The writing we all did in high school and college is vastly different than the writing we need to produce in the workplace. And yet, some things remain the same.

I had an epiphany about this first while editing pieces written by my two children when they were in college and then later while working with a university client.

In the business writing workshops I now teach virtually, I talk about the four differences and the four similarities between academic and business writing.

The Differences

For instance, in school, our teachers would give us a writing assignment with a required length. “Students, you need to write five pages about the history of racism in South Africa…”

We would do our research and probably come up with enough content for three pages. We would then do our very best to write long sentences and paragraphs to stretch our piece another two pages.

We would also use the most complex vocabulary we could think of to impress our teacher with our knowledge and intelligence.

Lastly, we would place our conclusion(s) at the end of our paper. “In summation…”

When we get to the business world, we’re not in Kansas any longer. We’re not even in Kansas State University. Your superiors and co-workers don’t want to read long memos from you. They want succinct communications, the shorter the better.

Multiple readership studies have proven that short sentences and short paragraphs are easier to both read and comprehend. That’s what we strive for in business communications.

Because we sometimes don’t know the level of education of our audience(s) in business communications, we need to use simple vocabulary and stay away from complex words.

Lastly, we need to lead memos and emails with our conclusions, not bury them at the bottom. The U.S. military calls this a “BLUF” (bottom line up front). Kabir Sehgal wrote an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review in 2016 about this.

The Similarities

Despite these four major differences, four things remain the same between the two writing styles.

For instance, in business writing, we still need to use:

  1. proper grammar,
  2. proper punctuation, and,
  3. proper capitalization.

We also need to avoid all typos and misspellings. We can not get away from any of these four features of our writing.

Some folks have a difficult time making the transition to business writing. What can you do if you’re facing this challenge? My suggestion is to hire an award-winning business writing coach who can help you strengthen your skills. Just saying…

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

If you want to successfully pitch news stories, you need to think – and write – like a news reporter.

That’s one of the strategies I’ve used during my 30+ year career in public relations to place countless stories. And reading some of the news stories coming out of the current Olympic Games in Tokyo reinforces three other basic principles I teach in my News Writing workshops for PR professionals:

The Power of “ST” – If you can find a word that ends in the letters “s” and “t” and apply it to your story pitch, you have a much better chance of success. Case in point: my local newspaper The Oregonian ran a large wire story July 28 about a 17-year-old high school student from a tiny town in Alaska. Why did she merit such attention? Because Lydia Jacoby was the first swimmer from Alaska to make the U.S. Olympic swimming team. To top it off, she won the gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke event. You can read more about this strategy here.

Most Attractive Topic – The topic most people want to read about in their news coverage is … other people! The story cited above about the swimmer includes information about her childhood, how difficult it was to train in a small town during a pandemic, how her parents both work as whale watching boat captains, how she was homeschooled the past year and how her friends and family members “went nuts” at the watch party when she won. If you’ve got a people element to your story, don’t forget to include it. You can read more about this strategy here.

Think Local – Reporters usually seek local stories that have a tie to a national or international event. Case in point: my 97-year-old mom is currently visiting me from her home in Victoria, Canada. She brought a copy of her local paper, The Times Colonist, with her. The July 20 edition includes a large story about a University of Victoria graduate who was picked to help carry the Canadian flag during the opening ceremony in Tokyo. If you can somehow connect your pitch to a big news story, the result will be a placement. You can read more about this strategy here.

I’ve always believed that if you can provide an editor with a newsworthy story that would interest their readers, your pitch will win a proverbial gold medal. Using the above strategies will help you get there.

Want to improve your team’s news or business writing skills? Get in touch with me for information about scheduling and rates.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Three tips for successfully navigating the approval process gauntlet

April 23, 2021

You’ve interviewed multiple sources for that news release, speech or internal communications newsletter article. After you write a great draft, you send it out to your reviewers for approval. And you wait… And you wait… You send out a reminder email. And you wait… And your deadline starts getting closer… What should you do? It’s […]

Read the full article →

Transparency a key factor in high impact internal comms

April 20, 2021

A new client recently asked me to present a virtual workshop on internal communications to its comms team. In preparing my presentation, I came up with five characteristics of what I believe constitute a high impact (high quality) internal communications program. I was delighted to read the new issue of American Banker magazine (April 2021), […]

Read the full article →

Capt. Tom’s lesson: your most valuable possession is not fortune, fame

February 4, 2021

The death of beloved Capt. Tom Moore on Feb. 2 at the age of 100 reminds us that our most valuable possession is not fortune or fame. If you’re not familiar with Capt. Tom, last year this World War II vet and British resident set out to raise 1,000 pounds for the healthcare workers in […]

Read the full article →

Churchill said it best: Make it brief!

December 31, 2020

I’m reading the latest book by one of my favorite authors, Erik Larson. In The Splendid and the Vile, Larson recounts the many challenges Winston Churchill faced as prime minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. Germany had already conquered Poland and Czechoslovakia. On Churchill’s very first day in office, Germany invaded Holland […]

Read the full article →

Lessons to be learned from the recent presidential election

November 8, 2020

Regardless of your political affiliation, the recent presidential election holds some major lessons when it comes to news writing and media pitching. Here are just four of them: Timing – The news media usually does not plan ahead. It typically reports on the daily activities of the world around it. But there are a few […]

Read the full article →

Word to the wise: Keep your opinions to yourself

September 22, 2020

This advice goes out to the newer and younger professionals working in corporate communications, public relations and media relations because I’m assuming old dogs such as I already know this: Keep your personal opinions to yourself. I was reminded of the wisdom of this advice yesterday when I read the CNN article that stated, “A public affairs […]

Read the full article →

Advice about goal setting applies to creating talking points: less is more

August 15, 2020

I just finished reading the highly informative, educational and entertaining book The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger. In it, he reveals how he rose from an entry level position at ABC Television in 1974 to eventually become CEO of the Walt Disney Company in 2005. Obtaining the CEO job was certainly not an […]

Read the full article →

Never forget to include the “why” when communicating to employees

May 6, 2020

I read an excellent article in the new issue of American Banker magazine by John Enger about how experiencing past disasters helped bankers deal with the coronavirus crisis (click here to read the entire article). Some of the past disasters the article mentions include Hurricane Katrina in the southern U.S. in 2005 and the 2017 […]

Read the full article →