Communication Styles: Business vs Academic

Writing Tutorial

Communication Styles: Business vs Academic


As an academic turned businessman, I’ve observed striking differences between communication styles in business and academia. The way I see it, all these differences can be boiled down to one simple idea: in business, it is the writer’s responsibility to make the reader comprehend; in academia, it is the reader’s responsibility to comprehend the writer.

In this tutorial, I’ll explain why I believe these two styles emerged in their respective domains, and why I believe having the capacity for both styles is such an important skill.

Sample Problem

Which communication style am I employing in this tutorial?


Elements of both



So why does business communication put the burden of the reader’s comprehension on the writer? Well, imagine you were trying to sell a product to a customer, or trying to persuade your boss to support your new idea. If you write at a level above their heads, your objective will fail; the customer will not understand your product enough to want it, and your boss will not understand your request or idea enough to support it.

Now imagine you’re a scientist trying to teach the next generation of scientists, or publishing a journal article that pushes the limits of human knowledge. In both cases, writing at a level above the heads of your audience actually serves a purpose. In the first case, by doing so you achieve the goal of elevating the minds of your students. In the second case, you similarly elevate the minds of your peers.

So both your target audience and your objectives help determine the most appropriate communication style:

  • Informative: When achievement of your objective depends on the reader’s understanding of your writing, take responsibility for making them understand. Your writing must be at or below their level of knowledge on the topic.
  • Aspirational: When your objective includes elevating the minds of your readers, give them responsibility for understanding. Your writing can be above their level of knowledge on the topic.

I categorize the first style (common in business) as informative, because it’s effect is to inform the reader. I categorize the second style (common in academia) as aspirational, because any reader attempting to comprehend is aspiring to reach the writer’s level of knowledge.

Importance of Versatility in Communication Style

Having the capacity for both styles of communication may literally win you your dream job. Here is my story.

I feel fortunate to have been trained in both academia (astronomy research) and business (MBA degree), because it has exposed me to a full spectrum of communication styles. My experience in academia strengthened my ability to listen to and comprehend the ideas of others, a skill not always sharpened by those in the business world. My experience in business strengthened my ability to communicate my ideas to others, a skill not always sharpened by those in the academic world.

This versatility to both comprehend and express the technical landed me a fantastic job as a Big Data Analyst after graduating with my MBA. I had a half-dozen companies telling me how important and how rare this versatility is.

So if you’re looking for ways to round out your resume, consider dedicating some time to reading the rigorous and writing the simple.

About The Author

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Math Expert And SAT Instructor
Jared, founder of The Knowledge Roundtable, is passionate about the advancement of knowledge. He has a B.S. in astronomy and physics from UMass and an MBA in Advanced Financial Analytics, also from UMass. He has a day job as a Big Data Analyst in Boston. He has over 500 hours of tutoring experien...
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  1. Kristie R 05/04/2016, 1:04 pm Reply

    Great tutorial! Writing has always come easily to me and I’m regarded as “a good writer.” But, since leaving the business world (more specifically, the legal world!) to obtain a Masters degree, I’ve realized there is a profound difference in the writing style required in academic papers. Until reading your tutorial, I hadn’t been able to characterize it. Your insight has put the two natures in perspective! Many thanks!

    • Jared R 05/04/2016, 9:50 pm Reply

      Glad to hear my thoughts resonated with you, and best of luck in completing your Master’s degree!

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