When I signed up for classes at my Freshman orientation, I knew I wanted to be an English major. There was never any doubt. As for my minor, I did what everyone told me I should do and chose Education. Freshman year, it didn’t matter, because I was getting all my gen. eds. out of the way. Sophomore year, it only took one semester of Education classes to know it wasn’t for me. I didn’t hate those classes, by any means, but I found no joy in them either. So, I had to figure out what the heck I was going to do. It took a whole other semester, but I finally settled on Communications after going through the class listings and realizing that much of Communications is about writing.
Here are 5 reasons why I couldn’t be happier with that choice:
- Expanding Your Range: This is ultimately the reason I chose Communications, and it’s how I always answered the question, “Why did you choose Communications?” during those time-killing introduction exercises nearly all the professors do on the first day of class. Communications will teach you how to write a wide variety of things, not just academic papers or literature. I learned how to write for newspapers and television news. I learned to write press releases, pitch letters, and advisories. Those last three are very lucrative skills if you actually enjoy them. People/companies pay through the nose for a great press release. Most importantly for me, though, I not only learned the format and the tone of how to write them, but I learned the persuasion principles that make them so effective. Comes in handy in my blind pitches and applications.
- AP Style: AP is the style guide of the business world and of Communications courses. It is also the style guide for most magazines. That makes it a very important style guide to a freelance writer. Now, I only minored in Communications, and personally I find AP Style to be way too nit-picky. So do I know it like the back of my hand as I do MLA (the style guide of English courses) or even Chicago? No. Still, I am familiar with it, and it allows me to apply to a lot more jobs.
- Multi-Media: Communications courses are tailored for journalists, and the big thing in journalism in the technology age when newspapers and other older journalistic outlets are dying a slow and painful death is having multi-media skills. The journalist who stands out is the one who can research, write, film, and edit her own television clip, and take a few nice pictures, too, in case the editor wants to post them on the website. In my courses, I learned how to film and edit a news segment. I learned how to record and edit a sound byte for radio. I learned how to use the program InDesign, which is a majorly helpful tool in formatting books. I designed posters (one design was actually used around Chattanooga for an event) and fancy resumes and websites, all of which have helped me effectively sell myself in my freelancing career, especially recently.
- Interview Skills: The raging introvert in me would love nothing more than for me to become a hermit who never leaves her house except to run errands and who only talks to her husband and their families. Alas, that isn’t good at all for someone who now runs an official licensed business from home. That’s why I’m so grateful for the interview skills my Communications courses gave me. I hated the assignments that required interviews. They actually terrified me. But, I’m a hard-core goody-two-shoes who always does her homework, so I was forced to do them. And once I actually sat down with the person and started asking my questions, I wasn’t scared anymore and I learned something invaluable. I know how to ask open-ended questions to get the best answers. I know how to properly quote sources. I know how to interview in person and over the phone. I know what kinds of questions to ask for different pieces. If you want to write articles for magazines as a freelancer, you MUST know how to interview. If I hadn’t been “forced” to interview people in a school setting where it “didn’t really count,” I never would have done it and I would never have had the confidence or the know-how to talk to a ghostwriting client about what they want their book to be. I wouldn’t know how to get the answers to personal questions I sometimes need answers to in order to fill out a non-fiction book. I wouldn’t know how to steer the conversation back to the point while talking to an energetic client who keeps going off on rabbit trails. If there is one thing you need to get a book or take a course on before becoming a freelance writer, it’s interviewing.
- The Bleed-Through: So many of my Communications courses bled into my English courses. This probably wouldn’t have been the case if I only focused on English Literature, but I have an English Writing Degree, so I took a number of courses on the publishing world and writing persuasively, or “with style.” At the same time I was learning to analyze and write papers on ad copy in a rhetoric class, I was learning to write that ad-style copy in a Communications course. While I was learning how to adapt to different writing styles in an English course, I was learning to write entirely different kinds of styles in a Communications course. I had an English course on editing and publishing and a Communications course on design that both touched on typography (the study of fonts … riveting, I know, but surprisingly useful) and formatting.
If you’re in school, thinking about going back to school, or debating what online/certification courses you should look into, Communications is definitely something you want to consider if you are even remotely interested in freelance writing. If you’re already an English major and you don’t want to be a teacher, know there is something else that pairs just as well. Communications is the perfect minor for the English major who wants to actually be able to get out of college and land any sort of job that requires writing, because you’ll have the skills to write just about anything by the time you get that degree in your hand.