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What is utility writing?

Writing is often thought about as a creative endeavor, but what about when it's for utility?
By Lilly Chen

When we think about what writing can be used for, it’s easy for us to list examples:

  • Recipes
  • Website copy
  • Resumes
  • Blogs
  • Scripts

As humans, we wouldn’t expect someone who is great at journaling to be great at website copy. But when we think about AI writing tasks, we often blend all types of written output together.

What is utility writing?

The goal of utility writing is to communicate some information to a target audience. All resume writing is utility writing. Most website copy is utility writing. Some blogs are utility writing. No screenplay is utility writing.

A line depicting a range of writing from utility to creative

What are the challenges of utility writing?

  1. Utility writing has to be done by everyone
  2. People who are good at writing don’t always have the required information
  3. People who have the required information aren’t always good at writing
  4. Utility writing needs to be done quickly and at scale

Why should AI do utility writing?

Humans have improved technology to facilitate better, faster communication for thousands of years. As early as 4000 B.C., people looked for ways to scale their utility writing:

The Uruk archives may reflect a later period when writing “took off” as the need for more permanent accounting practices became evident with the rapid growth of large cities with mixed populations at the end of the fourth millennium B.C.

The Met Museum

The advancements in abstraction to create letters over pictographs allowed more complex information to be communicated to more audiences. Paper and ink made it faster to write than carving clay tablets. The year 1440 saw another incredible leap forward with the printing press— suddenly writing could be created at scale.

AI is the aggregation of all of those leaps into one. It can make our utility writing better, faster for less cost.

What about creative writing?

Humans should do creative writing. At the moment I’m writing this, the Writer’s Guild of America is on their longest strike in history over wages. Studios are considering using AI to replace certain writers. This is the wrong use case for AI.

Writing might have been invented for accounting and city signs, but people have been using writing as a creative outlet for thousands of years. AI can be used for idea generation or as an editing assistant, but it should not replace creative writing.