What advice would you offer for writing up research for practitioners?

Back in 2009 Professor Anthony Hopwood wrote an article for ICAEW on management accounting systems, based on his research. I had the job of editing the piece for publication. It was no surprise the substance of the piece was excellent but I did have some concerns about the way it was written and whether it would connect with practitioners.  I made some changes but was nervous about sending these back to such a distinguished scholar. My covering email was suitable humble!

I needn’t have worried. Anthony was very complimentary about my work and, I think tongue in cheek, suggested I could help edit a book he was writing. This did wonders for my confidence in working with academics on articles and reports designed for practitioners.  I have also had a little experience of writing for an academic audience in journals and books.

Some of the things I have learned:

  • It’s very easy to slip in to a particular way of writing and we need to step back and consider the audience. One businessman turned academic I worked with recently was surprised how quickly he had moved into writing everything as though it was for publication in a journal.
  • I am as precious about my words as anyone which we may have taken months crafting. But we have to be open to criticism and willing to change where appropriate.
  • Examples are important to make the abstract concrete – even if it’s only a sentence.
  • Bullet points seem to be an anathema in academic writing and are overused by practitioners – get the balance right.
  • There are some great pieces on writing well in the Academy of Management Review (e.g. editorial 2012 Vol 37 (4)) and Helen Sword provides some useful resources at www.helensworld.com

Please comment below to provide your ideas.

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  • This is such an important area, Rick. However you are communicating you have to engage with your audience. A few years ago I was at the same time writing a book and a journal article. The book editor wanted lots more examples and stories whereas the journal editor and reviewers wanted no stories at all! There was a lot of constructive feedback from both groups that I had to respond to. I'd had real trouble when I began writing the book because I just could not work out what style I needed. In the end I got round it by imagining I was writing for one of my MBA students. They were the best proxy I could think of for my potential audience. Does anyone else have any writing experiences to share?      

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