Advice for new corporate writers and editors

For harried but well-intentioned communication managers—and their still-malleable new writers and editors—here are some talking points worth communicating to new employees


Companies offer new employee orientation to brief new hires on the culture and the policies of the organization so they can hit the office carpet running.


But who orients employees in the requirements of their specific job? Their manager, who is a bit biased on the subject—the main message is, “Do what I want done, the way I like it done,”—and in any case usually too busy to offer a thoughtful orientation session.


Here are some talking points for communication managers to deliver to their new writers and editors.


You must do your job. If you were brought in to write the monthly employee publication, you’ve got to get it out monthly, even if I lard your schedule with lots of other things. I won’t be here forever, and if all you ever do is follow my priorities, your job could disappear when I do. Unless and until I tell you the publication is officially canceled, you must get it out on time, every time. Without a bunch of filler pieces, without a bunch of errors.


You must be a grown-up. I expect you to be overworked sometimes, work after hours sometimes. (We live in North America, not France.) But your job should also be sustainable. If I put too much on your plate on a permanent basis, you must resist the temptation to say yes and then do half-assed work on all of it, or allow yourself to burn out. I must be able to trust you to tell me, “No”; you must not expect that I will know exactly when I’ve given you too much.



You are an editor; you will not be the most popular person in the organization. My job is to politick; your job is to edit. I expect you to use all your charm and guile in editing others’ work and in pushing your articles through the approval chain (of which I am a part, of course). But I recognize, and you should too, that a true editor will not be universally beloved. If you’re doing your job, some people—including my own boss—will be sore with you some of the time, for running one thing and spiking another.


As I hope I got across in the interview, your job is complex. Most employees at this company have only one essential mission—to please the boss, whose job it is to please top management. As a corporate editor, you must please management too. But you must do so by pleasing employees as well: by giving them compelling stories and candid news, by airing their honest opinions in our various communication vehicles. Though pleasing employees in these ways is in the long-term best interest of the organization, doing so often equates with displeasing management in the short term. I know this and will cover for you as much as I can. But I’m not your mommy. Be strong.


I’m going to say this only once: Writing and editing take more time than anyone else in the organization can fathom. Getting good photographs, negotiating good graphic design, writing great headlines and sharp leads, copyediting, and proofreading—these are all arts, difficult and complicated. I know this, but in the demands of my own strategic priorities, I will often forget. Make me proud of your work, so that I will be inspired to defend the time you need to do it.


Good luck. You’ll need a little of that, too.


Longtime Ragan staffer David Murray is now editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, a monthly collection of the best speeches in the world. He also blogs regularly on communication issues at Writing Boots.




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