Corporate writing is service-oriented not ego-driven

Thirty-five years ago I asked one of my professors at the University of Western Ontario’s journalism school how she would qualify really good writing.  She had been a senior editor at The Globe and Mail, arguably Canada’s top newspaper, so I figured she would know.

She said:

“Really good writing is when it’s so good no one notices.”

It sounded sort of “Zen” at the time. But as a corporate communicator who still spends a lot of time writing, I have come to appreciate the pure truth of it.

In the context of corporate communication, language is a medium – a conduit – that we use to deliver information, ideas and points of view.  And we seek to do so persuasively.

But in doing this job, how successful can language be if its main goal is to attract attention to the way it is written?

Writing that preens and struts is of no use in corporate communication: it distracts readers; it inhibits their ability to absorb messages, ideas and points-of-view; and it lacks credibility.

In essence, good writing is much like the copper and fibre optic cables that telecoms companies use as landlines:  it should carry messages between sender and receiver, but remain unnoticed.

Too often, inexperienced corporate writers want their readers not only to see the cables, but also to appreciate the brilliant engineering it took to lay them down. After all, what’s the point of being a writer if you can’t draw people’s attention to your “command of language”, to say nothing of your vast vocabulary?

Corporate and public relations writers with such an attitude will never write well enough for discerning organisations.  Corporate writing is a craft, and at its best it is service-oriented not ego-driven.  It must make a case for the reader, not be a showcase for the writer.

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