When lockdown was imposed, and everyone had to stay home, I thought I would do something I have always done on the side as a university lecturer – do some writing.
“Easy peasy,” my confidence assures me, “$$$ should come pouring in soon.”
But it has been a while, a long while, and I still haven’t written anything with my academic writing background.
I began to question my writing ability. As the weeks rolled by and I was still staring at a blank page, I finally paused to assess what’s happening to me.
My academic writing stopped me from being an online writer.
I wonder if a past experience had struck expectations dead and reincarnated them into scary reality: I can not write after all.
In my early 20s, I wrote and submitted an article to a nationally-circulated women’s magazine in my country. It was accepted for publication, and the magazine sent me a check for the payment. Not bad for a first try.
Albeit, the pay was not much, neither was it relevant to me because I didn’t need the money. I was employed and had a salary. But in the bank, while cashing the check, I realized, hey, this is it. I got paid. I can write! I was ecstatic. I got published!
The experience emboldened my guts, and I drew courage from those guts to share the manuscript to a friend who was a hundred times better a writer than myself. I thought she wouldn’t bully my writing, and she did not. My self-esteem was intact, but writing again and getting published again outside academia were thoughts I harbored consciously, and subliminally from time to time.
About twelve years later, that friend I gave a copy of my manuscript to, came to live in the same country I expatriated in. I mentioned that I lost my manuscript. She gave me hers. Suddenly it was meeting an old love. I started re-reading my piece…
Pure horror. Bad writing!
Only halfway through the first page, I started panicking over what had dawned on me. Wait, what is this? What have I written?!
I haven’t written. The words I read were more like lines after lines of rambling. It was an epic embarrassment.
Have you ever been so embarrassed you felt crippled and convinced you could not recover?
Now, there’s the problem. It was my academic writing that stopped me from being an online writer.
In my old job, I did a considerable amount of academic writing, but now that I want to write, and to earn from freelance writing, I can’t.
But I need to. I want to because whether I like it or not, times are changing, and with the ongoing pandemic, we are all facing big changes in the way we live. We have to make adjustments.
You think back and relive the applause after presenting those papers you have written at international research conferences. Big academic events. But with content writing, you could hardly come up with a writing sample.
Something is wrong, and you wonder how difficult can content writing be. After all, isn’t academic writing still writing?
Did it ever occur to you that the reason you can not write content is that you may not have a clear grasp of what it exactly is?
Well, for obvious starters content writing is not academic writing.
There’s practically half or a whole world of difference between the two, and now that you have made a decision to write, you need to transition from the academic writing you are used to, to the kind of writing you have so much to learn about.
From Academic Writing to Content Writing
1. Know the Difference Between Academic Writing and Content Writing
What is academic writing?
Academic writing and content writing differ in many ways.
The style, format, audience, or tone for example are some of these ways. Fortunately, the differences are stark enough for one to be able to easily identify which kind of writing is academic writing and which is content.
Let us familiarize ourselves with what is meant by academic writing and content writing with these differences in:
- is rigorous and comprehensive in form and style. Language is educational and tone is formal
- uses statistics, and shows scientific evidence to support claims
- adheres to a prescribed format, citation, bibliography, and references are only from established sources or experts
- rules of grammar are strictly followed, appropriate punctuations are applied
- does not use personal opinion
To sum it up: academic writing requires strict formatting.
- is relaxed with a friendly tone and a language that is engaging
- is usually short – either in number of words, sentences or paragraphs
- is less thorough or exhaustive
- does not necessarily require expert opinions, citations or bibliography
- has ample room for the writer’s personal point of view
Academic writing comes in the form of textbooks, research papers, theses, journals, or dissertations.
Content writing comes in the form of blogs, advertisements, brochures, press releases, or product reviews.
Academic writing is read by scholars, researchers, or scientists, while content writing speaks to a world wide web of service users or product consumers.
The purpose of academic writing is to instruct, to educate, to improve knowledge, or to explain a problem or a phenomenon. Academic writers demonstrate learning and understanding of an issue in their writing, as in an essay. They elucidate a concept, conduct tests, and analyze findings.
Content writing describes or reviews a product or service. Its purpose is to promote a business in order to sell. Content writers have some level of expertise with acronyms such as HTML, CSS, or SEO keywords, and integrate them across the information they put together.
Academic writing is formal. Personal viewpoints or the pronoun I or me are a no-no. Meanwhile, content writing is like talking to someone you know or are getting to know. Personal stories or experiences are used to illustrate effectiveness and value of a product or service, and consequently compel readers to buy.
2. Wean Yourself Off of Academic Writing
The good news is it isn’t Facebook or other delightful, addicting forms of social media to wean yourself from, so embracing content writing should be easier than you might think.
When you wake up in the morning, think content.
No more thoughts of making an argument for a certain topic brought up in the faculty lounge or research lab. No more mental posing of possible research questions, wondering which theory would help explain a problem best or worrying if you have cited sources correctly, or had been bland enough with your long sentences that spilled over to a fat paragraph.
Instead, it is now thinking how to attract your readers to a product or service you are writing about, and keep them reading until the part where they do not even notice that they have been convinced to make a commercial decision.
Isn’t that exciting?
Another way to wean yourself from an academic writing and mentality is to lose the attitude. Poke yourself a little:
You can play a Lizst at virtuoso level but you struggle with polishing a two-score introit. My, don’t we have some realization here? Hello, you have lots to learn so slide the snobby self off that academic regalia, and get on with your homework which is to –
3. Practice, Practice, Practice Content Writing
As Elna Cain advises, write every day.
It doesn’t have to be always thorough at first. Just get your fingers across the keyboard for a good warmup, and after coming up with a post, you can assure yourself that you have accomplished something content writing-related, no matter how little, within those twenty-four hours.
Write again the next day. Strive to make the next day’s writing better than yesterday until content writing every day becomes easy to do.
You want to hone your content writing skill so you will be as good a content writer as you were as an academic writer. That is something to smile about.
Look forward to celebrating when you land your first client, so to arrive at that happy point, concentrate on practicing. There is so much to learn and much room for growth.
Are you ready to say good-bye to academic writing forever?
Share with us in the comments how you transitioned from academic writing to content writing!
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