Throughout your school years, your teachers have given you assignments that involved writing, so you may think that all the writing you’ve done has prepared you for writing at work. But there are some significant differences between writing at school and writing at work, and knowing that before you start your job can help you adapt.
The first thing you need to know is that no one is ever likely to ask you to write a “20-page paper” at work—or even give you a specific page requirement. When you write at work, you are writing to fill a need. The organization where you work may need you to write a press release or a progress report or a product description or any one of hundreds of other types of document. The one thing that all of these documents have in common is that each is intended to achieve a specific purpose when it is read by a specific audience. The purpose and the audience will differ for each type of document, but you need to be sure you understand those two critical factors before you start writing.
The second thing you need to know is that it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get it right the first time—especially when you’re new on the job. Everything you write is going to be reviewed by someone, and often it will be reviewed by multiple people within the organization. Each one of those reviewers is going to make changes to what you have written, and they may not do it as considerately as your teachers!
The job of your teachers was to help you learn to be a better writer, and most of us who teach writing were taught to always start our response to students by pointing out what they did well before telling them what they did wrong. At work, you probably won’t hear much about what you have done well, but you’ll hear a lot about what needs to be done differently.
I’ve conducted a significant amount of research about how employers respond to their employees’ writing, and what I learned is that the red pen is more ubiquitous at work than it ever was at school. Employers have no problem crossing out entire paragraphs, replacing full sentences, and changing words. They’re not just concerned with grammar, clarity, and organization, they’re concerned with meeting the needs of the organization (and a writer’s feelings about their work being torn apart is seldom a concern to anyone).
The third thing that you need to know is that no two organizations are likely to want things written in the same way. Even when you move on to your second, third, or fourth job, your writing is going to be critiqued and changed until you learn the conventions of the organization you have just joined.
The final thing to recognize is that most professional jobs involve a significant amount of writing. Even jobs that you don’t think will involve writing—such as engineering or accounting—will entail hours and hours of writing on the job. No matter where you work or what you do, you’re likely to get a lot of criticism of your writing—even if you consider yourself a great writer. Prepare yourself for that experience by asking questions about the expectations for your writing, learning from any criticism you receive, and understanding that it’s not personal! The reviewers’ intentions are to make a better final written product that will reflect the goals and mission of the organization.