In all my years of teaching business writing skills, I’ve often been asked the question, “Why don’t they teach us this before we leave college or university?” Yes indeed, why not? There is a huge difference between academic and business writing.  Here are some of the main ones:

  • Academic writing is formal, often using the third person and passive voice. Business writing is less formal, more direct and concise, using active voice.
  • Long sentences are fine in academic writing, but they are very cumbersome in business writing.
  • Students need to show a wide vocabulary so they use complex words and long sentences. Business writers must get their ideas across quickly, so they use simple words and short sentences.

Let’s look at these differences in more detail:

Students write to demonstrate learning!

Schools, colleges and universities exist to share knowledge and to help students do the same. The writing that students produce in academic settings can best be described as “writing to demonstrate what you have learned.”

Students write to discuss and explore different topics, to argue a case, to demonstrate what they have learned to teachers and professors. They need to prove they can think about and apply what they learned. Students need to persuade readers of a particular theory or develop information gained from
research.

The writing that students hand to instructors or professors indicates how their mind works, how much they know, and what they think and feel about particular topics.

In academic writing, students write to demonstrate learning, to impress!

Business writers write to get things done!

In the business world, we write to share information, to solve problems, to propose new strategies, to negotiate contracts, to report progress to stakeholders, etc.

When we write in business – to managers, employees, customers, vendors, stakeholders, etc – we need to give clear information and explain what we want or what we want others to do.  Business writers often recommend specific courses of action to their readers. Therefore, writing in business contexts can best be described as “writing to do.”

In business, we need to get things done quickly, so we need to express ourselves clearly!  Clarity is key and this should be the main focus in all business writing.

In business writing, we write to get things done – to express!