative know-how from English readings can get you started, UX/UI is pretty heavy on the design side of things, and—depending on the specific role—may also include software coding. That’s not to discourage you, though. The industry is hoppin’, and as such, there are plenty of learning opportunities—in the form of workshops, bootcamps, in-person and online classes, and internships—to get your skills up to snuff. Courses in art history can build up a visual vocabulary, too.
Even more good news: Your upper-level ability to communicate comes in extra handy here, as you can provide a more human-centered interpretation to work in parallel with the techier aspects with which engineers excel.
Understanding why people behave the way they do isn’t just essential to creating believable characters in fiction; it’s at the center of, well, humanity at large.
If the human condition and how we make decisions intrigues you, then market research may be your bag. Through focus groups, data analysis, and user testing, companies aim to get to the heart of what drives people, in politics, consumer behaviors (like pricing, packaging, and brand loyalty), and many other areas of life.
While a keen sense of narrative and refined character insight will certainly come in handy, market research is often tied to industry, so business classes—or even a business degree—and even courses on design thinking can majorly multiply your impact, and enable you to truly dig deep and examine all necessary angles and analytical approaches.
Comprehending how people behave is just one piece of the puzzle. If you want to reach people on behalf of the company for which you work—while putting a positive (and hopefully fact-filled) spin on it—then PR might be your place.
When rumor mills and social media can tear down any entity in record timing, PR has become all the more important to manage reputational crises and represent a company on their own terms, in their own words. Having the ability to communicate sensitively, using words that are resonant and relevant, can make the difference between a genuine statement that is well-received...and a tone deaf media blast that does more harm than good. Since PR tends to work so closely with upper-level execs—and can be so tied into major corporate initiatives—a background in business can definitely come in handy.
Becoming more adept at public speaking, social media strategy, and networking (as you may be hobnobbing as part of the job), can be majorly advantageous, as well. With an ever-jaded public, unexpected emergencies, and amplified platforms to respond to (in addition to, y’know, the planned PR stuff, like announcements, expansions, events, awards, etc.), PR isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you’re passionate about cutting through the noise with messaging that packs a punch, gets recognized by higher-ups, and requires precision of language, it can be an exhilarating adventure for an English major to explore.
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