The difference between academic writing and engaging marketing content

Three things to cut and three things to keep as you switch from writing essays to marketing content.

Academic writing versus marketing copywriting illustrated by diffrent coloured doughnuts on a pink and blue background

If you’re looking to start a career in copywriting, but all your writing experience has been crafting essays while at school, college, or university, you may be wondering how to translate your writing skills into a professional setting.

I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to ‘score points’ in the academic world – writing critical essays during my BA in English Literature and drafting short fiction during a creative writing MA. And while starting a career as a B2B copywriter has turned some of that on its head, it has also shown me how transferable some of those skills are.

So, I’ve created a list of three things to cut and three things to keep as you make the switch from writing academic essays to creating marketing content.

Three things to cut

Some qualities of academic writing don’t translate to good marketing. So here are three key things to cut from your copy.

  1. Wordy academic language

If you’ve written academic essays before, you’re likely guilty of being overly wordy – I certainly have. But using long sentences and complicated words in B2B content can quickly alienate your audience.

One of the best ways to make sure your content is readable is to write how you would speak. Imagine you’re in a conversation with a member of your target audience. Explain the problem you can solve and the solution you offer as you would face to face.

And if you find it difficult to translate the spoken word onto the written page, you can always run your copy through readability tools like a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score to understand how readable it is.

Using simple English will also make your content easier to read and keep your audience engaged.

  1. Conventional introductions and conclusions

While introductions and conclusions are still essential in your content, they shouldn’t be about restating arguments. In academic writing, introductions and conclusions are there to bookend essays – the introduction sets out your argument, and the conclusion restates it with evidence.

But this approach doesn’t work for engaging content. Instead of formulating an argument, using a more narrative approach helps hook the audience in quickly. Use your introduction to relate to your reader, confirm you understand their problems, and let them know you have a solution.

And instead of using your conclusion to restate your introduction, use it to complete the narrative you’ve set up. The problem you’ve introduced has been solved – and the benefits are clear. Now move them to the next step.

  1. Clever and beautiful word-craft

Word-craft can be the hardest aspect of your writing to let go of – but it’s perhaps the most important. Constructing clever and witty sentences or sublime prose is a superb skill to have, but it doesn’t always translate to content writing.

If someone reads a piece of marketing content and their first thought is ‘Wow, what a beautiful and clever piece of writing,’ then you’ve failed. If your audience is thinking about your writing style, they’re not thinking about the subject matter of your piece: the problems you can solve, and the solutions you can provide.

Instead, keep the focus on your subject matter – which is, after all, the hero of your content.

Three things to keep

Of course, there are plenty of aspects of academic writing which are still applicable to creating engaging content. Here are three of the most important.

  1. Your honed proofreading skills

Typos are the enemy of all writing – including academic essays and marketing content. My colleague George even named them in his webinar: seven deadly sins of B2B content writing (and how to avoid them).

Typos break the immersion of any reader who spots them – and your readers will spot them. They can also undermine your professionalism and scuff the polish from your copy.

So use the same proofreading skills you did when editing your academic essays. You may not lose marks for typos anymore, but you’ll lose engagement. Read every word aloud to make sure they’re right.

Even better, have a colleague read over it for you or (if you don’t have that luxury) use Word’s ‘Read Aloud’ function to read it to you – and you’ll hear the mistakes instantly.

  1. Your time management and organisation

Deadlines are prevalent throughout school, college, and university. And they’re just as important in marketing.

Different time management techniques work for different people – and you’ll no doubt have learnt yours through writing in the past. I like to break big tasks up into manageable chunks and give myself a time limit for each of these chunks. In my own writing, I’ve learnt what proportion of time I like to spend on each task – so I always make sure I leave myself some extra editing time.

Meeting your deadlines is always enviable, but don’t sacrifice the quality of your content for quick delivery. If you feel rushed on a project, remember it for next time so you can advocate for a longer deadline for future, similar projects.

  1. Your ability to research

Conducting research and referencing your sources are vital parts of crafting academic essays, and they can strengthen your marketing content too.

Orbit media discovered 9 out of 10 companies who do original research found that it’s successful. We’ve even created a podcast episode about the best ways to conduct and use research in marketing content – you can listen to it here.

And it’s not just original research that will benefit your content. Referencing the research of others will add weight to your piece and help prove your point.

But bear in mind the quality of your sources is just as important in marketing as in academia. The more recent, the better – and it’s always a good idea to check more than one place to make sure your sources are accurate.

Making the switch to copywriting

So now you know which writing skills to let go of as you move from academia to copywriting. More importantly, you know which skills to take with you.

And if you’re looking to get started on a copywriting career then we’d love to hear from you. Take a look at our careers page to find out if we’re a good fit.


Sharp-witted and fast to learn, Claire is an extraordinarily versatile writer with a keen eye for detail. Always eager to take on a new challenge, Claire brings skill, expertise, and unmatched enthusiasm to every project she works on.

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