Technical writing can be creative, but it is different from literary writing. Novels, poetry, screenplays, and the like can be didactic (intended to teach). However, most literary writing is created to entertain. Literary writing centers on subjective emotion. The ideals and politics of the writer shine through in the final work. The technical writer is aloof from the subject matter and writes as objectively as possible.
The goal of technical writing is to teach and inform by presenting specialized material in common language. Literary writing emphasizes playful creative techniques, such as rhyming meter and alliteration for poetry. In comparison to technical writing, literary writing is verbose. Good technical writing is concise, explaining the concept without extraneous descriptive material. Technical writing is predictable; the reader should be able to find information easily through the index and hyperlinks. The reader may not read an entire manual, or may not read it in a linear fashion from beginning to end, as one would a novel. Each section of technical writing must be free standing.
Technical writers should not express personal opinions. When writing instructions or user manuals, the goal is to teach the reader how to use the product, not why. Technical writers deal with facts and figures and must interpret them literally, not figuratively.
The audience for technical writing documentation is very small and specific. The writer knows the material does not appeal to a mass audience, but it could mean the difference between life and death, or retaining or losing a customer, or gaining or losing a license. Consider the variety of technical documents written for a MEDEVAC air ambulance team, for example: A helicopter operations manual, drug algorithms, disaster procedures for crash landings, hospital checklists, communications protocols for air traffic control, isolation procedures for contagious cases, and directions for medical equipment use, to name a few. Technical documents are often required by law. Reading a technical document may be a requirement for maintaining a professional license.
The technical writer must know the audience and thoroughly understand the subject matter. New subject matter is challenging, but it is impossible to teach something without understanding it completely first. Technical writing requires practice, research, an SME and peer review.
Last Updated: 07/29/2014