Writing is a key skill for success in any career. From emails to essays, different forms of writing require specialized vocabulary, varied sentence structure, and appropriate formatting.

A line drawing of hands writing on a laptop computer.One way to improve your English writing skills is to practice writing every day in a journal. For example, try writing about your daily life using action verbs and sensory details. Better yet, read a newspaper article and write your opinion using vocabulary from the text.

An even better way to improve your writing is to get feedback from an instructor and classmates. That way you can revise, correct, and improve your sentences and paragraphs. Self-reflection leads to progress.

The best way to  improve your writing is to combine both practice and feedback in an immersive setting. That means living in an English-speaking country and joining an intensive English program.

In this article, we’ll talk about the importance of building English writing skills, compare academic English and business English, and discuss the writing process.

How hard is it for ESL students to learn business and academic English skills?

Learning English isn’t easy. For many people, it’s especially hard to learn formal English because it includes strict grammar rules, specialized vocabulary, and cultural knowledge. 

But through self-study and study in an intensive English program, it’s not impossible to learn academic English to attend a US university or improve business English writing skills to work at an international company.  

The benchmark of English proficiency for academic and business purposes is B2 on the CEFR scale. A beginner will likely need two years of immersive study to develop B2-level academic and business English skills.

Difficult but doable.

First, let’s get a grip on the similarities and differences between business English and academic English writing skills. They’re similar but not the same.

How does academic writing compare to business writing?

Both academic and business English require precisely chosen vocabulary, purposeful organization, and grammatical accuracy. You can’t skate by on the loose English of daily interactions, social media, or popular entertainment. 

Both academic English writing and business English writing share a seriousness of tone and intent, whether you’re producing a research paper or a project proposal. No street slang or colorful idioms. No tangents where you lose focus or toss out irrelevant opinions.

Both forms of English maintain a zero-tolerance policy for typos, factual goofs, and plagiarism. The little stuff must be accurate, from the capitalization of names to the citing of sources.

In both cases, you may employ vocabulary specific to your major or field–that is, language not normally used in everyday speech. 

For example, you may learn a language connected to your career in banking, oil and gas, or law in order to improve your business English skills. Your job may require you to create executive summaries, sales pitches, or user manuals. 

Along the same lines, to improve academic English writing you may need terms specific to a journal article on child psychology or a dissertation or 18th century French poetry.

However, there are differences. On the one hand, you have the academic English you use as a university student in the USA and, on the other hand, you have the business English you use as an employee at an English-speaking company.

Let’s check out 5 differences between academic English versus business English.

