From Academia to the Workplace: Consider Your Diction

Besides going to classes, completing projects, and teaching undergrads, one of the most important jobs of a graduate student is preparing for the workforce. After all, that’s what all those long hours in the library are working toward. Graduate students work hard to become experts in their field, but they also learn valuable communication skills that are useful for every profession.

Maybe you love it, maybe you hate it, but either way, as a grad student, you’ve got to write a lot. Besides demonstrating your knowledge and insight in your field, writing is a way for you to cultivate your general thought processes, improve your critical thinking skills, and practice communication skills that will be useful for the rest of your life.

There can be quite a disconnect between writing for professors in academia and writing for the workplace. Sometimes, new grads come into the workforce expecting all the techniques they used to impress their professors will apply in the same way to their communications with co-workers and superiors. Unfortunately, they learn the hard truth that this is rarely the case.

Consider Your Diction

Think carefully about the words that you use. In many disciplines, academics use complex, sometimes arcane jargon to communicate their ideas. While this may be useful for them because it can make their language more succinct, jargon can interfere with communication in the workforce, especially at the beginning of one’s career. Leaving the relatively safe space of university and entering a workplace means you are a new kid on the block. Starting your first day by dropping jargon and anecdotes may not necessarily be endearing.

For example, if you’re studying chemistry in grad school, you can be almost certain your professor will understand the technical jargon you employ in your thesis or lab write-up. On the other hand, when you graduate and get a job, and need to write a project proposal to an executive board that oversees projects across a variety of disciplines, things will be a little different. Some of the executives may understand your jargon, but chances are they aren’t trained chemists, or they have been out of school longer then you were in it. So putting your proposal into words that are readily understood by those without the same or recent technical background can be the difference between a red light and a green light on that project’s funding.

You might also want to think about your general word choice to prepare for workforce writing. Many academics have a penchant for lengthy words. Choosing to use that type of diction in the workplace can lead to confusion, or give an impression of pretension or elitism. Basically, don’t be too wordy. And try to write in a way that makes it easy for the reader to understand what you’re trying to say.

Writing with brevity and conciseness is a powerful tool for any writer, but it is especially important in the busy workplace. Lewis Carroll famously said via the King in Alice in Wonderland, ”Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” While the length and word count were important in university, the exact opposite is true in the business world, especially when you are trying to lobby or persuade. After all, there is a reason tweets only take 240 characters, and 30-second elevator pitches are considered fundamental tools of the business world.

The first time you have to write for work, consider your boss’s hourly rate. If reading your report or proposal takes an hour of her time, what was the cost to the company – and would they consider it worth that hourly rate?

Stay tuned… in our next post, we’ll discuss how to develop your individual writing style.