29 April 2021

Tara Gulwell

Tara graduated UEA in 2018 with a degree in American and English Literature. She's now a Digital Communications Officer in the third sector with over 2 years of experience in digital marketing and media. She's passionate about design, website development, social media and building online communities. By day she's a marketer, and by night she's a coder, currently completing a Level 5 diploma in web development. When she's not working or coding, she's often found playing board games, reading comics, or listening to 80s bangers. 

How my literature degree helps me manage websites 

If you had asked me as a bright-eyed American Literature student what I’d be doing as a career post-university, I would probably have answered academia or publishing. I definitely would not have said working in digital marketing and managing websites. No way. But now, all I want to do is carry on working in digital spaces!  

A large part of my job is managing a website of 100,000 annual users and steering a team of people who upload to the website. This is absolutely one of my favourite parts of my job as Digital Communications Officer - it involves being creative with copywriting, constantly learning, upskilling, and being collaborative with the rest of your team.  

Due to the more technical aspects of my role, some people have asked me whether I wish I did a different degree at university. I can confidently say I don’t. Not only did I love my time at UEA, but my degree in American and English Literature taught me so many transferable and valuable skills that I use daily.  

The first benefit to having a literature background is the most obvious: I learnt copywriting quickly. Writing content for the web (and social media) is a unique craft of writing with its own set of challenges, but being forced to read and write almost every day for four years aided me immensely in getting used to writing that way.   

While at university, I had very little weekly contact hours, much of my learning was driven through my own reading and further research. I became very quick at finding solutions and resources (hint to students: learn Boolean search terms!). It’s impossible to know everything about website management all at once, so I often use this skill to look up what I need to know.  

An often-overlooked skill of web management is having an eye for narrative and drama. It’s important to always keep in mind what the user experience of your website is like – we can also think of this as the narrative of a website. This viewpoint will force you to think of your content in terms of hierarchy and order. What is the most crucial information for your users to know? And what priority do you give other information? 

As a literature graduate this practice came quite naturally. Of course, web narratives are also visual and navigable. Learning wireframing techniques will help you get to grips with those aspects. Reading so much fiction and research during my degree honed my skill of identifying a good narrative; I can’t emphasise enough how critical this is to working in any form of communications or marketing.  

I also believe my degree made me a great collaborator. Not just because of those dreaded group assignments, but because reading novels strengthens one skill above all else: empathy. To be able to truly understand characterisation in fiction or why certain plot points are significant you need to have a strong sense of empathy with the characters you’re reading about. In a leadership role, empathy is absolutely essential. 

As a leader, you need to give constructive feedback in a way that’s effective and psychologically safe while contributing to a workplace culture which bolsters mental wellbeing. I may not have a senior job, but leadership is an action, not a job title. People working in comms or marketing are often extremely visible to the rest of the organisation and, as such, are often relied on to give input into strategy and project management. 

I steer a group of around seven colleagues from all different teams in the organisation. This involves giving them feedback, coming up with content plans together, and giving them instructions on accessibility and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Every single one of these actions needs an empathetic approach to be effective; one of the most valuable skills in any job is being the person in the room who can understand all viewpoints and get to a solution quickly.  

I hope that gives a good insight into how the skills I’ve learnt at UEA help me on a daily basis. I’m currently learning more about web development through coding, but I have no regrets about my degree choice! 
Feel free to connect with me to talk more about website management and digital marketing as a humanities graduate on LinkedIn and Twitter


Read more Working with Words Blogs