  1. Showing vs. Doing 
    • The purpose of academic writing is to show learning. This demonstration of knowledge may include summarizing research, applying theories, defending a thesis, comparing/contrasting concepts, explaining historical causes/effects, and so on.  Academic English is more “scientific,” with writers presenting evidence, analysis, and logical reasoning.
    • The purpose of business writing, in contrast, is to get stuff done. The tasks at hand may include implementing plans, negotiating deals, recommending strategies, gaining employment, selling products, and collaborating on projects. Business English is more practical, with writers giving instructions, making decisions, and solving problems.
  2. Long vs. Short Sentences
    • Academic English writing may include longer sentences in order to explain complicated concepts. While sentences should never be unnecessarily long, academic writing may elaborate on ideas, include small details, and explore subtle implications. You may create one sentence with multiple relative clauses carefully arranged to convey nuances and fine details.
    • Business English writing, on the other hand, tends to use shorter sentences to make it easy to read and conversational. Business writing avoids unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, and complex sentence structures. Instead, you focus on the best nouns and verbs that convey a concrete meaning in a straightforward manner. Time is money.
  3. Passive vs. Active 
    • Academic English more often employs verbs in the passive voice. In academic writing it often doesn’t matter who does things. but what is done. Academic writing gives objective analysis. For example, you may write passive sentences like “The conflict has been triggered by…” and “Symptoms can be divided into three categories…” A lab report will say, “The liquid was heated,” not “I heated the liquid.” 
    • Business English, since it focuses on doing things, often prefers the active voice. Less objective than academic writing, business English presents facts and opinions energetically and directly. For example, you may write active sentences like, “We urge the company to… “ and “profits plunged in the third quarter.” 
  4. Audience
    • Academic English speaks to scholars, professors, experts, and peers in the field.  The level of formality tends to be high, staying precise and objective. Moreover, academic writing may include specialized terms known only by the experts in the audience. However, it is also true that some academic writing minimizes jargon in order to reach a general audience. A TED talk lecture will be more conversational and less formal than a conference paper or a journal article.
    • Business English speaks to a variety of audiences: clients, colleagues, supervisors, vendors, stakeholders, employers–pretty much everyone connected with the job. The level of formality, therefore, varies depending on who, why, and when. Are you writing an email to a customer? An FAQ for a web site? A cover letter to a job application? In all cases, your tone must be courteous and tactful, but adapted to the reader’s specific interests and needs.
  5. Form and style
    • Academic writing takes many forms: book report, abstract, conference paper, textbook, dissertation, etc. Depending on the form, you must conform to specific style guides, such as APA style, MLA style, and Chicago Style, which dictate precisely how you cite sources and format the text. There is no room for error!
    • Furthermore, when organizing ideas, you may use heavy-handed connection language like therefore, thus, nevertheless, or as a consequence, which may sound awkward or pretentious in business English.
    • Academic English avoids emotive vocabulary (terrible! terrific!) and hyperbole (the greatest product in human history), instead using hedging language (may be, is possibly) and objective reporting verbs in the third person (“It has been claimed that…,” “Sources verify that…,” or “The data indicates that…”).
    • Business writing also takes many forms: memo, press release, email, resume, cover letter, proposal, business plan, marketing materials, technical document, etc. Appropriate formatting and style vary depending on the audience, company culture, and purpose. Business writing must take extra care to be friendly and nondiscriminatory to the reader in order to cultivate partnerships. There are fewer absolute rules and greater personal flexibility to adapt to the reader and purpose.
    • In contrast to academic English, business English may include abbreviations like FYI or ASAP, contractions (I’m interested in…) and phrasal verbs like draw up a contract  or zero in on a target.
    • How can I improve my English academic and business writing skills?

First, it’s important to immerse yourself in the English language. You can’t just memorize rules and words. And you can’t cram years of English learning into a few weeks or months.

If you want to know how to improve business English writing skills, first take note that no language skill exists in isolation. Besides learning writing skills, you need to speak, listen, and read English, too. 

That’s why intensive English programs are so valuable. You learn English faster in a community engaged in a variety of interesting student-centered activities. Business English writing skills are connected to everyday English communication skills like collaborating, debating, and communicating in a classroom.

In other words, you can’t improve academic English writing skills or business writing skills in English just by WRITING. You need to read authentic texts, listen to natural speech, and discuss topics with fellow learners. This way you build knowledge of both language and culture, which leads to a well-rounded English communicator. 

Reading is also key to improving your writing. To improve your business English writing skills, you need to expose yourself to a wide range of formal and informal writing modes. By reading newspapers, magazines, reviews, brochures, movie subtitles, novels, textbooks, interview transcripts, you get a wider view of English than just ESL books.  

Reading shows you how  writers address their audience, organize information, and use specific vocabulary words, phrases, and idioms. Variety is the spice of reading. 

To improve academic and business English skills, keep in mind that writing is a process. The writing process is a series of steps taken over the course hours, days, and weeks, from the initial brainstorm to the final spellcheck.

