When people think of web writing, they think primarily of three things: blogging, feature article writing, and copywriting for marketing sites.
Fortunately, the realms of web writing span far more than these narrow options. There are plenty of less-common writing projects out there. If you’re looking for work, and you’re ready for some creative adventures, here are a few places you might start.
1. Writing support content
Wow! When I said “creative adventure”, I meant it! Okay, I know this isn’t what you had in mind, but hear me out.
Support is part of the user experience, and more organisations are beginning to value having a writer on contract to develop training materials, help articles and video, telephone support scripts, knowledgebase content, and more.
If you’re proficient with language, pedantic about clear expression, and have a knack for simplifying what’s complex, this could be a good gig for you – and corporate and company contracts tend to pay better and more predictably than freelance feature or blogging gigs.
To do this well, you’ll also need a passion for user experience both within the product, and beyond it. In most support writing jobs, experience with content management (or a willingness to learn) will be mandatory. Of course, you’ll probably also need to be more than willing to get your hands dirty using and understanding the client’s product or service.
How to get the gig
Look for organisations that publish support content, and see if you can find ways to improve on it. Then, send them a pitch or proposal. Alternatively, you might be able to build this into a contract to copywrite a marketing site – I’ve done this for some startups and it’s worked well.
If you have some experience writing instructional content, be sure to include that in your proposal; if not, you could send them an example of the way you’d redraft one of their pieces of help content to improve it.
2. Writing interfaces
Companies that regard support as part of the user experience tend to see interface text as an important part of that, too.
Interface text isn’t marketing website copy. UX teams also use writers to help designers create usable app interfaces – from naming new features right down to tooltips, wizard instructions, and errors.
Again, this job requires a passion for user experience, but it also requires you to work very closely with design, UX, and development. This probably won’t be a problem if, say, you’re a marketing writer who’s been involved in creating websites in teams before; in that case, your challenge will be to write concise informational content without a hint of spin. And to operate in a world that, shall we say, lacks the glamour of promotional work.
In my experience, interface work has always been part of a larger contract involving support or marketing content.
How to get the gig
For this one, it’s probably best to ask UX designers you know if they need help, or know someone who does. Get into your local UX community and get to know what people are doing.
There’s always commentary around new product and feature releases in the tech industry. If you have a blog, that might be a place to share your ideas about the roles of text in interaction and product UX.
You’ll likely need some kind of reputation for producing excellent, concise, clear instructional content before you’ll be hired to help write interfaces, but there’s a comparative lack of competition in this area right now, so you may not need years of experience to land your first gig.
3. Writing social media updates and ad copy
If you’re a copywriter, and used to short-deadline projects, writing social media updates and promotions could be a nice sideline (or mainline) for you.
I’m not talking about being a social media consultant here. I’ve done a few contracts that involved writing marketing collateral, including Twitter and Facebook posts, and ads, around specific campaigns or promotions for the client.
Their social media teams managed the accounts, and managed the content and the community around it. But they needed someone to write good social comms and take them through the organizations’ internal approval processes.
For me, the clients were corporate and the work was part of a bigger contract. What that meant was the social work was a bit of fun, and well-paid at the same time.
How to get the gig
I landed these contracts through talent or recruitment agencies, which these large organizations used to contract outsourced help. That might be a good place to start for you, but you may find this work in less corporate spheres too, when, for example, a business owner doesn’t have time to work with content sponsors themselves.
After agencies, asking around is probably the best way to seek out this kind of work. If (like me!) you don’t have proven skills in social media, a solid and versatile digital copy folio that includes short-copy ads will get attention.
4. Writing a website glossary
After the thrills and showiness of social media ads, writing a website glossary might seem a bit subdued. But again, if you’re the kind of person who revels in making information accessible to a broader audience through clear expression, this could be your kind of freelance gig. It’s also the kind of work that few people in a business will want to do themselves.
Before you ask, yes: there are still websites that need to have a glossary attached. They tend to be educationally focused, or have very specific target audiences and purposes. But the work is out there if you watch out for it. For example, writing a glossary might be tacked onto a support writing contract, or a gig where you’re writing the marketing website for a new product or service.
What does it take to write a good glossary? Similar skills to those you’d need to write interfaces: a passion for the user experience, diligence, and a good dose of nit-pickiness too. You’ll also need good research skills and an ability to comprehend and reinterpret complex information.
How to get the gig
As I suggested above, the easiest way to get a freelance job writing a glossary may be to build it into another project you’re doing.
Not every site needs a glossary, so it’s not going to be an appropriate add-in for every client. But the more interaction-focused writing work you do, the more opportunities you’re likely to find to write glossaries – especially if the project involves everything from the information architecture and brand vocabulary up.
5. Writing video scripts
If you look at YouTube, you might get the impression that anyone can write a video script – even a cat in a shark-suit riding a Roomba. On the other hand, specialist video production agencies will tell you you need specialist expertise to write a video script that’s got any hope of going anywhere.
The truth is probably somewhere in-between. It’s fair to say that to write a good script, you need to be able to write great dialogue, because spoken English is vastly different from language written to be read in silence. Video scripts, like speeches, have to sound good, not just read well. If you’ve ever written quality dialogue, for example, in novels, plays, screenplays or speeches, you probably have a head start.
You’ll also need to be able to think visually, at least to some degree, because your words need to share the spotlight in a video: it’s a multi-part performance. So you’ll need to specify visuals alongside your script, at least enough to act as a starting point with your videographer. If you’re the kind of writer who thinks purely in words, you may struggle with this.
I know I haven’t talked about the variety of types of videos you could be scripting and the possible markets you could tap, but what I’ve mentioned here are prerequisites to doing any of that. If you can write scripts, there’s a world available to you: marketing and promotional videos, address videos (for example, the CEO speaking on the company’s About page), support and how-to videos, case study videos – the list goes on.
How to get the gig
If you’ve never done video work before, but you’re pitching for it, you might want to create some scripts for your folio or – better still – actually develop a few sample videos. Don’t worry if the production quality isn’t at HBO standard; if someone’s looking to assess your script writing abilities, they’ll be impressed by good work, even if the final video itself is unpolished.
What they’ll be looking for is your ability to communicate effectively using spoken word and moving pictures, so if you can get that right, you should grab their attention.
One other way to start may be to work with a designer who’s into video to create something together that you can both use in your folios. Or, failing that, to write a few speeches or presentations that can prove your ability to write for voice.
Once you have the skills, you’ll likely find plenty of places to work video scripts into the usual web writing contracts you’re already landing – if not to pitch them direct.
What’s the weirdest web writing project you’ve had?
When it comes to web writing, the path less traveled can be the most interesting – and rewarding.
What kinds of weird and wonderful web writing work have you landed? And how did you get it? Share your stories – and the secrets of your success – with us in the comments.
Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and sitepoint.com cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.