Authors and Writers - What They Do

Authors and writers plan, research and write books, scripts, storyboards, plays, essays, speeches, manuals, specifications and other non-journalistic articles for publication or presentation. They are employed by advertising agencies, governments, large corporations, private consulting firms, publishing firms, multimedia/new-media companies and other establishments, or they may be self-employed.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

Novelists, playwrights, script writers, poets and other creative writers

  • Conceive and write novels, plays, scripts, poetry and other material for publication or presentation
  • May conduct research to establish factual content and to obtain other necessary information.

Technical writers

  • Analyze material, such as specifications, notes and drawings and write manuals, user guides and other documents to explain clearly and concisely the installation, operation and maintenance of software and electronic, mechanical and other equipment.


  • Study and determine selling features of products and services and write text for advertisements and commercials.
  • Authors and writers may specialize in a particular subject or type of writing.

Job titles

  • literary writer
  • medical writer
  • advertising copywriter
  • copywriter
  • essayist
  • novelist
  • playwright
  • poet
  • scientific writer
  • script writer
  • specifications writer
  • speech writer
  • technical writer
  • writer
  • interactive media writer
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Technical writers usually require a university degree in the area of specialization, such as computer science or engineering.
  • Copywriters usually require a university degree or college diploma in French, English, marketing, advertising or another discipline.
  • Creative writing programs are offered by universities and colleges.
  • Talent and ability, as demonstrated by a portfolio of work, are important hiring criteria.
  • Membership in a guild or union related to the occupation may be required.

Essential Skills


  • Read entries in dictionaries, glossaries and databases. For example, advertising and technical writers may read definitions of words in specialized dictionaries and in glossaries for subject areas such as electronics, software, aeronautics and chemical processing. They may also read definitions in on-line terminological and linguistic databases. (1)
  • Read short e-mail. For example, copywriters may read e-mail in which account executives invite them to advertising campaign briefings with media specialists and artistic directors. Feature writers may read e-mail about submission deadlines from magazine editors. (2)
  • Read letters. For example, novelists, essayists, biographers and poets may read letters from editors about the publication of literary works. (2)
  • Read instruction manuals, 'help' items and 'frequently asked question' entries when operating computers and peripheral equipment. For example, a technical writer may read a manual to review the steps for modifying graphics using desktop publishing tools. (3)
  • Read articles and editorials in newspapers and magazines. For example, advertising copywriters may read articles and editorials in newspapers and magazines to stay abreast of politics, sports and cultural events which may influence the public perception of products, services and advertising messages. Speech writers may read articles in Communications World, Toastmasters' Magazine, Speaking of Impact and Speech Writers' Newsletter to obtain practical speech writing advice. Novelists, essayists, biographers and poets may read reviews in the literary sections of newspapers and magazines to stay abreast of what is happening in the literary world and to find out what critics and reviewers think of their work. (3)
  • May read requests for proposals for projects which involve the provision of speech, technical and advertising writing services. For example, self-employed writers may read proposal requests to learn about the scope of proposed work, mandatory requirements for credentials, skills and experience, evaluation criteria and selection processes. (3)
  • Read contracts and agreements. For example, authors review contracts prepared by editors and publishers. They pay close attention to terms and conditions for matters such as numbers of copies printed, promotional efforts, publication delays, royalties and copyrights. They read these contracts carefully to ascertain that their interests are well served and their rights are protected. (3)
  • Read works of non-fiction such as essays, journal articles, biographies and reports. For example, a copywriter may read several reports to learn about a consumer product and its marketing strategies and target markets prior to developing slogans for an advertising campaign. A writer may read history books, biographies of famous French Canadian female citizens, population studies and research articles in preparation for a speech on the role of women in the survival of French in Canada. Prior to writing a series of articles on the topic, a feature writer may read articles on gerontology in the Canadian Journal of Public Health and the British Medical Journal to learn about the health of seniors. (4)
  • Read literary works such as poetry, plays, short stories and novels. They read these works carefully so they can further their understanding of different literary genres and writing styles and help others enhance theirs. For example, novelists may read the works of contemporary authors such as Marguerite Duras and Nancy Houston to learn from their writing techniques and styles. They may also read literary works submitted by students and workshop participants in order to provide constructive criticism and guidance on matters such as flow, coherence, grammar and syntax. (5)

