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Can Technical Writing Be Creative?

30th June 2011 Posted in Blog, Documentation, Technical Writers 5 Comments

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When you’re writing up a technical piece, you know that you need to follow certain guidelines – formatting, style sheets, document specifications, etc. Though you might not start out with an exciting topic, can you use technical writing skills in a creative way? Here are the two sides to this endless question:

The Case for Creativity

While instructions seem bland, this doesn’t mean creativity isn’t necessary. A technical writer still needs to think of the most effective way to present information that is accessible to many levels of readers. In doing so, they need to find ways to interpret the truth and turn it into a usable and user-friendly document. It takes a certain amount of creativity to assemble a document that can work for many reading levels and experience levels. While a technical writing document may never include metaphors or literary references, a creative process is a must.

The Case Against Creativity

First of all, let’s be clear about how we’re defining creativity because that can be less than specific. Creativity in writing generally means a personal touch to the writing style, something that’s more engaging than it is informative, though it can be both. For most technical writing documents, you need to present a certain set of facts – and only the facts. Anything more can become lost in translation, especially if the piece needs to instruct on a certain topic. When your instructions are vague, your document isn’t effective. In short, you need to present only the words and phrases that support your document’s main goal – nothing more, nothing less. And this doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity.

Should Creative Writers Apply?

For those writers who are looking into technical writing as a career but who have a creative writing background, technical writing allows you to continue to engage the audience, but in a new way. It might actually improve your creative writing since you’ll be trained in how to be specific, which can be problematic when you’re working with emotional content. Maybe getting technical is just the thing your novel needs.

Do you think technical writers should show creativity in their writing? In what ways? We’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment.

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  1. By Louise Tincheron 6th, July 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Should technical writers should show creativity in their writing?Absolutely! Technical writing places constraints on the writer, but so does poetry. However, while creative writing emphasizes self-expression and entertainment, technical writing serves the user(s) of the work.

    Unlike creative writing, good technical writing is unobtrusive. If I’m successful, the users won’t notice my fingerprints on a piece of work. Instead, they’ll use it and be on their way with a minimum of fuss. Likewise, the author(s) and/or owner(s) won’t balk at my edits, since they further their purpose.

    To that end I examine the format, layout, and delivery method. Are the fonts readable? Will reformatting (into tables, graphics, columns, lists, etc.) make it easier to grasp key information? Will the appearance be stable and readable under normal conditions of use? If not, what can I do to improve it? I also look critically at the structure of a piece. Is it logical? Does it flow well? Would reordering the contents improve it?

    Good technical writers are problem solvers, smoothing the path for clear communication. Unless and until we perfect the Vulcan mind meld, there will always be room for creativity here. Do you grok?

  2. By editoron 6th, July 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Thanks for the great comments! I think your observations are spot on!

  3. By Larry Czaplyskion 16th, September 2011 at 12:30 am

    Creativity in technical writing? If you mean that you come up with a creative way to solve a writing or process problem, then sure. If you mean creativity as in writing fiction then I don’t think so. If you want to be a creative writer, write a short story or a novel!

  4. By Jenny The Technical Writeron 1st, January 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Yes, technical writing can definitely be creative as well. Writing about the same issue but from a different angels, non usual angels, is the name of the game!

  5. By editoron 3rd, January 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. Angels and angles, etc. Have a Happy New Year!

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