Comparison of Business and Academic Writing

, Staff Writer
Updated August 2, 2016
woman doing business and academic writing
    woman doing business and academic writing
    baona / E+ / Getty Images

Making a comparison of business and academic writing is important so you can understand the different writing methods and know how to adjust your style as needed. There are more types of academic writing than business writing. The main differences between business writing and academic writing relate to writing style.

Academic Writing

Academic writing is work created for an academic purpose. Writing assignments students are required to complete in school are academic in nature. Works created by professors and other academic professionals designed to advance a field of knowledge or be used to teach students are also examples of academic writing.

Academic Style and Tone

To write in the academic style, it’s important to put a lot of research or thought into your writing before you start. An outline can be a helpful tool for good planning. You also need to have a consistent style.


Degree of Formality

Academic writing uses a formal style and typically uses the third person perspective. The focus of the writing is on facts and issues rather than the writer's opinion. The language uses precise words and does not include slang words, jargon or abbreviations.

  • Formal writing example - The man made bad choices which caused him to lose money and fame.
  • Informal writing example - I think the man's a loser.

The informal example is not precise, uses the first person, has a slang word, and uses a contraction. This would not be appropriate for an academic document.

Academic Writing Formats

Academic writing is intended for an informed audience and is serious in nature. There are a number of different academic writing formats.

  • abstract - a short summary of an article, thesis, review, research study, or other long report on a subject or event.
  • book report - brief overview of a particular book; common school assignment
  • conference paper - papers presented at a scholarly conference; based on research results
  • dissertation or thesis - formal research paper prepared by graduate students as a requirement for an advanced degree (A thesis is required for many Master’s degree programs while a dissertation is required of Ph.D. students.)
  • essay - brief piece written from the author's personal point of view
  • explication - academic critique of a work of literature or other writing
  • journal article - article prepared for publication in an academic journal
  • research paper - class assignment based on secondary or primary research
  • textbook - a book written for academic purposes.

Whatever format you are writing in, it’s important to verify if the school or other academic entity (such as a scholarly journal or conference committee) requires or recommends that writers use a certain style, such as APA style, MLA style or Chicago style.


Business Writing

Business writing includes documents created for a professional purpose. Rather than being used in academia, this type of writing is intended to be used in the business world. The broad goal of business writing is to engage in effective professional communication.

Business Writing Focus

The main requirement and focus of business writing is clarity. Use clear, precise language so the communication is easy to understand. Ideas need to be well developed with examples and details as needed. Use shorter and simpler sentences. Sentences with fewer than 25 words would be ideal.

Active Voice

Use an active voice in business writing rather than a passive voice. An active voice uses action verbs with phrases that are direct and to the point.

  • It would be better to start a sentence with a direct saying like “The company lacks...” rather than taking a passive approach with a passive phrase like “What the company may be missing is…”
  • Avoid qualifiers like: would be, may be and probably. These words weaken the tone of what you are saying.
  • The writing should suggest action instead of focusing on mental states. Instead of saying, "We believe" or "We think" say, "We recommend." This goes along with the active tone of the communication.

Degree of Formality

The style of business needs to be professional and courteous, but not overly formal. There should not be too many extra words. This is not the place for figurative language. It’s best to be direct and to the point in business writing, avoiding unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. You should also avoid clichés.

Business Writing Formats

Business writing is necessary for all types of documents used to communicate in professional settings. There are many types of business writing formats.

  • business email - digital correspondence for business purposes
  • business plan - detailed outline of business goals, objectives and strategies
  • executive summary - overview of business recommendations
  • letter - formal correspondence sent by mail or email on behalf of the business
  • memo - internal document to communicate information to team members
  • press release - document sent to news media or published online to announce information
  • project proposal - request for approval to begin a new project or initiative
  • resume - work history document submitting to prospective employers
  • technical document - detailed instructions for procedures or equipment

For any piece of business writing, it’s important that the format and content are appropriate for the subject matter and the intended audience.


Business vs. Academic Writing

As you can see, there are a lot of differences between these two styles of writing. There are also some similarities.

Key Differences Between Business and Academic Writing

A few of the most important differences between business and academic writing include:

  • Academic writing is more formal than business writing. That doesn’t mean business writing is informal, just that a lesser degree of formality is required than with academic writing.
  • Academic writing is written for students, teachers, professors, or scholars. The audience for business writing is quite different. Common audiences for business documents include managers, coworkers, customers, prospective customers, or potential employers.
  • Academic writing almost always uses the third person point of view, while business writing can use any point of view. Most business writing is written in second person, but it’s also acceptable to use first or third person in some situations.
  • Academic writing focuses primarily on facts, especially in the case of research-based writing and text books. While business writing is typically based on factual information, it often focuses on giving opinions in the form of recommendations.
  • Long sentences can be acceptable in academic writing, but tend to be cumbersome in business writing.
  • Academic writing requires extensive sourcing and compliance with specific style and formatting requirements. There is more flexibility with how information is presented in business documents.

Similarities of Academic and Professional Writing

Writing is an important form of communication in academia and the business world. Academic writing and professional writing aren’t completely dissimilar. The two types of writing do have a few key points in common.

  • Both styles need well-developed ideas that are communicated precisely and clearly.
  • The tone is serious in both, whether reporting on research in an academic setting or making recommendations on how to improve a corporation’s profitability.
  • Proper grammar and punctuation is very important in both forms of communication.
  • It’s important to know how and when to use jargon and relevant abbreviations in both styles. There are a number of common business word abbreviations. In academia, it’s important to properly use degree abbreviations.

Develop Your Writing Skills

Now that you have a better understanding of how business and academic writing compare with one another, it’s a great time to commit to further developing your writing skills. Whether academic writing or business writing is the most relevant to you at this time, you’ll benefit greatly from learning how to communicate more effectively in writing. If you’re in school or work as an educator, focus on building your academic writing skills. If you’re part of the business world or are seeking to join it, focus on important business writing skills.