Document use

  • Locate data on labels and signs. For example, copywriters may locate sizes, weights and advertising slogans on product labels and posters. (1)
  • Locate data in lists, tables and schedules. For example, they may scan menus to locate search options in terminological and linguistic databases. Copywriters may skim advertising campaign schedules to locate production deadlines. Authors may scan royalty statements to locate data on quantities of books sold, list prices, royalty rates and sales earnings. (2)
  • Enter data into lists, tables and schedules. For example, they may enter references in bibliographies at the end of reports and manuals which they write. Speech, technical and advertising writers may enter time allotted to various clients, projects and tasks into spreadsheet tables. Feature writers may enter article submission deadlines into calendars, timetables and schedules. (2)
  • Locate data and identify trends in graphs. For example, a writer preparing an essay on the saga of asbestos may scan a graph to assess the growth in asbestos production over several decades. (2)
  • Locate data in entry forms such as fax cover sheets, invoices and receipts. For example, authors and self-employed writers may scan receipts to identify claimable business expenditures. They may search different sections of receipts to locate the names of product vendors and service providers, federal and provincial sales taxes and other data. (3)
  • May complete forms such as general ledgers, tax and source deductions, remittances and financial reports. They may have to combine data from several sources to complete such forms. For example, authors and self-employed writers may enter dates, dollar amounts, account numbers and other data into manual and computerized general ledgers. (3)


  • May write interview notes. For example, a feature writer who is writing an article on children's homework may take interview notes to summarize parents' opinions and capture quotations exactly. (2)
  • Write e-mail and short letters. For example, authors write letters to editors about manuscripts which they are submitting. Copywriters may write e-mail to artistic directors to summarize the outcomes of brainstorming sessions. (2)
  • May write proposals for projects which involve the provision of speech, technical and advertising writing services. In these proposals, they address project objectives and describe their academic backgrounds and relevant work experiences. For example, a self-employed writer may prepare a proposal to offer speech writing services to a government department. An advertising writer may prepare a proposal to offer copywriting services to a cosmetics manufacturer. (3)
  • May write equipment manuals, fact sheets, specifications and other technical pieces. They gather, select, synthesize and rewrite information from various sources in order to create documents for targeted audiences. For example, lexicographers write the definitions and grammatical rules applying to specific words for dictionaries. Technical writers prepare and update specifications, product fact sheets, user guides, training manuals, on-line help and other texts to clearly and accurately explain the installation, operation and maintenance of software and equipment. (4)
  • May write 'copy' for advertisements and marketing materials. They use short words and sentences, startling statements, quotes, storytelling and testimonials to bring out the selling features of products, services and organizations. For example, copywriters develop attention-catching themes, slogans, corporate signatures, headlines, taglines for newspaper and magazine advertisements, radio and television commercials, brochures and websites. They may also write direct marketing letters, advertorials and texts for point of purchase promotional materials such as posters, discount coupons and consumer contests. (4)
  • May write works of non-fiction such as speeches, essays, journal articles, biographies and reports. For example, a speechwriter may prepare speeches for senior executives by carefully crafting messages and punch lines and incorporating idioms which reflect the speakers' natural ways of expressing themselves. A feature writer may prepare a series of articles about the life styles, consumption patterns, investment habits and retirement projects of baby boomers. A biographer may write about an actress, teacher and playwright who became one of the first Canadian radio producers and television script writers. (5)
  • May write works of fiction such as poems, plays, short stories and novels. They select their topics, literary genres and writing styles, structures and techniques to create works which will capture, entertain and enlighten audiences. They may develop themes, describe locations, decors, costumes and times, create characters, scenes and dialogues and build dramatic moments into their plots. For example, a novelist may write about the tragic destinies of three generations of women who experienced pregnancies during their teenage years. (5)


Money Math

  • May calculate and verify royalty amounts. For example, authors may calculate royalty amounts received from editors and publishers. They multiply gross sales by royalty rates. (2)
  • May calculate and verify travel reimbursement amounts for out-of-town interviews, meetings and conferences. For example, writers employed by advertising agencies, publishing firms and multimedia companies may calculate reimbursements for use of personal vehicles at per kilometre rates and add amounts for accommodation, meals and other expenses. (2)
  • Calculate and verify purchase order and invoice amounts. For example, they may calculate line amounts, taxes and totals on purchase orders for office equipment and other supplies. Self-employed speech, technical and advertising writers may calculate fees to be invoiced to clients for their services. They calculate line amounts and applicable sales taxes. (3)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • Prepare and monitor schedules for writing projects. For example, a writer may prepare and monitor the schedule for a project involving the preparation of advertising brochures, training materials and installation instructions for a new computer pointing device. (2)
  • May calculate amounts for accounts receivable and payable, bank reconciliations and summaries in general ledgers. For example, authors and self-employed writers may add and subtract transactions not listed on bank statements to produce monthly bank reconciliations. (3)
  • May prepare and monitor budgets for writing projects. For example, authors and self-employed writers may confirm that expenditures incurred for subcontracting and travel are fully covered in budgets. (3)
  • May prepare financial statements. For example, authors and self-employed writers may prepare monthly balance sheets, income and expense statements and statements of cash flows. (4)

