Book cover for Writing Beyond the University: Preparing Lifelong Learners for Lifewide Writing. Edited by Julia Bleakney, Jessie L. Moore, and Paula Rosinski.
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From chapter 7, “Bridging Academic and Workplace Writing: Insights from Employers”

Industries Represented
What Does Writing Look Like in the Workplace?
Preparing Students for the Workplace

  • Survey sent through career centers at Quinnipiac University, Franklin Pierce University, and Massachusetts College of the Liberal Arts
  • N = number of respondents who completed the question
  • Mean = estimate of the middle of the distribution (i.e., the average)
  • Standard deviation = estimate of how much scores tend to differ from the middle of the distribution
  • For open-ended questions, we randomly chose 10 responses to illustrate. Quotes are presented in full without edits.
  • Note: responses are presented as given, with spelling errors included.

Industries Represented

Industry Respondents Percentage
Administration and Support Services 6 7%
Arts and Entertainment 4 4%
Business and IT development 1 1%
Client Services/Transportation 1 1%
Construction 1 1%
Education 8 9%
Finance, Investment, and Insurance 10 1%
Law and Government 6 7%
Health Care and Counseling 9 10%
Hospitality 2 2%
Management 1 1%
Manufacturing 8 9%
Media and Communication 5 6%
Nonprofit 4 4%
Professional, Science, and Technical 9 10%
Publishing 1 1%
Retail and Sales 4 4%
Service 5 6%
Software Development 1 1%
Other 3 3%
No Answer 1 1%


How important is it, in the workplace, that college graduates possess good writing skills? (1 = not at all, 5 = extremely, N = 91)

Mean = 4.51, Standard Deviation = .58

1 2 3 4 5
0% 0% 4% 41% 55%

Relative to other hiring criteria, what relative value do you think employers place on writing skills? (1 = one of the least important criteria, 5 = one of the most important criteria, N = 91)

Mean: 4.05, Standard Deviation: .74

1 2 3 4 5
0% 1% 21% 49% 29%

How much do you train college students to write specifically for the workplace? (1 = not at all, 5 = train them completely, N = 90)

Mean = 2.78, Standard Deviation = 1.23

1 2 3 4 5
18% 24% 29% 19% 10%

What writing skills do you think employers look for in a job applicant? (N = 78)

  • Correct Grammar, punctuation and clearly communicated ideas
  • Clarity, logical thinking, professional appropriateness
  • organized thoughts, good grammar and spelling
  • Not writing run-on sentences, using commas, writing blog post copy
  • Proper grammar and sentence/paragraph construction
  • Email etiquette knowledge, using proper sentences or ohrases, writing professionally vs writing as one may speak
  • The primary skill we look for is that an applicant is able to convey a response, a process, or an idea in writing clearly and efficiently.
  • business writing
  • Structure, storytelling, conversion-based language, simplicity amd readability
  • Strong general mastery of English grammar, ability to synthesize and articulate ideas clearly. Strong social media writing voice.

How do you assess college student’s writing skills? What do you look for? (N = 78)

  • Written samples for some positions, cover letters, and the first round of contact is completed through email (we use this to test written conversationally skills)
  • we ask them questions about can they write – we more focus on their technical skills in the interview.
  • Good communication skills and Qualification
  • Writing samples, well written cover letter with appropriate style, appropriate email communication style
  • I always ask for writing samples. I look for common errors, typos, misspelling, grammer, and content
  • Resume-look for spelling errors, completing an application packet
  • I want the cover letter to intrigue me. Applicants should be creative with their approach, and the letter and résumé should have impeccable grammar. (I hire copy editors and proofreaders, so this is their test.)
  • Resume/cover letter
  • Proper grammer and spelling, professionalism.
  • Their cover letter. If they can effectively express a strong, developed thought that usually indicates that they are also technologically savvy, which is actually a bigger deal in my opinion. Short, concise, text can also come across as the person does not know how to interact with a computer.

What Does Writing Look Like in the Workplace?

About how often do your employees write? (N = 90)

Very rarely A couple times a month Once or twice a week Once or twice a day Multiple times a day
2% 6% 9% 12% 71%

We define writing broadly to include any activity which involves putting language in written form, including brainstorming, writing presentations for a verbal presentation (e.g., PowerPoint slides), taking notes, building a website, etc. What are the most common types of writing (e.g., memos, executive summaries, social media) that people engage in at your workplace?

