It would be incorrect to say, categorically, that business writing differs from academic writing. All effective writing communicates something important clearly and concisely to its audience. At the same time, given the social-discursive-rhetorical nature of all writing, business writing does differ significantly from academic writing insofar as business organizations differ from academic research organizations. The writing within these organizations serves different purposes, addresses different audiences, and arises in response to a very different set of problems. Since you are more familiar with student versions of academic writing rather than the kinds of writing your professors produce within their professions, the summary below covers some of the key differences between classroom writing and business writing.

Students write to learn.

Academic and non-academic contexts for writing differ immensely. Schools and universities exist to produce and disseminate knowledge and to help students do the same. The writing you produce in academic settings can best be described as "writing to learn" and "writing to demonstrate what you have learned." You write to explore topics, to learn new things, to argue a case, and to demonstrate to your instructors that you have learned and can think about and apply what you have learned. The writing you submit to your professors gives them a glimpse of the way your disciplined mind works when confronted with a significant topic in a particular field of study. Your instructors want to see that you are learning to think like persons trained within this field. 

Business writers write to get work done – to recommend actions.

Business organizations exist to produce and distribute products, whether that product is steel, a WEB browser, or an opera. In the increasingly competitive, global marketplace, businesses must constantly evolve. Rarely do business writers write to learn, to communicate what they know, or to give a glimpse of how their mind works. Instead they write to solve problems, to propose new strategies, to store vital information, to negotiate new contracts, to map out the future direction of the company, to track quality control benchmarks, to report earnings to stakeholders, etc. Audiences for business writing – managers, employees, customers, engineers, regulatory agencies, lawyers, stockholders, etc. – do not want to exercise or monitor the growth of the writer. They want to know what to do or what the company is going to do next. Therefore, writing within non-academic, business contexts can best be described as "transactional" or as "writing to do." Business writers often recommend and support strategic courses of action to their readers. 

Below you will find a very brief overview of some of the differences between classroom and business writing that emerge from differences in the contexts within which these kinds of writing are produced.



Students write because their instructors require them to write. Instructors design the assignments.

Business Writers write either at their own initiative or because someone in the organization expects them to write. Professionals often create and define their own tasks.



Students write to learn and to demonstrate what they know.

Business Writers write to make things happen.



Students often write for one reader, their instructor.

Business Writers often write for large and complex groups of people, various stakeholders who have different needs and interests.



Students write exams, essays, journals, term papers, oral reports, etc.

Business Writers write memos, letters, proposals, reports, performance evaluations, business plans, marketing plans, audit reports, sales presentations, manuals, handbooks, contracts, etc



Students are graded individually and own their own writing.

Business Writers write for the company. The company owns the documents, which often include proprietary or confidential information.



Students have as much time as they want to devote to an assignment. They can write alone, choose the environment within which they write, and largely say what they want to say within the framework of the course.

Business Writers meet more urgent deadlines dictated by their employers and the needs of their companies. They often write on the job with many distractions and many constraints on what they can and cannot say.



Students (too often) write an assignment alone and deliver it to the instructor without showing their writing to anybody else.

Business Writers solicit feedback from others before publishing their documents and often work together to compose documents.



Students often write an introduction with a thesis, a body that substantiates the thesis, and a conclusion. They structure their writing according to the requirements of their topic, thesis, and instructor’s expectations.

Business Writers often write a table of contents, an executive summary, company descriptions, industry analyses, strategic analyses, and recommendations. They structure their writing according to what their audiences need to know to do what they need to do.



Students include any points that help them develop their thesis.

Business Writers include only what their audiences need to know and either omit the rest or include it in an appendix.



Students follow the formatting requirements prescribed by their instructors, usually 1" margins all around, double-spaced, twelve-point font, with page numbers and a title. This creates a dense, blocky style with paragraph indentations.

Business Writers design their documents to be visually attractive and to allow their readers at least two ways of reading documents – quickly by scanning, or more slowly for details. They frequently incorporate much white space into their documents, make the structure of their documents visible by using headings and subheadings, and list information using bullet points. They also incorporate visual information such as graphs, charts, logos, and pictures into their documents.



Students write complex sentences and lengthy paragraphs to develop the complexity of their ideas.

Business Writers typically write shorter, simpler sentences and include much less paragraph development if they use paragraphs at all.

Documentation Style


Students document information that they paraphrase or quote from outside sources using the conventions of the academic field within which they are writing, MLA, APA, etc.

Business Writers commonly paraphrase, quote, and boilerplate text from others within their same organizations without any documentation. When they paraphrase or quote outside sources, their documentation styles vary according to the conventions of their organization and the needs of their audiences.



Students establish a knowledgeable yet inquiring tone in their writing that shows they have gained a measure of control over their topic and thesis.

Business Writers establish a tone that best represents the ethos their company wants to project and that fits the expectations of their audience.

Product and Destination


For students, the essay or exam they write is the end product. It goes to the instructor. When instructors hand the assignment back, it goes either into a class folder that the student saves or into the trash. Copies often remain on computer disks until they are erased or the disk is lost or destroyed.

For business professionals, the documents they produce are seldom a final product. Instead, documents are transformed into oral presentations, formal and informal meetings, overheads, reports, etc. Often other writers incorporate sections of one document into new documents, a process called boilerplating. Finally, business documents are often stored on electronic databases to produce a corporate memory.