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.
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.