Professional Writing Prose Style

What is a Professional Writing Prose Style? How can I adopt a more professional rhetorical stance? What are the differences between a professional writing prose style and an academic prose writing style? Review related research and theory.  
  • Content Attributes
  • Formatting & Visual Language
  • Sentence Structure & Sentence Patterns
  • Media
  • Point of View
  • Organization
  • Brevity
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Definition

A professional writing prose style refers to a style of writing, a cluster of stylistic textual practices, that characterize the texts, arguments, topics, and knowledge-making practices of knowledge makers working in a range of professions and business fields.

professional writing prose style may also be called

  • a technical writing prose style
  • a workplace writing prose style
  • a writing style or style of writing.

Related Concepts: Rhetorical Stance; Persona; Style; Styles of Writing; Tone; Voice; Workplace Writing Studies


Why Does a Professional Writing Prose Style Matter?

Readers, especially educated readers, have expectations regarding

  • how texts should be shaped
  • what texts should say even before they start reading.

For instance, when facing a problem, an exigency, a call for discourse, readers question whether it’s a recurring rhetorical situation. And, if so, if it’s a situation they’ve seen before, they look to see if there’s an archive, a bank of past scholarly conversations on and related to the topic.

In other words, when they see one text (say an invitation to a party) they immediately think of other invites they’ve received in the past. Readers may do all this unconsciously, and even in a blink. Naturally, being human, they filter all of this information through the lens of their literary history, values, personal experiences, and rhetorical situation.

Communication is, after all, a social process.

Bottom line: your readers are unlikely to take your work seriously if your communications fail to adopt professional writing prose style. Communications that fail to account for the reader’s expectations are unlikely to be read.

Textual Practices Common to Both Professional & Academic Prose Writing Styles

A professional writing style shares many characteristics with an academic writing prose style: knowledge workers . . . in both discourse communities aspire for clarity in communications.

Current theory and research on style, readability, usability, and critical literacy holds that you can create clarity in your work and develop an appropriate style, tone, voice and persona by evaluating the following textual attributes:

  1. Brevity
  2. Flow
  3. Simplicity
  4. Unity.

And, in most academic and workplace contexts, knowledge workers . . . are expected to conform to discourse conventions, especially

Not surprisingly, style is a critical issue for critical readers across discourse communities: knowledge workers from both academic and professional writing camps abhor vagueness, unsupported claims, and a lack of organization. No one likes a sentence that goes on and on in multiple directions. People don’t want to be bored or confused.

Textual Practices of Professional Writers?

Knowledge workers . . . in professional writing address a different rhetorical stance than academic writers:

Academic WritingProfessional Writing
AudienceFor students, academic audiences are typically the teacher as examiner

For peer-reviewed research, the audiences are fellow experts and investigators
Users (stakeholders, clients, judges)

Copy for websites, advertisements, applications

Funding Agencies

Unlike the teacher-as-examiner audience of school-based texts, technical audiences know less than the writer. They aren’t looking to see whether the writer understood the lecture or text. Instead, they are trying to understand a topic or process.
Purpose:explore and transmit knowledgeaddress business transactions

While professional writers share some values and practices with academic writers, they ultimately approach discourse situations in unique ways.

Below are 9 distinctions between an academic and professional prose style

  1. Audience
  2. Topic
  3. Content Attributes
  4. Formatting & Visual Language
  5. Sentence Structure & Sentence Patterns
  6. Media
  7. Point of View
  8. Organization
  9. Brevity

1. Audience

The audience for a lot of academic writing assigned in high school and college settings assumes the teacher as examiner. When teachers serve in the role of examiner, they are reading your work to grade it. They are checking to see whether you can demonstrate what you know or have learned. Thus, a lot of academic writing in school settings assumes a shared understanding and perspective.

Peer-review research in basic research and academic scholarship tend to adopt an expert-to-expert rhetorical stance.

