I often get asked about the difference between business writing and technical writing, so I hope this article can help clear any confusion between these two.
What’s the difference?
The simple answer is that we define technical and business writing by their subject matter.
Technical writing deals with science, engineering and technology. Typical documents include specifications, manuals, data sheets, research papers, field reports and release notes.
Business writing is just about any other kind of writing people do at work, except journalism and creative writing. It includes reports, emails, proposals, white papers, minutes, business cases, letters, copywriting, bids and tenders.
However, there is some crossover. Many reports, bids and proposals contain technical data and specifications. So business writers may find themselves editing technical content, and technical writers may be called upon to write persuasive documents for a non-technical audience.
Language and jargon
The main objective for both business and technical writing is to be useful – to inform, help make a purchase decision, build something or operate equipment.
Mistakes can be costly, even dangerous, so the language for both needs to be clear, concise, unambiguous and accurate. We sacrifice elegant prose for clarity. Wordiness, repetition and unfamiliar words that the audience may not understand do not belong in either business or technical writing.
Of course, you can use technical jargon in documents where the audience all have the same technical background. You probably don’t need to explain what a capacitor is to an audience of electrical engineers, any more than you need to explain return on investment to finance professionals.
However, in both technical and business documents, too much jargon tends to be a much bigger problem than too little. If in doubt, avoid jargon or explain it.
Writing style and structure
Some business documents need to be persuasive, whereas technical documents tend to be neutral and objective.
This doesn’t mean that bids and proposals aren’t clear, factual or accurate. They lead with business benefits, such as cost savings or increased revenue. These arguments are supported by facts and technical features.
It goes without saying that correct grammar, spelling and punctuation are just as important in technical as in business writing. Errors damage the writer's credibility, as well as causing confusion for readers.
On balance, there are differences in the content, language and style of technical and business writing. But they also require similar skills - both need to be clear, concise, correct and tailored to the audience.
PS Do you or your organisation need help with your writing skills? I worked with ICE Training in developing the Technical Report and Business Writing course. This training is available both a classroom format and eLearning.
About the author
Jakki Bendell is an experienced trainer, coach and facilitator specialising in business communication skills. She has delivered highly effective training programmes to staff at all levels in the engineering, construction, financial services, IT and public sectors.
Jakki is the tutor for the ICE Technical Report and Business Writing course.