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Business Writing Differences with Academic Writing

Business writing refers to communications at or on behalf of companies, government departments, their agencies, organisations, and institutions. The term also applies to writing related to managing personal business affairs such as banking, insurance, and correspondence with government departments.

While similar principles and techniques underlie all good writing, genres of writing differ in purpose, context, and audience. Graduates starting out in non-academic career may find that the type of writing that got them through university does not work as well in their new job. They may even come under criticism for a style that is “too academic.”

Therefore, it is worth pointing out how business and academic writing differ.

~ Academic Writing Skills ~

Student examinations and papers aim to demonstrate mastery of a subject. University-degree theses and published academic writing go a step further: they debate, discuss, and sometimes attempt to add to humankind’s understanding of our world. The audience for academic writing tends to be mainly other people who understand the same subject matter: classmates, examiners, instructors, and other peers. The readership need not be limited to peers. I will say more about this subject later. But academic writing is largely judged according to how it is received among people in the same field..

Academic writing is dense with conceptual vocabulary. These concept words create “information density,” that is, make it possible for experts in a field to discuss concepts among themselves efficiently.

~ Business Writing Skills ~

Business writing, in contrast, aims at transactions with people who are for the most part not likely to be specialists. Therefore, it must be written in language that existing and potential clients and customers can readily understand. A computer software supplier wanting to win a contract with a large company cannot count on anyone outside of the client’s IT department being familiar the intricacies of the product or coding.

A company may employ researchers, scientists, and engineers who use jargon and specialist vocabulary among themselves. But eventually, these concepts need to be broken down in simple language for the marketing, human resources, finance, public relations, and other departments in the organisation as well as clients and customers.

The external communications of NGOs, governments and their agencies, and institutions are also transactional in purpose whenever money is involved directly or indirectly. Regulatory agencies, for instance, oversee trade, commerce, and finance. Charities raise funds for their causes. Governments impose and collect taxes.

~ Content Writing ~

Because of its rapid growth over the last decade or so, content writing deserve a mention.

The purpose of content writing is for marketing. Many companies employ content writers to compose blogs, advertorials, and other types of articles, or to create videos, podcasts, landing pages, social media posts, etc. about issues related to the business of the company but not directly focused on its operations. Content writing serves as indirect promotion of a company’s business.

Business writing principles and techniques apply to content writing. However, content writing is a specialised form of communication with its own set of skills, storytelling being one of the most important.

Note about Kohut Writing Academy course

Although my course, Master the Key Business Writing Skills in Six Weeks, is aimed at businesspeople, much of what I teach can be applied to academic writing or content writing. This is particularly true for business school students.

I relied on the principles and techniques outlined in my course while I was studying at London Business School. I arrived at business school having spent my career in financial journalist and found myself among classmates who had years of hands-on business management experience that I could not match. Nevertheless, writing skills helped me to complete my degree with a Distinction grade.

Academic writing has been criticised for being unnecessarily complicated. Among the fiercest critics has been Karl Popper, one of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers of science, who in an essay entitled “Against Big Words” chastised fellow philosophers for drowning “their fellow human beings in a sea of words.” Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, rails against the poor quality of academic writing and argues is can and should be easier to read.

Richard Dawkins, the British ethnologist and evolutionary biologist perhaps best known for his book The Selfish Gene, has mocked obscurantism in postmodern writing. He has also been recognised for the literary achievement of his scientific work, proving the point that academic content can reach a wide audience in the hands of a good writer.

(For more insights on how to improve communications skills, writing techniques, and the effects of communications skills in shaping outcomes, please see my other blog posts.)

Lecture hall photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash