From Academia to the Workplace: Develop Your Style

In From Academia to the Workplace: Consider Your Diction, I introduced the disconnect between writing for professors in academia and writing for the workplace. I cautioned you to think carefully about the words you use – your diction. A lot more goes into writing than just stringing words together.

Spend Time Developing Your Style

Whether you think about it or not, your writing has a tone, a voice, and other elements of style that paint a picture in the reader’s mind about what kind of person you are. Of course, the academic style and the business style are far from identical. As a graduate student, you’ll want to cultivate your professional style if you’re planning on entering the workforce after graduation.

One element that differs between these two styles is ‘person’. In academic writing, we generally try to stick to the third person. It’s usually considered bad form to write in the first or second person, as academic writing is expected to be more formal. In a business context, on the other hand, we are much more encouraged to use a personal and friendly tone, and this means we shouldn’t shy away from words like ‘I’ and ‘you’.

Similarly, a small amount of humour can also go a long way in business writing, though academic writing leaves little room for it. Of course, you don’t want to distract from your overall message or come off as a fool but, because much business writing is less formal, a small quip or funny remark can help paint that picture of what kind of person you are. This is especially true when your writing’s purpose is to persuade. Consider, again, that project proposal we mentioned in Part 1. Of course, you want to inform the board about the technicalities, costs, and benefits of your proposed project but including a dash of humour in your writing can give you a boost. After all, people generally want to help people they like, and there are few things people like more than a bit of humour.

Though you may feel like the “real world” is eons away from grad school, the truth is, unless you’re planning on going into academia, it’s just around the corner. Since your purpose in graduate school is preparing for that future in the first place, it is crucial you develop your business writing skills alongside your academic writing skills.

Of course, some things carry over between academia and business. Both require good grammar, spelling, and clarity of content. Yet, aside from these fundamentals, the way you approach writing for the workplace is going to be different than the way you approach writing for your professor. Writing in university is often to enlighten or educate the reader, while business writing is often to influence or inform action.

Next time you’re writing a paper, look over it for jargon and consider how you could put those words into other words more readily understood by laymen. Going through this exercise will prepare you to make the transition once you have your diploma in hand.

As you continue to work on your writing for school, ask yourself:

  • What could I do to turn this into a piece of business writing?
  • What words could I change? What could I add or subtract?

By thinking ahead to the elements of style for this different context, you’ll be well on your way to preparing yourself for a bright future in the workforce. You might consider taking a course in business writing; it could be that edge you need to land and keep your dream job. Best of luck!