Business writing versus personal and academic writing: What’s the difference?


Business writing can be defined as writing that takes place in or for the workplace. Personal writing is writing for any other purpose that fulfils the writer’s needs. The style, format, tone and vocabulary may be similar, but the intention and composition will differ. Academic writing is different again.

Business writing is done for a public audience from the outset. It is for a targeted audience and for a specific reason. Personal writing is for a private audience – even if it becomes public later on, it is not always the intention of the writer.

When writing a business document, the audience needs to be defined, and format decided upon. There are requirements to be considered about the audience’s needs and the writer’s objectives. Personal writing is not subject to such restraints – more flourish and personal style may be used.

With social media, the lines between business and personal are sometimes blurred. For example, writing a blog. However, writing a business blog represents your business, and you, professionally.

Once the audience is identified for your business document, the information needs to be gathered and sorted. A Mind Map is a terrific way to do this. For your personal writing you need only to decide the person you are writing for. The same level of planning is not required

The use of language

Language in a business document needs to be concise, clear and free of jargon. Polysyllabic words should not be used, unless necessary. The Gunning Fog Index is a tool you can use to measure the readability of your document. In personal writing, the audience is usually familiar with you and you may share a common language, and even jargon or abbreviations.

Sentences in business documents should be short and only contain one idea per sentence. Paragraphs should only contain one topic and not be too long. Again, the Gunning Fog Index can help you measure some of this. Lots of white space is important, as this helps your reader understand your document and respond positively to it.

All of the above ideas would help your personal writing be more readable, but the audience is usually friendly towards you from the start. Also, you are only representing yourself not your business and professional standing.

Another form of writing is academic writing. This, like business writing, is for a public audience but is very different in style, focus and formality.

The style of academic writing is more formal and tends to use third person and passive voice. A business document can have different styles depending on the targeted reader. Sometimes it is good to be relaxed in your business writing and use ‘I’ or ‘we’ – again depending on who is your reader. If it is a more senior colleague or the board, a more formal style is appropriate.

The focus of academic writing is often factual, reporting on research. Business writing is for a variety of purposes, depending on the targeted reader and the intention of the writer. Academic writing often uses longer sentences, while business writing is better with shorter ones, as previously mentioned.

There are different formats used in academic writing: for example essays, theses or dissertations. Business writing can be emails, reports or business cases, to name a few. This, in turn, can have implications for where key information is conveyed.

Business and academic writing have some commonality:

  • punctuation and grammar are important
  • developed ideas are presented
  • tone is usually serious
  • communication needs to be clear and precise

To summarise, although there are some overlaps with business writing and academic writing, personal writing is very different.

When writing for your business, it is good to leave behind the long sentences and polysyllabic words that are used in academia. However, do not replace them with too much informality. As with many areas of life, a happy medium is both possible and desirable.