The Professional Writing 101 series aims to inform readers on the professional writing best practices that can be applied to various industries that use professional writers. This series will explore several aspects such as professional writing pedagogies, defining and analyzing the audience, research, strategic messaging, information display, and readability design.
The Professional Writing 101 series will be divided into 6 main chapters:
Professional Writing 101: Professional Writing Across Industries
Professional Writing 101: Writers as Vessels
Professional Writing 101: Responsibility of Rhetoric
Professional Writing 101: Readability Design
Professional Writing 101: Collecting and Utilizing Audience Data
Professional Writing 101: Digital Tools for Better Writing
Before defining what professional writing is, a few foundational elements of the field need addressing as it has characteristics that make it a concentrated discipline in English studies. Although students of English and humanities receive unfair criticism in high education over their peers within STEM-related fields, in reality, these students cultivate skills that every field in the professional world considers desirable and standard in the workforce. Melanie Pincus, an associate editor for the Advice Products Team on the U.S. News & World Report states:
In the workforce, strong communication skills can open positions in fields like public relations, grant writing and fundraising (2019).
Professional writing encompasses the basic requirements of English studies with advanced critical thinking, research skills, and openness to collaboration. Students within the humanities disciplines generally study social theories and arguments in literature and other media throughout history in their courses. They take a text, critically analyze and comprehend the arguments shown, and develop their own counterarguments or agreements by using the given text to support their opinions in a well-articulated way. This consistent training promotes extensive practice in critical thinking and raises awareness towards different ideas.
Therefore, professional writing uses humanities best practices to aid writers in their profession. In today’s digital world, professional writing has undergone an even more significant evolution, creating several occupations that all stem from the same parent discipline of professional writing such as:
Editing (of various fields)
Marketing specialist (University of Toronto, n.d.).
Though professional writers engage in academic writing, the way many of them produce their documents differs from the traditional essays required for their college literature and composition classes. In terms of technology, its constant evolution means there are new ways to engage in communication. This also means more efficient tools that streamline workplace procedures. Thus, new generations of writers can utilize new tools brought on by advancements to communicate more effectively and creatively.
Why so many name differentiations? A key reason is that the content and the target audience drive how writers approach their style. Think of professional writing as the progenitor, and everything that stems from it contains subgenres that link it back to professional writing. However, many of the techniques these writers practice relate back to professional writing. In taking into account the specific areas of professional writing reported above, an extensive variety of labels is needed. In fact, to every profession corresponds specific applied styles, best practices, document types, approaches, and collaborations with certain experts.
Business Writing & Technical Writing
Technical and business writing function as the two main categories of professional writing, branching into other specialized practices. Edidiong Asikpo, a developer advocate who has presented at over one hundred technology events worldwide, defines technical writing as a "more specific process of sharing or conveying your ideas, views, instructions, and suggestions logically and technically" (2021). Jakki Bendell, a writing professional with over ten years of experience in the writing field as a professional freelancer and writing consultant, defines business writing as “any other kind of writing people do at work, except journalism and creative writing” (n.d.). However, this does not necessarily mean that the aforementioned categories completely disregard creative elements, especially in business writing.
As a general rule, professional writers must familiarize themselves with a range of key aspects of their work, such as the purpose of their writing (why?), audience awareness (for whom?), industry knowledge (content expertise), and competent document design (information comprehension). Unquestionably, technical and business writing must consider all of these components when they approach a project.
As every writer knows, the right words are only the first step in the operation. Composition plays a key role, as professional writers must consider the design of the final product. This includes both digital and physical print:
Social media posts
Professional writing, above all else, values tangible outcomes and utility. Business and technical writing fields also use basic best practices such as grammar, conciseness, spelling, and punctuation (Bendell, n.d.). Business writing contains communication needs for B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer) that require a difference in style and tone.
In terms of language style, business writing documents "lead with business benefits, such as cost savings or increased revenue" (Bendell, n.d.). Grant and proposal writing also fall into this category, as millions of dollars and social programs, business ventures, and community projects hinge on the effectiveness of a well-crafted proposal.
In contrast, technical documents are much more focused on highly specialized content such as computer science, engineering, health, and technology. Thus, "technical documents tend to be neutral and objective" (Bendell, n.d.). Technical documents have an extremely tight framework because the target audience is expected to physically follow the instructions of that writing to produce direct and tangible outcomes for the audience such as training technical staff, manual instruction, and informing unfamiliar audiences without technical or scientific jargon.
