How Studying Fiction Prepares You for a Career Telling the Truth

“So, what are you going to do with it?”

If you majored in English or any other liberal arts subject, you were probably asked this question from at least one well-meaning adult. You know the implication, what they were really asking – why would you choose to pay tuition if you’re just going to sit around and read poetry for four years? Other than the ability to get (most) of the jokes at a cocktail party hosted by The New Yorker, what are you preparing to do in the real world?

This utilitarian view of education is the same way one might approach a scavenger hunt – learning just enough about a subject to check it off the list, hoping to earn enough stamps to trade in for a degree and, hopefully, that coveted first job.

Thankfully, for English majors like myself, not everyone views our undergraduate degrees with such a narrow field of vision. More and more employers in a variety of fields are recognizing the value of employees with a well-rounded education and are seeking out liberal arts majors to join their teams. The field of professional communications has been especially welcoming, and for good reason. Here are a few of the skills I learned as an English major that have helped me succeed at Jackson Spalding, an integrated marketing agency in Dallas.

5 Skills an English Major Can Apply to Marketing:

  1. Clear Writing: Writing is an essential, foundational skill in our industry. The digital tools can be cutting-edge, the strategy can be thoughtful and the insights can resonate, but none of that matters if the message isn’t communicated in a way that can be immediately understood by your audience. The details are also important – someone who cares enough about the details of grammar and style is someone who will take care of the small details that lead to a polished, professional final product.
  2. Storytelling: English majors have unique insight into the underlying structures of storytelling. If you look hard enough, you’ll see that every effective piece of communication relies on narrative arcs – from big-budget video production and brand-owned blogs to the most routine press release. Reading and analyzing literature teaches you how to grab an audiences’ attention and lead them on a journey into a new understanding of the world.
  3. Communicating Complex Information: Let’s face it, liberal arts majors read a lot. Sorting through an 800-page history book to produce an essay of a few thousand words is not unlike learning the nuances of an unfamiliar industry to give strategic and careful communications advice. We want people on our team who can quickly synthesize a large amount of information, then confidently answer the question, “What do I need to know?” for our clients.
  4. The Ability to Explain the World: Anyone who has written an essay for an English class knows it’s not enough simply to know what happened in a story. We also need to understand how the story was told and its larger, contextualized meaning. Brand planning requires a marketer to not only understand what a company does, but the larger vision and values at work underneath the surface. Companies need communicators who can develop a strong point of view, who can clearly articulate what’s going on in the world around them, and demonstrate how their products and brand fit into the larger picture.
  5. Understanding Other Perspectives: The beauty of good fiction is it brings us into a world that is not our own. We’re introduced to characters and we learn to see things from their vantage point. This empathy toward other perspectives is essential for strong communicators to think through how their message will be received by a variety of different audiences.

Unlike specialized, job-specific training, which can quickly become outdated as technology improves and industries change, a liberal arts education equips a student with a set of skills that will never lose value. We reflect on the value, morality and capital-t Truth of our work; and that’s what a communications agency ought to do for its clients. Tell the truth.