How to... write for a practitioner audience Part: 4



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How to... write for a practitioner audience

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How should you write for a practitioner journal?

Having mapped out your article, decided what type it is, how you should present your research, etc., you are ready to write. Here are some tips which should help you present your article in an attractive manner to your peer group, or your practitioner colleagues.

Title and introduction

Use both to capture the attention of the reader. The title of the article should immediately catch the eye, as with the following examples:

All the above titles are catchy, using alliteration, descriptive phrases, repetition and above all terms which link into business preoccupations.

Use a journalistic style to draw the reader in to the subject, making clear its practical relevance, as in the following examples:

  • "CEOs of high-tech companies have some justification for blaming their losses and missed earnings of recent years on the economic slowdown. These companies have struggled to optimize their existing business models, many initiating across-the-board budget cuts and layoffs." (Vivek Kapur et al., "High-tech 2005: the horizontal, hypercompetitive future", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 31 No. 2).
  • "We are living in a time of unprecedented globalization. Coca-Cola sells beverages in almost 200 countries worldwide while McDonald's operates in more than 30,000 restaurants in 118 countries (including some whose national diets do not include beef!). And it is not just consumer icons that today must manage their business models and franchises on a global basis: hundreds of packaged goods producers, computer hardware and software manufacturers, mobile-phone service providers, auto makers and others now compete for consumers around the globe." (Jennifer Barron and Jim Hollingshead, "Brand globally, market locally", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 25 No. 1).
  • "Did you ever make a business decision without all the facts? Did you learn something after you implemented your decision that you would have changed had you known it sooner? If the answer to either question is 'yes', chances are you lost money, time, morale and the competitive advantage. All these could easily be avoided with business intelligence." (Seena Sharp,"Building better decisions: strategies for reducing risk and avoiding surprises", Handbook of Business Strategy, Vol. 5 No. 1).

The first example states the problem directly; the second starts with an arresting statement followed by some examples; the third has a list of questions.

Provide real-world links

Link the article to the real world wherever possible, using relevant examples preferably with high profile companies.

We quoted above from "Brand globally, market locally"; the article deals with the highly important business concept of branding. It illustrates the issue of market segmentation, with references to the authors' own clients (which are not named) including a boxed case study which appears in its own page and which uses diagrams. The whole thing stands out, giving the article a visual appeal and enabling the reader to focus in on the case.

Keep it concise and get to the point

Word lengths for practitioner journals tend on the whole to be shorter than for academic journals; practitioners are busy people, whose professional reading time must be carefully focused. Note carefully the word limit and DO NOT REGARD IT AS THE TARGET. Brevity and conciseness will be much appreciated by your readers.

Don't have a long preamble: get to the point of your article early on!


Write in a lively concise style, as if you were writing for a magazine rather than an academic journal:


  • Write as clearly as possible.
  • Break your article up into reasonably short paragraphs, and use short sentences as in this example:

Branding and customer relationships differentiate commodity products

Price-performance competition makes purely performance-based differentiation difficult and unstable. At the same time, unbundling creates confusion and complexity for the consumer by expanding choices at every layer. As a result, branding, service, and customer relationships will become vital to sustaining success.

Product availability, for example, could be an element of differentiation – a commodity product might stand out from the competition by being easy to purchase and never being out of stock. For component suppliers, this means never letting a consignment warehouse at the original equipment manufacturer's plant run dry.

Winners will also have well-executed service and technical support. Products might be comparable, especially in terms of price and performance, so after-sales service can make or break relationships. And relationships will still be the basis for repeat sales.

Comparable products may also differ on their compatibility with adjacent products, so companies can stand out by making customization and compatibility non-issues. A final way to differentiate otherwise equal products is through partner network support. Two servers may have similar features, but one might come with a larger network of software and reseller partners.

(Vivek Kapur et al., "High-tech 2005: the horizontal, hypercompetitive future", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 31 No. 2)

  • Use bullet points as in the following example:

Global fragmentation

  • The richest 5 per cent of the world's people have incomes 114 times those of the poorest 5 per cent.
  • During the 1990s, the number of people in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa rose from 242 million to 300 million.
  • A total of 72 per cent of Internet users, with 14 per cent of the world's population, live in high income Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries: 16.4 million reside in the USA.
  • At the current rate, it would take more than 130 years to rid the world of hunger.

(Eleanor R. O'Higgins, "Global business means global responsibilities", Corporate Governance, Vol. 3 No. 3)

  •  Use active verbs, as in the following example (note the first person, not "Seminars and workshops were run ..."):

We began a culture change programme in our unit. We started our own programmes to develop trainers into consultants. We initiated learning contracts and learning sets. We ran seminars and workshops in which we talked through the changes and how we felt about what was happening. We decided how to accelerate our own progress. In most of the learning sets we chose to facilitate ourselves thereby increasing our experience and skill in that challenging role. We learned the difference between consulting and facilitating. We nurtured our HR contacts but also began to develop stronger links with business managers.

(Ian Clark,"Transforming training in an information technology company", Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 17 No. 1)

  • Use sub-headings to break up the text.
  • Use plenty of examples, and vivid language, as in the examples quoted above under "Title and introduction" above, or in this example: "But instead of a line gone dead, investors soon heard the dial tone of a profitable company".
  • Write concisely, and summarize things that are not essential to the "plot":

The evolution of Finnish global companies may be condensed into three phases. The first one took place at the beginning of industrialization back in the 18th and 19th centuries and continued until the 1960s when the foundations of the northern European welfare state began to be laid. In Finland, from the 1960s onwards, company welfare activities were gradually organized at the level of the state and municipalities. However, companies still have a significant role in providing employee health services and other benefits as a part of their human resource policy and responsibility as employers. Nevertheless, the welfare society has basically changed the status of companies, which now have an obligation to participate in the maintenance of society, not by providing benefits directly but mainly by paying taxes.

(Elisa Juholin, "For business or the good of all", Corporate Governance, Vol. 4 No. 3)


  • Use the passive tense.
  • Employ a lot of technical jargon.
  • Use long paragraphs and sentences.

Figures and photographs 

Some journals, such as Journal of Business Strategy, encourage the use of these, and they can certainly liven up an article, as in "Brand globally, market locally" quoted above, or in "Beyond BSC: a process based approach to performance management". Make sure that the figure really does elucidate a point better than plain words could have. Also make sure that you follow the author guidelines for submission of figures, which should always be good quality and submitted in both electronic and hard copy form.

Reference to other works

Practitioner articles should NOT include long literature reviews (descriptions of the literature on the subject). If included, do so as part of the background: see the example of the literature review in the article "Motivation and barriers to participation in virtual knowledge-sharing communities of practice", where the author devotes a page to the literature by way of explaining key background concepts such as communities of practice and what makes them tick.

The different approach to a literature review in a practitioner and academic article can be seen in the following two case studies:

Note that the style of referring to other works is by surname and date – Lave and Wenger (1991) – this is known as the Harvard referencing system and it is explained in our "How to... use the Harvard reference system" guide. However, try to keep references to the minimum.