Professional writing

Learn about the difference between professional and academic writing. Discover the steps for designing your professional communication.

How does professional writing differ from academic writing?

    • Tends to be brief. 
    • Serves a practical purpose.
    • Should stimulate action or decisions.
    • May just have a few references or none at all.
    • Does not always have clearly stated requirements – you may need to work these out for yourself.
    • May be written for people with varying degrees of knowledge about the topic.
    • Often needs to be visually attractive.
    • Prioritizes key messages, persuasion, and comprehensibility.
    • Can be presented in many formats (e.g., policies, blogs, instructions, emails, reports, brochures).
    • Designed to demonstrate the author’s knowledge and skill.
    • Rational, fair and thoroughly argued.
    • Written in academic style.
    • Must be referenced.
    • Often has a set assessment rubric.
    • Usually delivered to an audience who knows more than the author.
    • Discipline specific.
    • Often only read once, so it is private.
    • Includes a range of academic genres (e.g., essays, research reports, literature reviews).

    How to design your professional communication

    As you design your document, presentation, or any other form of professional communication, follow the steps below and try to answer each of the questions. 

    Step 1: Consider the purpose.

    Professional writing always has a purpose. Your first task is to clearly define for yourself the reasons for writing. Consider:

    • Why are you writing this piece?
    • What exactly are you trying to communicate?
    • Have you understood any instructions you’ve been given?

    Step 2: Identify your audience.

    Once you know the purpose of your text, you can start to think about your audience.  Consider:

    • Who will read your text?
    • What do they need?
    • What do they know?
    • What do they think and feel at the moment?

    Step 3: Make a plan.

    Plan your time. It is important that you meet deadlines and deliver a finished document. Consider:

    • How long in hours will it take you to do each of the steps?
    • Can you get everything done in time? If not, what will you need to do more quickly or less well?  Remember to allow for slippage, review and feedback, checking and editing.
    • If you are working in a team, who is doing what by when?


    Step 4: Decide on the ‘look’ and ‘feel’.  

    Decide on the ‘look’ and ‘feel’ of your text by researching how others produce texts like yours. Consider:

    • What instructions have you been given? (At university these will be in the form of assignment instructions.)  Read them very carefully.
    • What examples of similar texts can you find either locally (within course resources or your workplace) or on the web?
    • What makes some example texts better than others? Look at tone, layout, images, the opening and closing, and the use of colour.

    Step 5: Research content.

    Think about whether you have enough knowledge to create your text.  If not, you need to do some research in the form of facts, evidence, data, and background information. Consider:

    • Do you need to do any reading?
    • What resources can you draw on?
    • Can you access any expert knowledge to add to your credibility and knowledge?
    • Do your assignment instructions advise you to use any resources?

     Step 6: Select your technology and resources.

    Think about which software you will use. Unlike most academic writing, you are not constrained to using resources from the Microsoft suite. Consider:

    • What software will be most helpful and effective?
    • Does your work need to be interactive or use multimedia?
    • Are Word or PowerPoint suitable, or do you need to be more ambitious?
    • What other resources do you need such as images, infographics, stories, or quotes from the CEO?

    Step 7: Consider the structure.

    You are now ready to start writing. The best place to start is by thinking about how you will structure your document.

    • Can you list the main topics with headings in a logical order?
    • Under the main topics, can you add in the data, evidence, stories, images, tables, and links, for example, in roughly the right places?
    • Can you also make notes or bullet points so you know what will be said where? (This is especially important if you are writing in a team.)
    • Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

    Step 8:  Write, edit, and revise.

    Wave 1: Write for you!

    • Write a full draft and make sure you have said everything that needs to be said and not much more.
    • Get some early feedback.

     Wave 2: Write for your reader!

    • Edit your draft and tailor it to the needs of your reader.  Check for layout, tone, brevity, simplicity, comprehensibility, jargon, and bias.
    • Get more feedback.

    Wave 3: Revise!

    • What do you think?
    • What does someone who writes well think?
    • What does someone who could be in your audience think?
    • How will you respond to their views?

    Wave 4: Double check your work

    • Have you had your work proofread?
    • Have you checked the layout?
    • Have you checked your facts?
    • Does your work comply with legal requirements?


    Step 9: Distribute your work.

    Now your text is finished, you need to make sure it reaches your audience. Consider:

    • How should you print/upload and distribute your work?
    • How will you make sure your work is read?
    • What tricky questions are your audience likely to ask and how will you respond?
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