Academic Writing Versus Business Writing
You spent the last four or so years in college, writing papers that conform to academic composition standards. Fresh out of school, you enter the workplace and, all of a sudden, the way you write gets cold stares at best. You need to write a whole other way if you want to be an effective communicator. What kinds of changes should you expect when writing for business?
No More Page Counts
In college, you’ll often be required to write texts at a certain length: a 10-page report, a 3,000-word essay or some other writing assignment of a specified length. When writing for business, you want to keep things as short as possible. Doing so ensures everything is attended to in an efficient way. There’s no need to stretch an idea beyond what you need to express it clearly — think quality, not quantity.
Format and Layout
In college, whoever grades the papers will have to read your work as part of their job. That’s guaranteed to happen. In the workplace, everything you type in an email or collate into a printed document needs to fight for attention. Every email, memo, report and proposal will be competing with dozens of other things on your recipients’ inbox — many of them just the same, if not more, important than yours.
To maximize your chances, use a detailed headline that expresses the gist of the email, memo or report in a clear way. Similarly, format your text body to lend itself well to being read by people in a rush, using short paragraphs, clear action points and bulleted lists.
In college, everything you write has a standard structure: a start, a middle and an end. At work, it’s often unnecessary. In fact, many written business communication is at its most effective when the writer is being direct, ditching the introduction and summaries to jump straight to the point. In many business contexts, it’s perfectly acceptable to skip the background information and assume your reader already knows what’s going on.
In college, your word choice reflects the academic environment in which you’re working in (e.g. using technical language for engineering reports). Developing your vocabulary with terms, phrases and language used in the field, then using that in your writing is encouraged. At work, you have to remember that you’re writing to people of different educational and professional backgrounds. Some of them can also be from a different cultural background with a foreign language as their primary vernacular. As such, you need to take care when using English to foster effective communication.