Measurement and Calculation Math

  • May measure the duration of speeches, plays, humorous sketches and movie and television dialogues using clocks, watches and stopwatches. For example, a writer may time a speech by reading it aloud and taking opening and closing times on a clock. (1)
  • May measure the readability of writing using word and sentence counts and readability formulae. For example, advertising copywriters may calculate Gunning fog index to measure the readability of English texts written for newspaper and magazine advertisements, brochures and catalogues. (3)

Data Analysis Math

  • May collect, analyze and interpret workload and sales data. For example, a self-employed writer may compare the number of assignments obtained over a period of time to identify deviations from targets. An author may compare quantities of books sold between summer and winter months to identify trends. (2)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate times to perform job tasks using past experience as a guide. For example, self-employed advertising writers estimate the number of hours which should be assigned to various copywriting tasks and the time intervals needed to obtain client approval and review of deliverables. (2)

Oral communication

  • Discuss products and services with suppliers. For example, technical writers may order bound copies of user manuals from printers. (1)
  • Give directions to co-workers and colleagues and discuss ongoing work with them. For example, an advertising writer may show a helper how to prepare a mailing list?. A biographer may give instructions to a subcontractor who is searching for press articles and photographs in the national archives. A feature writer may give directions to a graphic artist who is producing illustrations for a magazine article. (2)
  • Discuss writing assignments and work opportunities with clients. For example, self-employed technical writers may speak to clients to assess satisfaction with product fact sheets which they have prepared and to offer their services for writing user guides, training manuals and on-line help. (2)
  • Discuss writing with co-workers, clients and colleagues. For example, they may speak to reviewers about changes needed to improve flow, coherence, readability and panache in essays, biographies, novels and feature articles. Copywriters may brainstorm with artistic directors to develop themes for promotional campaigns. They may also discuss translation of brochures, advertisements, commercials, posters and websites with translators. They must be explicit and precise to obtain translations which maintain the structure and style of the original texts while reflecting cultural differences. (3)
  • Conduct interviews to collect data necessary for their writing assignments. For example, speech writers may interview senior executives to learn about their ideas, preferences, personalities and speech patterns and to obtain quotes which they can use in speeches. Authors may interview personalities who can provide information not yet disclosed to the public about the subjects of biographies which they are writing. Feature writers may conduct interviews with key informants and subject matter experts to obtain facts and opinions for magazine articles. (3) )
  • Deliver presentations and workshops to a wide range of audiences. For example, advertising copywriters may present slogans, corporate signatures and other creative concepts for promotional campaigns to groups of marketing executives. Authors may present their latest books at launchings, conferences and radio and television programs. They may also give writing workshops to groups of secondary and post-secondary students. They may present information on literary genres and writing styles, facilitate group discussions and answer questions from participants. (4)


Problem Solving

  • Experience writers' block. They interrupt writing and do something else until inspiration returns. (1)
  • Are unable to complete job tasks as planned because office equipment is not working properly and services such as telephone and Internet access are interrupted. For example, a writer may be unable to e-mail a text to a client because Internet service is unavailable. The writer prints a copy of the text and sends it to the client by fax to avoid undue delay. (1)
  • Realize that deadlines for the delivery of texts to clients, co-workers and colleagues will be missed because important data cannot be obtained. They contact clients, co-workers and colleagues to outline the reasons for delays and negotiate new deadlines. (2)
  • May experience difficulties in finding publishers for their work. For example, authors may receive refusal letters from editors. They may contact these editors to find out why their manuscripts were refused and to ascertain if changes might improve the chances of manuscripts being published. They may then rewrite manuscripts and resubmit them to editors for review. (3)
  • May be unable to identify, locate, contact and interview people who have information relevant to writing assignments. For example, a feature writer may experience difficulty identifying informants willing to provide facts and opinions for a magazine article on the characteristics of successful work teams. The writer attempts to obtain names from friends, relatives and human resource managers in large corporations, but to no avail. The writer then contacts a business association's headquarters and convinces the director to send an e-mailed invitation which asks members to collaborate in the research. (3)

Decision Making

  • Accept and refuse suggestions for changes and edits to writing proposed by co-workers, colleagues and clients. For example, authors accept editors' changes to essays, biographies, novels, feature articles and other texts when they believe that the changes will improve flow, coherence, readability and panache. (2)
  • May select office equipment to purchase. For example, self-employed technical and advertising writers may select desktop publishing software programs in order to broaden their range of contract opportunities. They verify which programs are most often used by clients. They also consider the costs and user-friendliness offered by each option. (2)
  • May select research assistants and proofreaders. They consider applicants' academic backgrounds, skills, work histories, strengths, weaknesses and availabilities. (2)
  • May decide to bid on projects which involve the provision of speech, technical and advertising writing services. They review requests for proposals, identify project tasks and requirements and bid on projects for which they have the necessary skills and resources. (3)
  • Choose approaches for their writing assignments. For example, advertising writers may select short words and sentences, startling statements, quotes, news, storytelling and testimonials to bring out the selling features of products, services and organizations. Playwrights may select writing styles, structures and techniques to create monologues and dialogues which will capture, entertain, enlighten and influence audiences. (4)

