Written digital communication is everywhere – in our pockets, on our screens, in our cars. So how do we know if the goal of that communication is Technical or Business related?
To better understand the differences between the two, let’s start by looking at some examples of technical and business writing.
Technical Writing: User Manuals, API Documentation, Installation Guides, Technical Specifications, Troubleshooting Guides, Whitepapers, Release Notes, Training Materials
Business Writing: Emails, Presentations, Social Media Posts, Employee Manuals and Handbooks, Internal Communication, Training Materials, Job Descriptions, Contracts and Agreements
First, let’s look at the similarities between the two. Both Technical and Business writing use nonfiction writing to offer information so the reader can do something specific. They both leave the reader more knowledgeable after reading the information and they both follow the tone and style of the company. Now let’s look at the differences. Technical writing is, well, technical in nature. It involves more complex information presented in a way that “teaches” the reader about something. It defines every aspect of the subject and provides solutions. Business writing is less detailed and focused on communicating a message to the reader so they can understand something, usually without having to complete a task.
The University of Connecticut Center for Career Development states “Since technical writing does not change in tone, it is a more impersonal writing style, as its main goal is to get across directions. On the other hand, business writing can have many goals, such as creating relationships outside of an organization or inviting people to events and organizations in general.”
While both styles of communication have an end goal focused on the user and offer similar language, each format is geared toward a different audience. Keeping this in mind, a company must find a writer for a project who can achieve these goals well. If the goal is to create compelling and engaging Social Media posts, the best person for the job is a digital marketer. If the goal is to create a troubleshooting guide, the best person for the job is a technical writer. Both are important. However, they have a very specific skill set that requires advanced knowledge of that writing style.
Function of Writing Styles: Technical and Business Writing
Business writing strives to communicate organizational goals, business strategies, and problem-solving methods. Briefs, plans, and case studies are a few common examples of business documents. However, business writing can also include interpersonal communication like emails and memos so long as they communicate the information above.
Audience is one of the most important aspects of business writing because it can vary significantly. A business writer must consider the perspectives and influences of clients, vendors, customers, colleagues, stakeholders, investors, and more. To accomplish this, they need to determine their readers’ goals, interests, and familiarity with the subject matter.
For example, the audience of a press release may not be familiar with the company and its services or products. At the very least, a press release will have a wider audience than other documents with audiences external to the company like newsletters. The writer might consider adding more introductory information to a press release and less specialized information.
Internal audiences — readers from within the company or organization — also vary. A report is read by superiors, stakeholders, and key players in your project. These readers expect detail and formality. A meeting agenda is used by people who plan to expand upon the agenda during the meeting itself, so it requires less detail and often less formality. A simple email or memo can be sent to senior leaders, middle managers, or new employees, all of whom require different levels of formality and types of information.
Tone and Style
Tone refers to the feeling or the impression that the reader gets from the document. Tone communicates intention. In general, the tone of business documents should be direct, formal, and non-discriminatory. However, because the audience for a business document varies so much, business writers should be prepared to adapt the tone to the type of business document.
For example, when onboarding and training new employees, business writers may soften a direct, formal training document with friendly or warm language. In contrast, when a functional head wants to sell their VP on a new business venture, they may project confidence, include fact-based evidence, and use persuasive language.
A newsletter that advertises events or products might use a more personal tone or employ marketing techniques to persuade its audience to follow a call to action. On the other hand, an informative business text will establish credibility and maintain a formal register.
Business writers need to have a grasp on style. Different media have different styling conventions; a PowerPoint, email, and press release involve completely different kinds of writing and formatting.
Regardless of format, business writing usually favors brevity and simplicity. A clear, concise document is more readable — and thus more convincing — than a rambling document. Bullets, numbered lists, tables of contents, and graphics are always useful.
The primary purpose of business documentation is to improve day-to-day operations. Any department, from management to sales to customer service, can benefit from clear business writing.
On a more granular level, a business document will usually have a specialized purpose. Emails, reports, newsletters, invoices, press releases, confidentiality agreements, and policy documents each address their own goals. Business documents can usually be organized into one of four purposes: to be informative, to be persuasive, to be transactional, and to be instructive.
An informative document, like a report, is objective and detailed. A persuasive document, like a newsletter, builds an engaging argument. A transactional document communicates simple concepts like meeting times, dismissals, and invoices. An instructional document does just that: instructs. They include training manuals, user manuals, and standard operating procedures.
Instructional documents throw a wrench into our goal of differentiating technical and business writing. Although they do fulfill the business writing goal of improving day-to-day operations, they often require the participation of a technical writer. So then what is technical writing?
The purpose of technical writing is to translate complex information into simple and concise documents. Technical writing allows the target audience to solve a problem or better understand how a product, service, or process operates. Common examples include standard operating procedures, software documentation, user manuals, and legal disclaimers.
Technical documents have a unique kind of power. If one step is out of order or a piece of information is wrong or too obscure, the audience may not be able to use it. It is one of the final and most authoritative sources of information on a product, service, or process.
It’s true that technical and business writing needs to be clear and easy to use. However, technical writing requires a professional level of care to balance the needs of its audience, tone, and purpose.
Technical writing addresses a wider variety of audiences than business writing. A business writer needs to understand their own business and clients, but a technical writer needs to adapt to the needs of any person in any field.
Technical writing includes anything from writing documentation for an astrophysicist to writing standard operating procedures for a bank. But the ultimate goal of this writing remains the same: to enhance the reader’s experience.
A technical writer’s audience will likely be seeking information on a specialized topic. The writer’s job is to explain potentially complex information in a way that is suitable for its audience. For instance, an SOP writer might target new employees or employees across departments that know nothing beforehand. A CSS documenter will target developers already familiar with code, but not familiar with that company’s style guide.
Tone and Style
Technical information is best communicated in a clear, neutral, formal tone. Technical writing is usually informative or instructional, whereas business writing can also be persuasive and transactional. A technical document that includes persuasive language would be considered suspect and unreliable.
As a result, technical writing benefits from unambiguous, nonfigurative, simple language. Statistics and analytics form the basis for technical documentation, but they must be distilled into something easily digestible.
The purpose of technical documentation is to clarify an array of specialized subject matters for readers to understand easily. To execute this difficult task, technical writers meet with subject matter experts and spend up to 80% of their time researching.
This approach gives them the basis for quickly writing countless types of technical documents. While user guides and standard operating procedure documents (SOPs) are commonly known, others are not. For instance, API documentation or environmental software instructions are based on ever-evolving technologies. Technical writing in these fields requires advanced knowledge, which can be harnessed to streamline business processes.
While technical and business writing both benefit from clarity, a technical writer must be especially precise in everything they document. Failure to do this puts the user’s experience and their company’s essential data at risk.
Technical writers are useful in both technical and business writing because much of business writing includes highly technical information. Most members of a business or clientele appreciate when complex information is communicated clearly and accurately.
Essential Data Corporation Has Expert Technical Writers
Once you’re familiar with the key differences between technical and business writing, the value of each becomes more obvious. If you need clear, concise, and effective proposals for a joint business venture or press releases and newsletters for marketing, Essential Data has expert technical writers who can create documentation to meet all your organizational goals. EDC also offers assistance with creating technical documentation in the medical, IT, education, finance, manufacturing, and aerospace industries.
Whether you need a single technical writer for a brief project or a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation, the quality of our work is guaranteed for you. Our clients work closely with an Engagement Manager from one of our 30 local offices for the entire length of your project at no additional cost. Contact us at (800) 221-0093 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.