Skills That Today’s Writers Need: A Preliminary Literature Review

It’s not easy being a writer any more.

I started my career as a community journalist. That style came easily to me: Write the most important hook first, in a way that made readers continue past the first sentence or two. Then I evolved to a writer of print brochures to sell brokerage services to a known audience (sales literature, as opposed to advertising). Now, I’m an editorial designer for the country’s largest bank-holding company. Needless to say, I don’t write like I used to report.

What skills must modern writers master?

Effective writers need the ability to translate their messages into multimodal structure. DePalma and Alexander (2015) compared writing multimodal compositions to “a bag full of snakes”. (That analogy made me laugh, too.) According to its abstract, “Findings from focus group interviews and written reflections show that students’ attempts to draw on their print-based rhetorical knowledge while composing multimodally worked well when they perceived print-based and multimodal composing tasks as similar, but they faced significant difficulties when they perceived the need to adapt their print-based composing knowledge to suit new or unfamiliar aspects of multimodal composing” (p. 182). Oh, good, I’m not the only one.

Writers who want to publish their works need also to sell themselves. Wilkins observed that writers who want to publish for a living have to market themselves differently in the digital age. “A significant threat to productive writing habits is the publishing industry’s increasing insistence that writers develop an ‘author platform’, that is, a digital authorial identity that can be leveraged to build markets and increase sales. In the 21st century, book sales are increasingly dependent upon a reciprocal flow of communication between writers and readers” (p. 67). A college friend has published two books available on, and I think Patrick Chiles has mastering this sales concept on author’s page. It’s true; we expect authors to offer a credible, persuasive bio on before we select the “Buy now” button, and young people might expect the author to respond immediately to tweets and posts.

Journalists should expect social media as part of their job description. I can empathize with the plight of print-based sports reporters who adapted to tweeting scores and updates instead. Roberts and Emmonds (2016) found that, “Providing contextual insight, the researchers interviewed 10 of the subject journalists to discern how they use Twitter for game-day coverage. Results indicate a more opinion-based use of Twitter during live reporting, shifts in reporting and writing routines, and widely varied opinions about social media’s effects on sports journalism” (p. 97). That research leads Huffington Post contributors to conclude that faster, immediate news sharing sacrifices objectivity.

I’m certain more research requires a more narrow scope of study. I’d like to leverage the insights shared by Sutherland and Deegan in their book Text Editing, Print and the Digital World (2009). “This important book brings together leading textual critics, scholarly editors, technical specialists and publishers to discuss whether and how existing paradigms for developing and using critical editions are changing to reflect the increased commitment to and assumed significance of digital tools and methodologies” according to its abstract. Not surprisingly, copies of the book are available for downloading through the KSU library.

The goal of the National Writing Project (NWP) conducted from 2010 to 2012 was to “to create a framework to guide teachers working with students on creating multimodal compositions”, and it found that the “five dimensions the committee found to be critical to multimodal composing: artifact, rhetorical skills, substance, process management and technical skills, and habits of mind” (p. 79). According to Sandra Murphy, “The process of composing becomes much more complex because so many multimodal productions are collaborative. That’s a new direction that people are thinking more and more about. There is a need to be able to look at processes of collaboration and how students manage them as being a kind of skill. You want to foster that so people can be successful in college and in the world of work” (p. 84).

For my next task, I will develop a research problem and question when focusing on technical skills needed by today’s successful writers.


Chiles, P. Patrick Chiles. Retrieved from

 DePalma, M., & Alexander, K. P. (2015). A bag full of snakes: Negotiating the challenges of multimodal composition. Computers and Composition, 37, 182-200. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2015.06.008

Roberts, C., & Emmons, B. (2016). Twitter in the press box: How a new technology affects game-day routines of print-focused sports journalists. International Journal of Sport Communication, 9(1), 97. doi:10.1123/IJSC.2015-0113

Sutherland, K., & Deegan, M. (2009). Text editing, print and the digital world. Farnham, England: Routledge.

Wahleithner, J. M. (2014). The National Writing Project’s multimodal assessment project: Development of a framework for thinking about multimodal composing. Computers and Composition, 31(Multimodal Assessment), 79-86. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2013.12.004

Wilkins, K. (2014). Writing resilience in the digital age. New Writing: The International Journal for The Practice & Theory Of Creative Writing, 11(1), 67-76. doi:10.1080/14790726.2013.870579

(These opinions reflect only those of the author.)

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