While business writing uses data and statistics to back up their messaging, they use it to persuade partners and consumers. It also allows more room for creativity than technical writing. These writing projects may look more artistic and attractive to the eye, but there is still a strategic process and conciseness in the writing process that they follow similar to technical writing. The rhetoric should be creative but match brand identity, remain consistent and catch the audience's attention in order to persuade them. Should they buy this product? Should they trust this brand? Should they invest in this project proposal? While business writing can also inform, it exists in a highly competitive environment where audience attention and trust is a more limited currency.
Both writers can work in tandem as they focus their abilities on different parts of development in an organization. For example, business writers develop internal and external business documents for more streamlined business workflows, marketing collateral for internal and external purposes, and establish the brand identity. Meanwhile, technical writers draft the technical manuals necessary for training engineers and developers of that business, and instructional product manuals for consumers, and they display relevant quantitative and qualitative data when senior leaders meet and make official organizational decisions.
Writers Work With Humans
Professional writers emerge from the humanities discipline because though they potentially produce documents with a more objective purpose, their understanding of who will use their documents and which communication style suits the given context is crucial. Working in this area requires flexibility, openness, and strategy. Jasmine Roberts, a strategic communication lecturer in the School of Communication at the Ohio State University, defines strategic communication in the first chapter of her book Writing for Strategic Communication Industries by stating,
Although the term is not new, scholars have only recently examined it as a cohesive paradigm…These messages are targeted, or created with a specific audience in mind, and help to position an organization’s communication goals with its structural goals (2016).
Therefore, professional writers function as more essential assets than previously believed because they establish an organization's branding and credibility and have pivotal control in the rhetoric of important projects and how that rhetoric is distributed. The digitalized evolution of today's communication has inevitably affected how those who study humanities receive digital media literacy training. It is true that digital media changes how we communicate, but in the end, understanding the audience's behavior, needs, and interests will always remain vital. This 101 series will further expand upon these elements in more detail.
Asikpo, E. (2021, April 21). How to Become a Technical Writer. freeCodeCamp.Org. Retrieved from https://www.freecodecamp.org/news/how-to-become-a-technical-writer/
Bendel. (n.d.). Business Writing vs Technical Writing I ICE Training. ICE Training. Retrieved from https://www.icetraining.org.uk/news/business-writing-vs-technical-writing#:%7E:text=Technical%20writing%20deals%20with%20science,except%20journalism%20and%20creative%20writing
Last, S., & Neveu, C. (2019, January 1). 4.3 Collaborative Writing – Technical Writing Essentials. Pressbooks. Retrieved from https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/technicalwriting/chapter/collaborativewriting/
Pincus. (2019, July 16). What You Need to Know About Becoming an English Major. USNews. Retrieved from April 25, 2022, from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/english-major-overview
Roberts, J. (2016). What is strategic communication?. In Open Textbook Catalog, BCcampus Open Textbooks, & ECampus Ontario Open Textbook Library. (L. Bonenberger, Ed.). Amsterdam University Press. Writing for Strategic Communication Industries. Retrieved from https://ohiostate.pressbooks.pub/stratcommwriting/chapter/what-is-strategic/
University of Toronto. (n.d.). Careers by Major - Professional Writing & Communication. University of Toronto Career Centre. Retrieved from https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/careers/careers-by-major-professional-writing-communication
Figure 1: Distel, A. (2019, March 25). Unnamed [Photograph]. Unsplash. Retrieved from https://unsplash.com/photos/RX_0vwSPiWs
Figure 2: Ballard, W. (2018, February 8). Copywriting [Photograph]. Medium. https://blog.markgrowth.com/7-copywriting-essentials-every-marketing-campaign-needs-to-be-successful-2f631e142afc
Figure 3: Mirza, A. (2022, May 31). Technical Writing [Photograph]. Hongkiat. https://www.hongkiat.com/blog/types-of-writing/
Figure 4: Jessup, L. (2020, June 9). BlogPost_WritersGroup-1. [Photograph]. Leejessup. https://leejessup.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/BlogPost_WritersGroup-1.jpg