Should you swear when you’re writing?

A writing colleague had an interesting problem just lately. He was editing something for someone and they’d used a profanity a few times. He wanted to know what people thought about the use of swearing in the written media and what he could use instead.

Should you swear in corporate writing?

For me this raised the question of whether swearing is appropriate at all in the corporate world. Sir Richard Branson’s book (one of them) is called “Screw It, Let’s Do It” after a phrase he apparently uses a lot when presented with ideas, except he doesn’t say “screw”. Using the “f” word is presumably on brand for him, and I’m guessing the prospect of being banned from bookshops persuaded him to moderate his language for the book title.

A colleague of mine from the Professional Speaking Association, Richard Tyler, takes it a step further. His brand is “BTFI” which, moderated as above, stands for “Beyond The Screw It”.

For these people, the profanity is part of who they are. So when you’re writing your corporate prose, should you feel free to swear?

Consider the audience

For me, if I’d put such a word in I’d be aware of its weight and would not want it changed. If an editor was effectively the gate keeper of the website or magazine for which I was working, fair enough, they can change it; if, as in this case, the writer had hired the editor and was paying them, diluting my message would not go down well with me.

However, I probably wouldn’t have put them in at all. The reason is simple enough; every piece of corporate writing should have a call to action at its heart. You want the customer to buy something, you want to expand your brand awareness, the purpose can be a number of things but you’ll have a purpose.

Presumably your objective isn’t to alienate a section of readers before you’ve started, and even in 2016 a lot of people will react in that way.

So for me, swearing would be out. If I were editing something that included it, I’d go back to the brief and find out what I was editing for. If it’s simple readability then frankly I’d probably be overstepping the mark if I watered the shock value down.

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