Academic writers are aware of the ongoing scholarly conversations about a topic. They know when they need information, where to get information, how to assess information, and how weave the work of other researchers into the fabric of their arguments. They are conversant with the research methods, the knowledge-making practices of the discipline. The audience for academic writers at the graduate, post doctoral, and professional level tends to be well educated.

In contrast, the audiences for professional writing are considerably more varied. Often, though, the writer is the authority in professional writing and the reader is less knowledgeable.

2. Topic

Academic writing is largely about problematizing and exploring ideas.

Professional writing is fundamentally transactional: usually if you are writing it is because you are trying to solve some kind of a problem. Your audience — the people you are writing to — probably needs to do something in response to your writing. They may not be expecting your writing. They probably don’t want to read your writing. Your writing is interrupting their day. So, if you’re gonna bother them you need to make it worth their time: your work must be clear, substantive, properly attributed, evidence based

[ Simplicity ]

3. Content Attributes

Effective professional and technical writing is honest, accurate, correct, and complete. It’s expressed as simply as possible so nontechnical users can follow along.

Readers and users of technical documents need to be confident that they can rely on the information being provided. Your own ethos and the ethos of your company is always on the line, and never more so than when you are producing documents for external audiences.

Readers and users rely on you to be

  • truthful, evidence-based
    • lying about the facts seldom helps a company prosper. You need to check and double check your facts. Check all of the details for accuracy
  • complete
    • Avoid lawsuits! Ensure you have included all of the information the audience needs
  • accessible
    • visual
    • produce readable, legible, understandable texts that are physically available to readers and users
    • use bullets when possible

4. Formatting & Visual Language

Academic writing tends to focus on traditional alphabetical language; professional writing, in contrast, tends to rely on visual language wherever possible.

Note use of space, font size, color to chunk information in this street sign @ Sparkman’s Wharf, in Tampa, FL.

[ Typography ]

5. Sentence Structure & Sentence Patterns

Academic writers may communicate in long, complicated sentences and long paragraphs. It’s not unusual in professional-peer review journals, to see paragraphs that are 300 to 500+ words long.

In contrast, professional and technical writing embraces simplicity, negative space, visual language, and simple sentence patterns.

[ Sentences | Sentence Types ]

6. Media

In terms of channel and medium, professional and technical writers are more flexible, less convention-bound than academic writing. IOWs, they are likely to be willing to move beyond traditional genres and alphabetical text to embrace the possibility of new media.

7. Point of View

Because professional and technical writers presume their audience — which they tend to call users rather than readers — are reading the text to understand how to do something or how something works, they generally keep the spotlight on the topic rather than the writer’s thoughts or feelings about the topic.

[ Point of View | Perspective | Thesis ]

8. Organization

Professional Writing is nearly always organized deductively. A deductive strategies is employed in technical documents

Most often, business and technical style values direct organization, especially in correspondence-like letters, memos and emails. This strategy presents the purpose of the document in the first paragraph (sometimes the first sentence) and provides supporting details in the body.

[ Deductive Order, Deductive Reasoning, Deductive Writing ]

Professional and technical writers employ a direct organization in reports and other long documents, which may begin include an executive summary that provides an overview of the entire document. Typically, reports and other long document will also begin with a summary and/or direct statement of the purpose of the document before moving into the main body.

In contrast, an indirect approach to organization leads with relevant, attention-getting details that do not directly state the purpose of the document.

[ Inductive Order, Inductive Reasoning, Inductive Writing ]

Most often, in business and technical communication, indirect organization is employed when the writer is delivering bad news or anticipate an audience that is resistant to the main message and may require some persuasion.

9. Brevity

Because of the transactional nature of professional and technical communication, it favors conciseness. Time is money. Readers aren’t reading for pleasure. All they want is to get the information they came for as quickly as possible.

Professional writing is all about conciseness, active voice, direct writing, and short paragraphs with a clear, and single main idea.

[ Sentence Schemas | Sentence Order within Paragraphs | Topic Sentence ]