Writing in the “Real World”

For faculty and advisors:

When was the last time you told your liberal arts students that knowing how to develop a cogent essay is the best preparation in the world for business writing of all kinds?

Okay, maybe there’s a bit of hyperbole in there, but not much.

The fact is anyone who can write a decent essay is remarkably well-prepared to write many business documents—proposals, project plans, budget notes, status reports, process documentation, training materials, requests for proposal, business requirements, and much more.

Why is this true?

Business documents are almost always aimed at one of two goals:  they’re either informing their audience about something (training materials or status reports, for example) or persuading them of something (proposals, strategic analyses, or product evaluation results, for example).  Even the informative materials often become persuasive, as when a status report has to persuade the reader that being behind schedule or over budget is acceptable after all.

Therefore, here are a few things essays and business writing have in common:

The persuasive argument is the centerpiece of the work

Voice, diction, and structure matter

Fresh ideas beat tired ideas every time

Accountability for the information (e.g., citations) should be featured

Punctuation is not irrelevant (even though some business writers think it is)

While some persuasive arguments in business documents can be “lite” as in, say, web copy or marketing proposals where the net message is “buy mine,” it’s more often the case that the elements of persuasion put before business readers are (when they’re done effectively) rigorous and complex.  In documents and in presentations, writers and presenters are asking business audiences to adopt a new ways of doing things, accept change, internalize the particulars of a new plan, agree to head in a new direction, spend money here, cut funds there.  The list goes on and on.

It’s no wonder we hear so often how desperate operational managers are for people who can actually write.  Every job posting written in the last 30 years says that “excellent verbal and written communication skills are required,” but the truth is they’re rarely found.  If recruiters and hiring managers really made that a hard-and-fast requirement, they’d never hire anyone.

Unfortunately for them, they’re looking in the wrong place for these abilities.  But we know where they are.  Liberal arts students learn those “excellent verbal and written communication skills.”  Now all we have to do is just make the connection for the students:  Here’s how you can put those abilities to work!

3 thoughts on “Writing in the “Real World”

    • I absolutely agree that strong writing skills are valuable in any profession, but the argument above seems to dismiss the value of understanding the underlying theory behind such business documents as the business plan, the marketing plan, strategic analyses, etc. I am certainly not arguing that all students who hope to find a good job someday need to study business, or even that students necessarily need to study business to understand its underlying theories, but I would suggest that liberal arts students who have had at least some exposure to business theory will be more valuable to businesses than those who have not. After all, can someone who can write a wonderful lab report but not understand the Chemistry behind what s/he is writing also be considered a Chemist? In summary, good writing skills are necessary but not sufficient for liberal arts students to position themselves as attractive job candidates for many businesses.

      • I agree that writing ability alone doesn’t make one job-ready. And certainly if you’re going to write up the findings of a chemistry experiment, you’d better be a chemist. However, writing a marketing plan or business plan isn’t as specialized as that is and, fortunately, calls on both common sense and mostly common English vocabulary or tech terms, many of which have moved into mainstream conversation. It takes years to learn to write well. It does not take years to learn what goes into developing a good marketing plan.

        I agree, too, that liberal arts students need exposure to business operations. That would be a terrific mix. Personally, I’d like to see a business minor JUST for liberal arts students, teaching them what they need to know to leverage their “skills” in business situations.

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