Business Writing Tips from a "Recovering Academic"

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I had the pleasure of delivering a webinar on "How to Write in Layperson." (Thanks to Springboard Atlantic for hosting this event!)

The audience included researchers, entrepreneurs, industry liaison officers from Atlantic universities, and students. As a former professor, I felt very much at home among these folks, who formed a thoughtful, discerning group.

I also felt their frustration with the conventions and limitations of business communication.

In my previous life as a scholar, I spent years mastering the art of scholarly discourse. Through reading and through publishing academic articles, I learned the subtle moves that researchers make as they engage in an ongoing conversation with other specialists in their field. And then, when I transitioned into the corporate world, I discovered that all those sophisticated moves I'd perfected were useless. What's more, they repeatedly backfired on me.

For instance, words such as discourse, hermeneutical, and rhetoric resulted in the glassy-eyed look that says,"I'm confused, but I don't want to look stupid, so I'm not going to ask you to explain." Long, carefully-reasoned documents got overlooked or trashed. And passages of writing I thought of as thorough got condemned for being wordy or "too deep into the weeds."

It was like spending years learning ballet only to discover that the dance troupe I'd joined did only swing dance.

At first, I found myself disappointed and as baffled as the audiences I confused. Then, using the specialized skills in rhetorical analysis I'd so diligently honed, I recognized the problem. It wasn't me, and it wasn't my readers. It was simply the gap between the world of the academy and the world of business.

If I was going to succeed, I reckoned, I would have to somehow bridge that gap. I would have to unlearn so much of what I'd learned about writing and relearn how to communicate with readers unlike me.

That's how my recovery journey from academic habits started. As with any recovery, acknowledging the problem was the first step. Further steps have included leaving behind familiar habits that no longer serve me and learning new habits that enable me to achieve my goals.

Yesterday, I was glad to be able to share with the Springboard audience a few things I've learned about writing through my journey as a recovering academic. Since one of those things was the need to communicate visually, I've compiled four of those tips into the infographic below. What other tips would you add?

What frustrations do you have about transitioning from academic to business writing? If you'd like to chat about possible strategies and solutions, just book a free consult at 


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