Essay-Writing Tips

There are three common types of writing which you are likely to use in an essay: academic, journalistic, and business writing.  You need to know all three, as which one you use will depend not on your profession, but on the purpose of the specific piece which you are writing.

Academic Writing

Academic writing is laid out somewhat like a mystery novel.  The conclusion is stated in full at the end, but only alluded to at the beginning.  The middle portion of an academic paper is either devoted to an exploration of the main points supporting the conclusion, or a discussion of the methods used to research the paper’s subject, and an analysis of data gathered.

For instance, if your paper is arguing that the U.S. should pull out of Iraq, you would probably say in the beginning that the war is going poorly, briefly mentioning a couple reasons why this is so.  You would then devote a section each to your main points, for instance, casualty rates, lack of stability, or lack of a clear mission.  Only in the conclusion would you definitely state that the war should be ended, having built up support for this point in the body of the paper.

Academic writing is largely meant to make you sound smart, and you should use some big words in an academic paper.  Because the thesis of your paper is only fully explained at the end, academic writing is built on the assumption that the reader will read the whole paper.  If this assumption may not be true, as with public research papers to be read by a large community of strangers, an abstract should be provided to summarize the point you are making.

Journalistic Writing

Commonly used in reporting current events, journalistic writing differs from academic writing by stating the thesis of the paper immediately, then drilling down into progressively finer details.  The assumption is that not all readers will read the article thoroughly, so the important information is put on top.

For instance, I just read an article on about a speech that president Obama gave about the debt.  The first paragraph quotes Obama on his position: that the U.S. needs to solve it’s debt problem in order to spur job growth.  The last few paragraphs are simply quotes from other government officials, relating to small details of Obama’s plan.

Journalistic writing sometimes lacks a clear conclusion, simply ending on some small detail.  If you want a conclusion, a good quote summarizing the issue or story you are writing about will do.  Like Academic writing, journalistic pieces are almost always descriptive- that is, describing something rather than recommending a course of action.

Business Writing

The business writing style differs from academic and journalistic styles by being proscriptive, meaning it is oriented towards saying that a certain course of action should be taken.  It is clear, forceful, and somewhat repetitive to drive your point home.  The golden rule of business writing is BLOT: bottom line on top.  Your recommendations should come in the first paragraph.  The one exception to this is if your target audience is unfamiliar with the problem you are solving, in which case it should be briefly summarized before providing a solution.

After stating your position, you should justify it in the body of the paper, and repeat it at the end.  As the saying goes, tell them what you’re going to tell them, then it to them, then tell them what you told them.  This repetition will drive your point home and make your position clear.

Your language should be strong, confident, and clear.  Write at a high school level, using big words only when needed.  Bullet points can be useful if you have a list of several recommendations, and they will draw the reader’s eye.

Which writing style to use

Academic writing is most useful for an in-depth, descriptive exploration of a subject.  It is useful not only in academic settings, but also in longer popular articles, such as those found in magazines.

Journalistic writing is almost exclusively used for shorter articles, typically those relating to current events. It is often used to convey time-sensitive information.  It can be used not only in news articles and short features, but also for organizational memos and e-mails.

Business writing is typically used in the context of work rather than school, for readers inside your organization, or who work with your organization in some way.  It is common in both business and public service, and should be used when trying to way people to do things your way.