Professional writing can sometimes lack the passion that we associate with creative or even academic writing. If we produce reports or meeting minutes, our goal is to be clear and efficient. That’s good for business. We are simply conveying information from one party to another, so that the next person in the line of communication can proceed with the task at hand.
We do not necessarily infuse professional writing with our own sensibilities or shape it with our own ethical principles. And yet we should.
It is true that in professional writing we must always keep the goals of the organization in mind. Many of us, however, learned that writing was about self-expression.
When we teach college students to write academic papers, we encourage them push back against established ideas, to think critically. We hope they will forge their own paths and their own way of thinking. This is how we bring new ideas into the world.
But when we write in a professional setting, we are doing the opposite. Mark Mabrito, who teaches business writing at Purdue University Northwest, notes that,
“Many writers in the workplace are attuned to hidden agendas for their documents. They create documents that meet the informational demands expected of them and that follow company format, but ones that also promote the goals of the organization as a whole or particular individuals within the organization.”*
When we write in a professional setting, we are always writing for someone else. As Mabrito says, we are promoting someone else’s goals. The experience can become empty and unfulfilling in some ways. Occasionally, I find myself going through dry spells when it becomes an effort to piece together the mundane facts of a report or to describe the vision of another person.
And yet, that is precisely what I have been hired to do. I have been asked to act as an intermediary who can connect different sets of minds. I help people communicate. When I take a step back and consider my role, it is creative and invigorating.
As professional writers, we must invest ourselves in the goals of the organization if we want to help them tell their stories. But we can also keep our own purposes in mind. Why are we writing for this organization? What do we find valuable about it?
We can infuse our own sensibilities into the process by listening well, paying attention to the details, and writing as accurately and as compassionately as possible.
Professional writing has its own integrity.
*Mark Mabrito, “From Workplace to Classroom: Teaching Professional Writing,” Business Communication Quarterly 62.3 (1999): 101-04.