The best background for being a copywriter

The problem with academe is that as 3 years of undergraduate life draw to a close most people are left trying to ‘match’ their degree subject to something from which they might attempt to fashion a career and even, with a bit of luck, earn a living.

So the question of what subject one would need to have studied to be a copywriter comes up quite a lot.

The good news for all those of you with BAs in Nordic Studies, Agriculture or Religion with Mathematics is that just about anything could give you a fine grounding for a career as a freelance copywriter.

The bad news for those with 3 years of Lake Poets, Chaucer and Lawrence behind you is that, so far as I can see, English won’t actively give you any advantage over anyone else and may, in truth, hinder you.

Copywriting isn’t about a knowledge of literature, nor even a fastidious grasp of English grammar.

Copywriting is a business skill, crossed with a fundamental life skill; that of persuasion. (A law degree, with its grounding in constructing an argument, often provides an excellent start.)

There’s a great test, however, that you can apply to yourself to gauge whether a career in copywriting is likely to be for you. Imagine you’re at a party and someone introduces you to their brother. You ask what he does. He says he has a business importing fitness equipment and selling it to private sports shops. The question is, have you blanked over before he got to the bit about the shops, and found yourself making your excuses and moving on? Or are you curious to know how it works, which countries he imports from, whether he travels there, whether the internet and big sports ‘shed’ retailers are killing off the small retailers he sells to, whether he’s a fitness freak himself, what the best piece of equipment to use at the gym is if you’ve only got 20 minutes and so on?

Freelance copywriting is a business service, and to make a living from it you need an interest in, and understanding of, the business of business.

Any subject you’ve studied may help you a little, and is unlikely to hinder you any. But a fascination with business is imperative.

3 Responses to “The best background for being a copywriter”

  1. Miss Pedant

    I’ve just checked three different dictionaries to make sure – shouldn’t “guage” should be “gauge?”
    Yup.. I really do need to get out more.
    Miss P

  2. Laurence Blume

    Miss P. Pedantry is simply a perjorative name for proof reading. Thanks. Error corrected.

  3. Mr happy

    Good news that:
    ‘Copywriting isn’t about a knowledge of literature, nor even a fastidious grasp of English grammar.’
    to be honest the last thing you get on an English Degree is any knowledge of Grammar, you’re more likely to be bombarded by the wild oscillations of Critical Theory.
    But surely an English Degree should not preclude anyone from being in the business of being about the business.