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5 Types of Workplace Writing Students Can Practice in Class

From memos and reports to self-assessments and slide decks, writing skills often needed on the job don’t tend to be taught in college. But professors can incorporate workplace writing into course assignments.

A woman wearing glasses sits at a laptop.

The skill of boiling down ideas into concise, compelling communications is crucial to success in many careers and workplaces. That’s why professors should consider designing writing assignments that align with what students will face in the workplace. Martha Coven, author of Writing on the Job: Best Practices for Communicating in the Digital Age (Princeton University Press, 2022), spoke on this topic at the recent conference on general education, pedagogy and assessment organized by the American Association of Colleges and Universities.

Coven, a trainer and consultant who teaches public policy and writing at Princeton and New York Universities, shared the many differences between workplace and academic writing—including that workplace writing tends to have short paragraphs and bulleted lists. In the workplace, collaborative writing is valued and generally expected, while in classes students are trained to write independently.

College professors not modeling good writing for students is also a problem. Their writing tends to be “terribly laden with jargon,” and “we also often hide the bottom line,” she said. That main point? It’s often very hard to find—even in academic journal article abstracts.

Other common issues include: packing slide decks with too many words, presenting data visualizations that “feel like intelligence tests” and have unhelpful titles, and adding footnotes to everything. While there are good reasons for footnotes in the academy, in an internal work memo, one is just trusted to have the facts straight.

Student pursuing careers outside academia (that is, the vast majority of students) need practice on common types of workplace writing. Here are a few types writing done at work with tips from Coven about how assignments in college courses can provide that practice:

In a recent Inside Higher Ed opinion piece, Martha Coven offered tips to academics for using numbers in papers and reports more effectively . Put into practice, the advice can help faculty members model good writing to students.

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Melissa ezarik, inside higher ed careers.

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