How Academic Writing Transfers to Workplace Writing

Crystal Sands, PhD.

Crystal Sands, PhD., is the former Director of the Excelsior College OWL. Dr. Sands has worked in higher education for nearly twenty years – as an award-winning writing teacher, and as writing program director and instructor at several institutions.

Each semester, as I wrap up my writing course at Excelsior, I ask my students an important question to consider: How does the writing you have done in this course translate into writing skills that can help you at work?

I get a lot of mixed responses. Some students can immediately see the connections, but other students seem more focused on the different genres they will encounter and struggle to see how academic writing skills transfer to workplace writing situations.

With this in mind, my first blog in our Excelsior Edition series will focus on key ways academic writing skills transfer to your workplace writing. There’s a good chance there are more connections than you might think.

Clarity and Conciseness

There are some myths about academic writing I have noticed amongst my students, and one of them is that academic writing is supposed to “sound sophisticated” and consist of really complex sentences. While academic writing does value a formal tone and diversity in sentence lengths, it also, first and foremost, values clarity and conciseness.

The work you do on grammar, clarity of ideas, revising, and editing in a college class transfer directly to workplace writing. With the idea in mind that you want your writing to be easy for your readers to follow, this is one area in which academic writing and workplace writing are definitely “on the same page.”

Different Audiences

Throughout your academic career, you are going to encounter a wide variety of writing assignments aimed toward a wide variety of audiences. The days of writing a traditional academic research paper for each and every class in college are on their way out. Your college classes will require discussion posts aimed toward your classmates and professors, emails to professors, short essays with specific audiences, research papers for a traditional audience, presentations for audiences of your choosing, editorials for the public, infographics and flow charts for colleagues, and more.

Learning to adjust your writing to different audiences in academic writing is a tough task, especially in an online course where you have to write to an audience that is more difficult to know, but learning to adjust is going to help you tremendously at work. At work, you will likely have to write to colleagues, supervisors, patients, customers, and more. Writing effectively for your specific audience is going to help make you a strong writer, no matter what your writing situation is.

Flexibility

Just as you are learning to write for a variety of audiences in your college courses, you are also writing in a variety of situations. It used to be that most of the writing you did for college focused on traditional essays. Today, even though that is still a component of academic writing, you are likely to encounter a wide variety of genres.

I sometimes have students explain that they wish there was just “one right way to write,” but there is no such thing as a “right way to write.” I hope this is a lesson all students will learn from their college courses. Having to adjust your writing so frequently is going to help you practice for writing in the workplace where you will have to be able to write in a variety of forms and genres.

Effective Process

Research tells us that the best way to have a better written product is to have a better writing process. This is a key lesson you will gain from your college writing assignments and one that will help you for the rest of your life as a writer. Making time to organize your ideas, revise your work, and edit thoroughly will make your writing stronger, no matter the situation.

When I teach college writing classes, there are two key lessons I hope all of my students take away from my classes: First, I hope they understand how important it is to be rhetorically flexible. Second, I want them to leave with an improved writing process.

Even if you just add a few critical steps to your writing process, it can make a big difference with your product.

Of course, these are just some of the many ways the writing you do for college will help prepare you for writing in the workplace. In many of your courses, you will write in genres that are exactly like what you will write at work. However, even if the genres don’t match exactly, rest assured that the skills you learn and practice you engage in will help you write successfully at work.

National research indicates that writing skills are critical for both hiring and promotion. The writing skills you learn in college really are meaningful and important, and they can help you throughout your career.

What do you think?

  • Liz Gauffreau

    I’d be interested in good resources to help weaker students understand the concept of rhetorical situation.

    • excelsiorowl

      Hi Liz – sorry for the slow reply! Have you visited the Rhetorical Styles section of the OWL (http://owl.excelsior.edu/rhetorical-styles/)? That section as well as parts of the Argument & Critical Thinking section (http://owl.excelsior.edu/argument-and-critical-thinking/) may have something to offer. Thanks for the comment!

      • Liz Gauffreau

        Yes, I have, thanks! The students I’m working with are a step before rhetorical styles. They need to understand the concept of the rhetorical situation in order to understand how the various rhetorical styles apply to them.

      • Liz Gauffreau

        Yes, I have, thanks! The students I’m working with are a step before rhetorical styles. They need to understand the concept of the rhetorical situation in order to understand how the various rhetorical styles apply to them.

        • Francesco Crocco

          Dear Liz, Thanks for your feedback. I’d love to hear your specific thoughts about how to explain the concept of rhetorical situation to students. Please send me any further ideas to fcrocco@excelsior.edu. Thanks.

          • Liz Gauffreau

            Will do, Francesco!