Sunday, November 1, 2009

Writing Papers for Business vs. Science

I am taking a class on entrepreneurship this semester, and I absolutely love it. It's my favorite class here yet. I've written before about how I gave an elevator pitch about my idea, and then how I got to form a team to work on my idea.

Well, a team has been formed. Two business students, and two engineering students (including myself). We spent a week or two doing market analysis and cold calling people to get reactions and feedback on our idea. It turns out that the idea might be worth something after all, and everybody we talked to was excited to hear about what we were planning. One person even wanted to know when he could see a demo, and offered his site for testing.

So all in all, the project is coming along swimmingly.

Two weeks ago we turned in an Executive Summary section of a business plan. The idea is that each week we turn in a different section of the business plan - Market Analysis, Advertising, Sales, Pricing, etc. The Executive Summary is the intro at the beginning of the business plan, and is usually the last thing you write, but the professors make us write it near the beginning so that we think about the big picture.

We got back that assignment last week. Overall, the grade was good and the comments were positive. The professor would reference various groups' papers during the lecture, to illustrate points. Usually to point out what NOT to do. For instance, when talking about focusing on the customer, the professor said, "Now let me read to you from Group A's report. Here in the section on customers they say that there are X thousands in area 1, Y thousands in area 2, Z thousands in area 3, and then in addition there are even more in area 4. WRONG! You need to pick an area and stay with it." Then the professor went on, "But contrast that with Miss Outlier's group. They say that they have identified 320 targets to begin with, and then 560 potential cutomers ready right after that. And look, I can check Appendix A for a list of contact information. Now THAT is focus."

So my group and I were sitting there feeling very pleased with ourselves.

But then later on in lecture, the professor was trying to make another point, and he said "Let me read to you from Miss Outlier's report again. Here is their very first sentence." He then proceeded to read the opening sentence in a monotone, all in one breath.

"Now how boring is THAT?" he asked. The class tittered, because indeed it did sound very dry.

"It lacks PASSION!" he cried, "Where is the enthusiasm?"

And I was thinking, SO? When was the last time you read a scientific paper with the word "fantastic" in it? What else did you expect when a bunch of engineers writes a report?

In a word, dear readers, I was unaware that my report was supposed to display passion. I quite distinctly remember designing the first sentence of the report to relay precisely and concisely the content of the report.

And of course, I do HAVE passion. I have that in spades. I hope it shows through in my face-to-face presentations, but I never have to portray anything beyond a subdued confidence in my writing.

So this will be an adventure. Apparently writing for business is a bit different than writing for science.

Or, rather:

Crafting compelling stories from a business perspective requires confidence and excitement to shine through the words, instead of stifling the passion with the dry prose of scientific treatises. I'm EXCITED! Vote for MEEEE!


  1. "I quite distinctly remember designing the first sentence of the report to relay precisely and concisely the content of the report."

    That's the holy grail of scientific writing right there! Crispy precise yet completely comprehensive in scope: beautiful. I don't what these people's problems are.... :)

  2. "Crispy" Well, on occasion maybe... :)

    I meant "crisply" - my mistake.