Business Writing vs. Academic Writing

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published July 17, 2009, updated June 3, 2014

Recent college graduates often struggle with the difference between academic and business writing. The University of Houston’s Academic Center recently published a good article that delineated key differences:

  1. Writing at work focuses on problem solving.
  2. Work-related writing targets multiple audiences with different perspectives.
  3. Writing at work may be read by unknown readers.
  4. Writing produced at work can be used indefinitely and can be used in legal proceedings.
  5. The format for work documents varies greatly from the format for academic documents.

There is one other very significant difference not listed in this article: business writing needs to be clear and concise.

Academic writing, by contrast, is more often focused on development of thought, and length is encouraged. Students are often rewarded with higher grades if a paper is longer, uses an impressive vocabulary, and/or complex sentence structure. Business writing is different: one should write to express, not impress.

This does not at all mean business writing should be “dumbed down.” Writing clean, short documents is harder. As Blaise Pascal wisely stated,

“I’m sorry this letter is so long. I did not have time to make it shorter.”

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Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published July 17, 2009, updated June 3, 2014
Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.