Is Business Writing the Same as Technical Writing?

People who want to be technical writers often ask me whether business writing classes will help them. I answer yes—because strong business writing skills will help them be better technical writers.

But what is the difference between technical writing and business writing? I asked Julie Hale, a technical writer in the Standards group at Seattle City Light, to share her perspective. Read Julie's post below.  

Julie Hale

Julie Hale

What makes business writing different from technical writing? The two types of communication share common elements, but they serve different purposes. 

The intent of both technical writing and business writing is to provide information that leads to a desired outcome. This intent creates similarities: stylistically, both use concise and specific language. In addition, the use of bulleted and numbered lists to organize information is common in both business and technical writing.

Now let’s look at the differences.

Business writing centers on the goal of creating clear, courteous, effective communication that serves the needs of companies and organizations. In some cases, the tone may be persuasive, as in the case of sales or marketing documents. The audience for this communication can be internal or external.

For example, business writing for internal use might involve memos, presentations, emails, company policies, and performance reviews. Business writing for external audiences normally includes documents like proposals, annual reports, white papers, and sales letters.

Technical writing, in comparison, is often used to produce documentation for a wide audience. Its tone is neutral. The goal of the documentation is to simplify complex information and help a user understand an idea, perform a task, or solve a problem.

The average person usually encounters technical documentation when they’re seeking a specific type of how-to information, things like manuals, software user interface guides, release notes, instructions, quickstart guides, data sheets, and the like. In some cases, technical writing may be created for a very specific audience. For example, in a software development environment, the audience for the documentation often includes other developers rather than the end user.

If you’re a proficient business writer, you’ve most likely switched into technical writing mode for a specific project—or vice versa. Understanding the needs of the audience and establishing the purpose of the communication will allow you to move more easily between these two styles.

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What would you add to Julie Hale’s views about technical and business writing? Share your comments here. Contact Julie about your technical writing project.

Lynn
Syntax Training

14 COMMENTS

  1. One of my good friends is a technical writer. He writes manuals for high-tech measuring devices and, often, the computer software that comes with it. He has to learn how to use these on his own before writing the manuals. Sometimes I wonder how he does it. Then I remember he has an engineering degree…haha.

    I’m a freelance editor, but I have never gotten a technical project to edit, while business editing is one of my specialties. If I were to receive a technical project, I would investigate it thoroughly to see if I’m the right editor for it. I don’t think there’s a greater need to edit business writing over technical writing, but my experience tells me it’d be harder to find the right editor for technical writing (like, say, a high-tech manual), especially if the technical writer or the company wanted something deeper than a proofread or a copyedit. That said, I’m positive it’s worth the search.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Lauren. I agree that editors often need subject-matter knowledge for technical documents. But a fresh, beginner’s eye can sometimes recognize an issue the technical experts miss, especially when readers or users will not be technical experts.

    Like you, I have edited business documents but not technical ones. My experience is limited to what I have seen rather than what I have done.

    Lynn

  3. Hi Stephanie,

    I agree about the value of business writing classes. Topics such as sentence structure, active voice verbs, and concise language–along with many more–apply to both business writing and technical writing.

    Lynn

  4. Sometimes not having the subject matter knowledge can be beneficial to a technical writer/editor, specially when writing for a lay user audience. When the writer/editor knows too much, there is a danger of them assuming that the audience will know everything they write.

  5. I am a freshman. Currently, working on my degree in B. A. After the first homework I’ve done, I realized that the way I am writing is not relevant to business as itself. I start looking for help over the Internet to make my writing more closed and appropriate to the matter at hand. Here what I found:

  6. I agree with this article. As a former technical writer (I ghostwrite books now) who also did some business writing, I found that there might be a tiny bit of marketing babble–as a friend of mine liked to call it–within a technical document, but the audience and purpose for the two kinds of writing tended to be pretty separate. I agree as well that sound writing principles need to be used with both, so if a business writing course teaches that, it will help technical writers too, even though a business writing course won’t cover some of what tech writers do. And lastly, I heartily second the notion that a technical writer doesn’t need to know everything about their subject. Why? Well first, that’s what SMEs are for. And second, if you know the subject too well, you might be tempted to skip defining or explaining the jargon and acronyms that so often populate technical documentation, especially if the document has a lay end user as its audience. There’s just no replacing a good technical writer with an engineer who can maybe write, in my humble opinion!

  7. Obviously, business writing is much different from technical. It’s true that understanding the needs of the readers and setting the purpose of the communication helps to distinguish between these two types. It works for any kind of writing. As a person who works mostly with academic style of writing, I realize how important it is to stick to all the rules and requirements in order to reach the goal of a particular writing work.

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