A word cloud with the following words largest: email, social media, notes, memo, reports, website, PowerPoint, Presentation, correspondence, summaries, press, newsletters, blog, letters, grants

For this Word Cloud, we had to reduce the responses to common terms. For example, “progress reports” and “incident reports” were condensed to “report”.

We define writing broadly to include any activity which involves putting language in written form, including brainstorming, writing presentations for a verbal presentation (e.g., PowerPoint slides), taking notes, building a website, etc.  What are the most common types of writing (e.g., memos, executive summaries, social media) that people engage in at your workplace? (N = 80)

Percentage of Respondents who mentioned using at least one product from Microsoft (e.g., Word, Excel) or Google (e.g., Docs, Sheets):

Microsoft Google
71% 25%

Percentage of Respondents who mentioned specific tools:

Microsoft Office/Suite Word PowerPoint Excel Google Docs Google Sheets Google Slides
13% 50% 45% 42% 35% 3% 3%

How prepared do you believe college graduates in your field are for writing in the workplace? (1 = very unprepared, 5 = very prepared)

Mean = 3.17, Standard Deviation = .79

1 2 3 4 5
3% 10% 55% 27% 3%

Preparing Students for the Workplace

What aspects of writing are college students well-prepared for? (N = 64)

  • It depends entirely on the student, some are well prepared; others are not.
  • College graduates are much more prepared than non college graduates when it comes to formulating an email and interacting with our IT systems.
  • Snap chat, Twitter, some Excel.
  • texting
  • Social media posts
  • Internal communications
  • emails, basic knowledge of resume writing
  • Understand the value of professionalism
  • nothing ‘well’ prepared for
  • How to send an email on a peer to peer level

What aspects of writing do you find that college students struggle with? (N = 70)

  • Not editorializing communications.
  • grammar, sentence structure, punctuation… it’s very disappointing!!
  • Spelling & Grammar
  • The level of perfection needed for publication-ready writing; lack of consistency and little knowledge of basic grammar rules; little understanding of the importance of tone; organization of content
  • Most graduates mistake descriptive, floral language for “good” writing. Graduates typically attempt to exercize a weak vocabulary to show command of a subject and end up demonstrating they can use a thesaurus but misunderstand the subject at hand.
  • Being clear and direct
  • Business writing.
  • Poor grammar, spelling and punctuation; inability to write/communicate clearly and concisely.
  • Formal business writing.
  • They do not always know appropriate business norms- how to address people, how to open and close casual email exchanges.

What are differences between writing in the workplace and writing in college? (N = 62)

  • your job is riding on it
  • Workplace is becoming more technical writing and students aren’t prepared
  • Being succinct instead of writing out full essays. Using common words, not vocabulary words.
  • Professional manner where the least amount should be used to get the point across. Business writing.
  • No one is writing essays and reports here, like in college. We’re writing short, strong sentences to help sell merchandise. Advertising writing.
  • Workplace has more pressure to be accurate with multiple parties on CC
  • Academic writing tends to follow a format more strictly and require better curation of source material. In the business world, it is rare that anybody wants to see an annotated bibliography except under very specific circumstances (e.g., a study of some sort).
  • Some industries tend to have their own language, format, templates at times there’s a transition/learning curve to form prescribed guidelines vs. free form writing
  • More concise and quicker follow up at work.
  • Workplace writing often requires the ability to clearly state the purpose, key points, implications and next steps to aid a decision or action. Clear and efficient use of language (not jargon or unnecessarily formal vocabulary), is critical. College writing is usually longer, more contemplative or analytical, explores concepts in depth and makes use of more academic language.

How could colleges help students become better prepared to write in the workplace? (N = 62)

  • Stop accepting mediocrity and recognizing people just showing up. Demand excellence!
  • colleges could put students in more real-life writing situations
  • More situational examples from work experience
  • business writing courses/presentations
  • Provide business writing skills classes; they need to learn grammar, punctuation and spelling without depending on the computer to correct their errors.
  • Understanding communication expectations for different mediums, clarity, simplicity, the basic 5 paragraph essay
  • “Sudden” assignments, as if something were needed for a client unexpectedly. Proper email etiquette.
  • Business style writing mixed in with research. More focus on persuasive writing than reporting of academic detail.
  • Offer more writing courses and have professors provide feedback on each piece of work.
  • Shot, periodic assignments in English classes that require a student to complete a paper in a timed setting.