Your Questions Answered: What Degree Is Best For A Copywriter?

This is the first in a series of posts answering the questions that my readers have been typing into Google. If you’ve got a question you want me to answer, please get in touch.

Does this really matter to copywriters?

What Degree is Best For a Copywriter?

I’d debate whether or not you actually need a degree to be a copywriter, as a freelance copywriter doesn’t need any qualifications and agencies value skills and a good portfolio over degree certificates.

But that said, there are one or two degrees that could help to teach you the skills to become a top copywriter.

The Best Degree?

I’d like to think I’m a half-decent copywriter, and I studied Modern World History (that’s not an oxymoron, modernity starts between 1492 and the early 1700’s, depending on what you read). But I’ve worked with great writers with a whole host of degrees. Photography, performing arts and journalism, to pick just three.

Of those four, I’d suggest journalism as the prime candidate for the ‘best’ degree for a copywriter.

Why Journalism?

History teaches you how to write. Do does English. But Journalism teaches you to write curt, precise copy. Getting to the point in as few words as possible is crucial for a copywriter. As is being able to inform and influence readers simultaneously – which is something a journalist is taught to do early on.

Other than that, the non-negotiable deadlines and research skills will also set you up for a life of writing copy. And if your copy career doesn’t work out, you’ll always be able to make a living spouting bile or misusing Twitter.

Of course, if you’re going to go freelance, your education and employment history can be as eclectic as you’d like. It certainly didn’t harm this lot. And whatever degree you choose, you’ll learn a lot about copywriting by reading copywriting blogs.

Looking for a different opinion? If you’re a copywriter who wants to make a case for a different degree, get in touch. I’ll feature the best answers in a guest post.

6 Comments comments for "Your Questions Answered: What Degree Is Best For A Copywriter?"

  1. Gareth Millward says:

    I would say the best degree is “any”, providing you use your spare time at uni to get involved with journalistic-related activities. I know I’m not the best example, but, like you, I did “modern” history. However, while I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing I was blogging or drinking.

    I would say a humanities degree might teach you skills such as research, writing and critical thinking (all crucial), but you can also pick those up through practice.

    Thing is, uni is about far more than just the degree. The degree, in fact (if you’re not doing a qualification directly relevant to what you want to do “when you grow up”) is the least important bit. It’s who you meet, the experiences you gain and the skills you pick up.

    So, do whatever degree interests you – but make sure you check out the student newspaper and continue to build a portfolio.

  2. Craig Wright says:

    I think a degree that gives you some understanding of the theory and psychology involved in communication would really help any writer, including copywriters. If you can understand the likely needs and responses of a reader, it gives you a strong starting point.

    My degree covered those areas and I suspect journalism and related degrees do too.

  3. The unrestrained and utterly flippant side of me would champion any degree from the ‘university of life’ (which I think Gareth nodded towards). Can’t really go wrong with that.

    But a degree in journalism is also an excellent foundation for copywriting. I’m biased, of course, because I have a post-grad degree in this very subject. Among the skills you mention, journalism taught me to get my facts right.

    That said, before I learned the craft of journalism I was a PR writer and, before that, a horse-woman and manager of an equestrian centre. What the latter taught me, in terms of writing, is (among other things):

    1. that clarity is key. Just as you have to be crystal clear when it comes to getting your horse to do what you want him or her to do, sending mixed signals in your copy is a no-no;

    2. that persuasion is all-powerful. Getting a half-ton weight of horse to do what you want can be like asking the ConDems to give us a tax break. But at least it’s possible to (slowly) persuade a horse to do what you want. (Don’t hold your breath with the other heavy weight, though.) You can use that same element of persuasion in copywriting. When you understand how your audience thinks, your copy will appeal to your readers’ interests and emotions … and therefore push them to ‘act’;

    3. that patience is its own reward. (Okay, I’m not the most patient person in the world, but I try and I appreciate its importance.) Practise does make perfect, and sometimes you just have to take your time in honing your copywriting skills.

  4. Robin Houghton says:

    Not sure a degree is important, but number one tip I would give is to read, read and read – as many styles and types of writing as you can get your hands on, from academic papers to what’s written on shampoo bottles, from (good) newspaper reporting to Facebook Walls, from poetry to instruction manuals.

    Personally, writing poetry is what keeps my commercial stuff on its toes. In poetry, every word counts – which leads you to scrutinise your writing ruthlessly. A copywriter is a creative, first and foremost. Skills & techniques can be taught in a class but I think creativity is best nurtured over time and through a range of experiences.

  5. Peter Wise says:

    A large degree of patience, as any freelance copywriter will always have a percentage of difficult clients.

    My history degree taught me to think and to research, both important. Can’t think that an English degree would have helped any more, but excellent English teaching all the way up to ‘A’ Level was invaluable.

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