As a student, you’ll have developed great writing skills. You’ll know how to do your research, construct your argument and come up with an impressive reference list to back it up.
Academic writing is useful thing to add to your CV, but when you get out into the world of work you may find that it doesn’t come in quite as useful as you think. Why? Because there are differences between academic and business writing.
Academic writing has a focus on formality. It’s always written in the third person, and unless you have reached doctorate level you are more likely to be writing papers which build an argument using other people’s thoughts than presenting your own. A great essay is constructed by reading around a subject and then forging a narrative from the facts.
Essays are written in formal language without colloquialisms or abbreviations. What you are trying to communicate to the reader is your grasp of the facts, your ability to create a cogent argument and to do so coherently and dispassionately.
You can also expect your readers to be informed about the subject matter, so you don’t have to give too much in the way of background or in-depth explanations of concepts outside the remit of the essay but in the course material. You might also have language that is particular to the subject which wouldn’t understood by anyone who wasn’t a scholar.
Writing in a business context is more about getting your message across clearly and succinctly. Content needs to be well written but not overly formal, there is an emphasis on readability. Good business writing is tight, easy to comprehend and conveys the message – and that can vary greatly depending on the type of writing you need to do.
Writing for business can be internal communications such as memo’s, executive summaries or presentations which explain an idea to your colleagues. You may also need to write emails or letters to other businesses. It’s important to keep in mind who are you addressing in any business communication to make sure that you get the tone right.
You may be asked to explain issues to people who have no background knowledge of the subject at all, or those who work in different areas who have only a vague understanding of what your team or department contributes. It’s always important to be respectful, to pitch the information that you need to get across correctly and avoid patronising or leaving the reader confused.
Business writing tends to use shorter sentences, about 25 words, and is still formal but less so than academia. The point of view will vary, depending on the piece that you write. Sometimes you will be presenting your own opinion, and will need to persuade others that your ideas are worth support, and at others you will be writing on behalf of your department or the company itself.
Your first taste of business writing is likely to be your own CV. Your CV is a bit like a sales pitch, you need to write in a way that clearly explains who you are and what you’re capable of, but you can also use a fair few superlatives and buzzwords to help you along the way.
If you’ve studied the communication process, you can think of the sender (yourself) using the channel, whichever media you’re using, to get to the receiver. It’s important to stay clear about the styles and formats which you use for each kind of business writing. Keeping the message that you are trying to communicate central is vital, as is stopping and taking a step back to think about what you’ve just written – have you conveyed your point clearly, or could another person take it a different way?
The good news is that academic writing prepares you well for a life in business. You’ll already have the skills to research, plan and write an essay to word limits and deadlines. Beyond that, you will only need to learn to relax your tone a little, and to only communicate what is truly essential.
If you do want to brush up your skills and add something relevant to your CV then there are a range of courses available to give you a start in business writing including this one from Alison.com.
Perhaps the best tip for any writer though is to practice, and let other people read your words and give you feedback. Impress your prospective employer with your understanding of the differences and how you’ve prepared yourself for the future.
Sarah Dixon writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which helps career starters find everything from project management roles to marketing internships. Check out their listing for both graduate jobs London and graduate jobs Manchester.