Academic Writing

Writing for your MBA courses requires that you live in two worlds, so to speak.

On the one hand, you will be submitting business documents, so you will write similarly as you do in the workplace—direct messages, bulleted lists, headings, short documents (e.g., emails) that help you get your business accomplished.

On the other hand, you will also be writing academic documents (e.g., research papers, academic reports, case analyses) for which the expectations for how you organize, present, and discuss data will be different from what you do in the workplace.

The table below summarizes the most common differences between business communication and academic writing.1

Business Writing

  • Defines what the task will be as a person transacts business, responds to an audience’s need, or solves a problem in the organization.
  • Accomplishes a task or motivates action. It is audience-centered communication.
  • Writes to a variety of primary and secondary audiences simultaneously.
  • Includes only content that is relevant to an audience’s ability to accomplish a task: reader-centered communication.
  • Follows genre-specific formatting conventions and can use bulleted lists, short paragraphs, and other formatting to make information scannable and visually accessible.
  • Adheres to conventions for mechanics, grammar, punctuation, and style because these conventions are seen as a sign of one’s membership in the business community and a sign of one’s professional credibility.

Academic Writing

  • Responds to a predefined, packaged prompt assigned by a teacher who has an idea of what he/she expects to read or hear.
  • Demonstrates to the instructor mastery of the material and the language. It is communicator-centered speaking or writing.
  • Usually shows what you know to one primary audience: the instructor.
  • Uses whatever content you wish to develop your thesis: writer-centered communication.
  • Writes to instructors who want complex thoughts expressed in complex paragraphs.
  • Follows a specific style guide (e.g., the APA style manual). Uses standard conventions for mechanics, grammar, punctuation, and style to show academic proficiency or educational level.

The best way to navigate this complexity is to carefully read your individual instructor’s directions and ask if you have questions.

[1] Lentz, P., Nelson, A., Lucas, K., and Cresap, L. (30 Sept. 2017). The Ideal Academic Environment for Teaching Business Communication. Available at

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