Critical Thinking

  • May evaluate the performance of workers such as research assistants and proofreaders. As part of these assessments, they determine the extent to which workers have met expectations and deadlines. They may recommend and offer further assignments at the conclusion of these evaluations. (2)
  • Evaluate the relevance of information to writing assignments. For example, a feature writer may evaluate the relevance of many textbooks and journal articles when preparing a piece on women's ageing. The writer checks to see when these books and articles were published and whether they contain new information. (2)
  • Evaluate the suitability of their writing style for given clients, audiences, topics and media. For example, an author may assess the suitability of a manuscript for particular publishers by reading abstracts of books in their catalogues. (3)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Authors and writers plan and organize job tasks to meet the needs of writing assignments. Self-employed technical, advertising and feature writers often work on several projects at the same time and must be able to manage priorities. They may have to reorganize job tasks to cope with delays in obtaining important interviews and data, equipment breakdowns and other emergencies. (3)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Authors and writers may be responsible for assigning tasks to workers such as research assistants and proofreaders. (3)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember scripts for speeches and presentations. For example, authors may memorize important names and dates for the presentation of biographies and essays at book launchings, conferences and radio and television programs.

Finding Information

  • Find information about potential clients, publishers, subcontractors and interviewees by searching their websites and contacting co-workers and colleagues who know them. (3)
  • Find information about terms with which they are not familiar by consulting co-workers and colleagues and by searching terminological databases, glossaries, technological files, textbooks, dictionaries and websites. (3)
  • Find information about the subjects of writing assignments. They analyze, synthesize and integrate information from a wide range of sources, including interview data, books, reports, studies, newspapers, magazines, academic journals and the Internet. For example, an author writing a biography may interview key personalities and subject matter experts and conduct extensive literature searches. (4)

Digital technology

  • Use communications software. For example, they use e-mail programs to exchange e-mail and attached documents with co-workers, colleagues and clients. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they may use Internet browsers to access the websites of professional writers' associations and participate in discussion forums. Feature writers may use these browsers to obtain information about writing topics and interview subjects. (2)
  • May use graphics software. For example, technical and advertising writers may produce schematic drawings using diagramming and drawing programs. They may select illustrations in clip art libraries and create them using programs. They may use photo editing software to develop and enlarge photos taken with digital cameras. They may create slide shows using presentation software. In order to develop effective presentations for their clients, they may import and place word processing files, spreadsheet tables, graphs, schematic drawings, clip art, photos and scanned images. They may also set up animated screen wipes and transitions. (3)
  • Use word processing. For example, they may write and edit text for novels, essays, plays, service offers, user guides, advertising brochures and feature articles using word processing programs. They may supplement text with imported graphs, illustrations and spreadsheets. They may use formatting features such as page numbering, heading levels, indices, footnotes and columns. They may also generate automated tables of contents and use word count, spell-check and track changes functions. (3)
  • May use databases. For example, they may create and modify databases for their writing projects using database programs. They may search for, display and print information on the definitions, correct spellings, synonyms and idiomatic equivalents of words from on-line dictionaries and terminological databases. (3)
  • May use spreadsheets. For example, they may use spreadsheet programs to create work plans and invoices and to keep track of time devoted to their writing projects. They may embed formulas to perform calculations. (3)
  • May use bookkeeping, billing and accounting software. For example, freelance authors and writers may enter purchases and sales to journals using financial software. They may also use quarterly sales tax report functions. (3)
  • May use other computer and software applications. For example, they may use bibliography publishing and management software to gather on-line references, prepare bibliographies and publish them on the Internet. Technical writers may use desktop publishing tools to author and format texts for instruction manuals, user guides, on-line help and tutorials. They may also use screen capture and image editors to create screen captures for software manuals. Advertising and feature writers may use desktop publishing programs to author and format texts for print and interactive media. (4)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Authors and writers integrate and coordinate job tasks with small groups of co-workers and colleagues. They work with reviewers and editors to improve the coherence and readability of essays, biographies, novels, feature articles and other texts. They may work with artistic directors, musical directors, graphic artists, comedians and producers on the production of commercials, plays, movies, humorous sketches and television series. They may direct, lead, supervise and train research assistants. (2)

Continuous Learning

Authors and writers set their own learning goals and undertake learning activities to further their knowledge of terminologies, writing styles and topics relevant to writing assignments. On a day-to-day basis, they acquire new learning by searching specialized dictionaries and glossaries, terminological and linguistic databases and websites and by reading newspapers, magazines, books, reports, studies and academic journals. They also attend conferences, seminars, symposia, workshops and courses offered by professional writers' associations and other organizations. (4)