Business vs Academic Writing: Things You Should Know Before Graduating

July 20, 2015

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If you are going to graduate soon, and you plan on pursuing a career in the business world, you may be wondering about the expectations you will encounter on the job when it comes to writing. You probably realize that there are differences between business and academic writing. After all, you receive written documents from businesses all the time (your bank, your credit card company, your car insurance company…), and those documents certainly don’t resemble academic essays or research papers. The real questions are, what is the difference between academic and business writing, what can you expect in your chosen career regarding writing, and how do you adjust your writing style from academic to business? Here are four things that should help you answer these questions.

  • Academic Writing is more Process Oriented while Business Writing is more Results Oriented

Here is an example. In a business marketing class, you may be asked to produce a catalog of services for fictitious software consulting firm. As you go through the process of completing this writing assignment, you will learn about document layout, choosing proper fonts, selecting graphics, and writing in a way that will grab a consumer’s attention. On the other hand, if you were on the job and were assigned the task of creating a catalog of services, the results would likely be the only thing that mattered. In academics, the question is often, ‘what did you learn during this writing assignment?’ In the business world the question is usually, ‘does the document you produced suit our needs?’

As a college student you follow specific rules when you write papers. These rules may be based on the citation format you are using, they may be rules that are dictated by your major, or they may be established by an academic department or your instructor. When you graduate and enter the business world, you will see that similar things are true. For example, a business may have specific templates for you to use when producing documents. They may also have certain words and phrases you expected to use and others that you are expected to avoid. In academics rules like these are established to give all students equal footing. In other words, if all students must use the same font, same margins, and the same criteria when it comes to formatting their written work the only thing to judge them by is the content of their writing. In business, these rules are established for other reasons. One reason could be efficiency, and another could be consistency in branding.

  • In Academics there are Strict Rules about Writing Point of View but not always in Business

Academic assignments are nearly always written from the third person point of view (e.g.: “one should never go grocery shopping while hungry.”). In some instances the first person point of view is also acceptable (e.g.: I never go grocery shopping while hungry.). It is virtually never acceptable to write from the second person point of view (e.g.: “you should never grocery shop while hungry.”). The only exception to this rule would be classes where writing correspondence is part of the curriculum. These rules are only very loosely applied in the business world, if they are applied at all. For example, many business documents released to the public include a call to action. In order to personalize this call to action, it is very common to use the second person point of view.

  • Academic Writing is not Intended for use by the Public: Business Writing Frequently is

As a student, you would never write an essay or research paper that was full of headings and sub-headings in bold print. You would never use a lot of numbered lists and bullet points. This is because your document is going to be read by someone who is taking the time to gauge your writing skill and your mastery of the subject. Many business documents are written to be eye catching, memorable, and to motivate the reader to behave in a certain way.

  • Here are Things to Keep in Mind as you Approach Graduation

  1. Your employer will care more about the final results than what you learned during the process.
  2. There will always be standards to follow.
  3. When business needs are at stake writing point of view can vary widely.
  4. Readers of your business documents are likely to have shorter attention spans than those who read your academic papers and you should be prepared to accommodate that.