If College Graduates Could Talk…

The Transition from Academic to Workplace Writing
Guest Blogger Kate Sieber

We’ve all been there. Staying up late into the night, agonizing over an extensive research paper that could ultimately make or break your GPA. That’s college, after all. Throughout our time in college, one of the most valuable and important skills we learn is how to properly communicate through our writing skills. Each piece of writing we compose is meant to persuade or disclose an argument we are trying to make. From grade school and onward, the writing process we are taught to follow has relatively strict rules. Deviating from that system could potentially result in a lower grade, something any student knows best to avoid.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 12.58.48 PMFor years, these lessons in academic writing college students are taught have been thought of as an important component for success in future careers. Obviously, universities want students to flourish once they graduate, and the key to success is through the tried and true method of writing, right? Not necessarily. If a student is successful in the classroom, that no longer means they will be as successful in the workplace. Methods of communication are constantly changing meaning what was once useful may no longer be. Workplace writing and communication can be a completely separate genre from what students learn in school.

The problem, as stated by Carolyn Miller in “What’s Practical Writing About Technical Writing?” is that academic writing and nonacademic writing methods are extremely similar yet different practices. Practicality exists differently in both forms. When people think or do something practically, it usually involves completing a task as efficiently as possibly and relies on a set of structured rules. In a classroom, practical writing makes sense. Follow the structured set of guidelines the professor provides and you will most likely earn an A. Practicality, in this case, is all about adhering to specific guidelines, which is something that may not always be honored in a work setting. Students obsess over the academic writing process, but once they leave the comfort of the classroom, this specific form of practicality may not apply.

Miller states, “technical writing has sought a basis in practice, a basis that is problematic” (Miller 64). The communication techniques that have been branded into our brains since we could first hold a pencil are questionable because what was useful then might no longer be in the real world. Academic writing may limit us to a certain extent because the standard writing methods that have been successful throughout all of our academic career may not translate into our work once we graduate. Stephen Bremner in, “Collaborative Writing: Bridging the Gap Between the Textbook and the Workplace,” makes a point in saying that academic writing can only occur in a controlled setting because classrooms are typically predictable environments. But just as in the real world, ranks and hierarchies are involuntarily established in the classroom. GPAs and grades sort us just as levels of promotion do in the workplace. In both settings, different systems of sorting exist and through that different approaches to communication and writing are created. The disconnect lies in how we should attempt to adapt the academic writing lessons we learn in the classroom to fit that of the workplace, or in other words, how to assert ourselves into a new genre.

Relying on the academic and practical approach can only prepare students for a workplace that operates the same as a classroom. Academic writing and communication demand different forms of knowledge and skill that typically differ from the workplace. According to Liberty Kohn in his article, “How Professional Writing Pedagogy and University–Workplace Partnerships Can Shape the Mentoring of Workplace Writing,” student writers have trouble deviating from the techniques they have been taught in an academic setting once they transition to the real world. This relates back to one of Miller’s main points in that what is useful in one scenario may not be in another. In the working world, grades exist in a different format. That is, students used to be evaluated on a structured grading scale and now must rely on performance reviews to assess themselves. College graduates have difficulty adapting their skill set to a different kind of evaluation because it is a matter of adapting to their new environments unique genre.

Miller, Kohn, and Bremner all agree it is important for college students to be exposed to different forms of communication and writing techniques while still in the classroom. Replicating real-world scenarios and connecting with legitimate employers will only enhance students’ communication skills. However, it is impossible to achieve a perfect replication because every environment will provide different challenges in communication and writing. Overall, it is necessary that as college students, we understand the value in both academic and nonacademic writing and in what contexts to use them.


Bremner, S. (2010). Collaborative Writing: Bridging the Gap Between the Textbook and the Workplace. English For Specific Purposes, 29(2), 121-132. doi:10.1016/j.esp.2009.11.001

Kohn, L. (2015). How Professional Writing Pedagogy and University–Workplace Partnerships Can Shape the Mentoring of Workplace Writing. Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 45(2), 166-188. doi:10.1177/0047281615569484

Miller, Carolyn R. (1998). What’s Practical About Technical Writing? In Tim Peeples (Ed.), Professional Writing and Rhetoric: Readings from the Field. (pp. 61-70). New York, NY: Addison Wesley Educational Publishers.

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