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Essential Research Skills for Workplace Writing

This tutorial is a basic introduction to doing effective and credible research for a variety of purposes and audiences

Learning Objective #2


Learn to describe the difference between academic and workplace research

The Difference Between Academic and Workplace Research

How is the research you do in school different from the research you are asked to do once you graduate and get a job?

You might be surprised at how many similarities there are between academic research and workplace research. Both require: 

  • developing a focused topic and research question,
  • looking at a number of credible and relevant sources,
  • synthesizing and analyzing the information you find to draw conclusions, and
  • presenting your research in a clear and audience-friendly format.

But there are also key differences between them, and knowing what they are will help you be more efficient and effective in your workplace research task.

Academic vs. Workplace Research

Although academic and workplace research require many of the same skills, they likely to be different in their audience, purpose, context, resources and final products. This table outlines some of their key similarities and differences. 

Academic Research Workplace Research
Purpose To demonstrate knowledge and competency in key skills Variable: In the workplace, your purpose will depend upon the research question and your research task
Audience Professors and fellow students Variable: This will change from project to project. They may be inside or outside of your organization, specialists or general public.
Context Post-secondary learning  Variable: any workplace or industry

Resources Available

  • information
  • people
  • time
  • money, etc.

Library resources

Internet resources

Instructor help

Other students (if a group project)

Shorter timelines (usually between a week to a few months)

Internet resources

Other institutional resources (subscriptions, etc.)

Colleagues' help and input

Variable timelines (within a day, to several months)

Possible funding available through employer

Format of Final Product College assignments: including essays, reports, and presentations Variable: emails, memos, letters, reports, presentations, infographics, blogs, newsletter, etc.


Examples of Workplace Research Tasks

In the workplace, research tasks can vary between short-term projects that you'll complete within a few days, to longer term projects that can take months to complete. Whether short- or long-term, simple or complex, good workplace research 

  • starts with a clear research question and purpose,
  • gathers information from a variety of credible sources appropriate to the task,
  • answers the research question effectively, and
  • presents information in an audience-friendly format.   


Here are two examples of research tasks that might be completed within a workplace context. Pay attention to the differences in the examples' timelines, resources needed, intended audience, and written format. 

Example 1: Finding the right venue for this year's holiday party

It is early November, and your boss asks you to do some research on the best venue for the office holiday party.

Research Question Where should we have the office holiday party this year?
Audience Your boss
Resources Needed

Internet search (ex. Google)

Telephone (to call venues and ask questions re: accessibility, capacity, pricing, etc.)

Conversations (with friends and colleagues to get some ideas and suggestions)

Timeline for completion One week
Final format Email
Citation method Informal -- Your email should include a website link to your chosen venue (or top three choices) so that your boss can take a look and follow up on your advice. 

 Example 2: Preventing discrimination in your company's hiring practices

You work in Human Resources (HR) and your boss has asked you and two other colleagues to research the best practices for preventing discrimination in hiring practices.

Research Question What are the best practices for avoiding discrimination in our hiring practices?
Audience Your boss, other HR managers, and HR colleagues
Resources Needed

Internet Resources (Google, etc.)

Private Subscriptions (to journals in Human Resources, Management, Employment Issues, Law, and Human Rights)

Public Libraries and Bookstores (to access books, articles and other relevant resources)

Timeline for Completion 5 months
Final Format Recommendation Report (20 + pages long) AND a 30 minute presentation
Citation method Formal (APA style citations and references list). This allows your audience to verify your information and the credibility of the sources you used in your research. 


As these examples demonstrate, research in the workplace can vary quite a lot in its audience, timeline, resources needed, and final formats. But ALL forms of research, whether academic or professional require the same basic approach of asking a clear question, consulting a variety of appropriate sources, and synthesizing and analyzing that information to fulfill your purpose and answer your research question.