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What Is Professional Writing? Learning From Our Alumni

By Chelsea Best

“Oh, you want to be an author?”

Nine out of ten times, this is the response I get after telling people I’m majoring in writing. Often, writing is only associated with writing books, as if writing isn’t a key aspect in everything else that we do. On the rare occasion that this doesn’t happen, I receive blank stares and worried smiles. What do writing majors do, especially those who aren’t going to be authors?

Unbeknown to many, there is more to writing than the creative fiction, nonfiction and poetry side. Most students and professionals alike use writing in their everyday lives. There are writers, communicators, marketers and designers in a wide range of fields that practice writing and rhetoric every day.

This is professional writing.

Professional writing is used to convey information, to persuade, to provide instruction, and even to stimulate a specific action or emotion. This may seem like a strong overgeneralization, but it’s a start. Professional writers can be experts in document design, marketing and advertising, technical writing, instructional writing, grant writing, medical writing, and the list goes on. A key characteristic of professional writing is its breadth.

I found that interacting with some of the Department of Writing’s alumni has given me a first-hand perspective of the range of opportunities for professional writers. For instance, last year, I attended several panels where alumni shared their experiences with the program and discussed different job opportunities within the field. Hearing about others’ journeys and experiences helps the rest of us to learn more about the different opportunities and career options within writing.

Here’s what I learned:

Kelly Brown, Marketing Project Manager at Green Giftz, led us through her journey of being a freelance writer, to managing and marketing the Writers Under 30 program, to now promoting and branding sustainable solutions for her current employer.

Rose White, Digital Producer at WZZM 13, pursued a Master’s in journalism after graduating from Grand Valley. Rose works to maintain WZZM’s digital presence, which includes uploading multimedia works to the website and all their social media pages, as well as writing and copyediting stories to be published.

Allie Oosta works as the Senior Project Manager/Head of Strategy and Planning for Amazon Fashion Marketing. She began her job at Amazon as a copyeditor, and over a period of 7 years, made her way into her current marketing position. Her expertise is in business writing, as she uses this to brand Amazon Fashion and effectively get messages across to customers.

Then there’s Sami Birch, Customer Resource Management Administrator for JR Automation. Sami started as technical writer for JR Automation, where she designed a newsletter for the business, leading her heading JR’s new marketing department. She is responsible for developing their brand strategy, website, and social media pages.

Each of these alumni shaped their own identity, following different paths in the curriculum and post-graduation. These examples illustrate how broad the field is and gave me new insights in the possibilities that exist for writers. Writing does not have a single career path; in the end, it will be what you make of it. And that too is professional writing.

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