Whether you’re writing English for academic purposes or business purpose, it matters what you do before, during, and after you write:

  • Before you write, brainstorm ideas, plan your approach, and outline the structure.A picture with a lot ideas floating around the word brainstorm. A badly organized piece of writing will fail to communicate its ideas and frustrate the reader, no matter how carefully each individual sentence is constructed. 
  • During the writing process, develop not only the sentences themselves but the evidence and reasoning. That’s not one right way to write. Each writer’s creative process is different. You might not necessarily begin by drafting the beginning of the essay, proposal, or email. You might compose the middle first and the introduction last. 
  • After you finish, you’re not really finished. Walk away for a couple hours (or days) and return with a clear head. Revisit and revise arguments, word choice, and supporting details. You may even delete blocks of text and add totally new sections. You edit, polish, and proofread. 

Why is it important to master English writing?

Simply put: writing is the most common form of communication in the business world.  Since the dawn of the Information Age, employees, managers, and owners alike must constantly communicate in writing.

The same goes for the academic world: the bulk of a student’s work consists of written homework, short answer exams, essays, papers, and dissertations, not to mention cover letters, emails, grant applications, and resumes that go along with building a career.

There are advantages to written communication. As opposed to spoken communication, writing can be edited, improved, and perfected over time. Revising an email can make it more concise, concrete, and courteous. Revising an essay can make it more clear,  compelling, and convincing. 

Other advantages of written communication are that it allows visual aids, creates a permanent record of interactions, and invites thoughtful feedback from recipients. 

Successful companies use written communication to boost their image in the community,  improve internal efficiency, and cultivate customer satisfaction.

As a professional, you come across as more hirable and desirable if your written English is concise, clear, and correct. If your writing contains clumsy grammar, misspellings, and confusing organization, you appear less credible and reliable in the eyes of academic readers.

Besides benefits at school and work, research shows that regularly writing in English helps learners retain information. Knowledge enters long term memory. New words, phrases, and grammar structure stick in your memory. The writing process hones critical thinking abilities. In short, writing tools sharpen through use.

Yet, writing skills don’t grow in isolation. Improving academic and business English skills goes hand in hand with overall English language acquisition. 

Learning English encompasses all four language skills: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Even if your main goal is to speak English fluently, rather than to write English professionally, it is essential to develop writing skills in order to become proficient in the language.

Line drawing of a woman writing on a laptop.Science backs up the claim that writing aids remembering. Whether through casual journaling or careful essay revision, writing puts your learning into practice, forming new neural pathways in the brain. The more you write at home, the less likely you are to forget what you learned in your intensive English program during the day.

Listening and reading are different in that they don’t require you to produce English. Instead, you simply receive and understand it. 

Speaking and writing, however, require language production. Coming up with your own words and sentences on the spot is harder, right? 

That’s another reason why writing is important–it can also develop speaking skills. In fact the skills are transferable–they support one another.

The steps of the writing process helps you brainstorm ideas and organize your thoughts before trying to create sentences. As you write, you can use grammar structures, new vocabulary, and cultural knowledge which later becomes useful in speech. 

Slower and stress-free, the writing process allows you to explore synonyms, correct mistakes, and practice pronunciation. In the end, you have a visual document of your own English to revise and analyze.

Over time, writing skills related to argumentation, storytelling, and analysis transfer to speaking skills. You end up speaking more persuasively. You tell stories with better verb accuracy. You speak with more connectors and conjunctions that help listeners follow your train of thought. You incorporate new vocabulary and phrases into speech more confidently since you’ve already practiced them in writing. 

Final Thoughts on Academic and Business Writing Skills

English writing skills have never been more important. Many companies offer their employees training in business English writing skills, and many universities include academic English writing courses in their curriculum.

The first impression you make with a potential client, hiring committee, or admissions officer will most likely be through a piece of written communication. 

Since writing skills are in such high demand, it makes sense to join an Intensive English program, enroll in online English classes, or hire a private writing tutor. 

As the world becomes increasingly digitally interconnected, the importance of writing skills will only grow.

Related articles about how to learn English

While you book your Intensive English course  improve your language skills by reading our free English articles or watching our free English lesson videos.  

Bringing decades of passion as educators, at ILI Massachusetts we believe in open access to education for language learners around the world, regardless of race, religion, gender identification, physical and mental abilities, economic standing, documentation status, and educational levels.