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The Difference between Technical Writing and Creative Writing

In college, it is common to see different course lists, such as technical writing, or creative writing listed in the available subjects. This tends to make the person in question wonder what is the difference between the two types of writing. This article is going to explain the difference between the two, so hopefully the reader will have a better understanding of the subject once it is over.

Technical writing is about something factual, applicable or realistic. The word technical means practical skills, rather than ideas. This article is mainly an example of technical writing. It is teaching you how to identify technical and creative forms of writing.

A technical writer would walk you through the steps of a math problem, describe the design of a jet engine in detail, explain ways that you can deal with your heart disease etc. Examples of technical writing often include a product manual, a textbook, a guidebook, or a practical religious work (Proverb/Almanac etc).

Creative writing is free for all. Our favorite works of literature like The Lord of the Rings, A Midsummer's Nights Dream, The Chronicles of Narnia are all examples of creative writing. They deal with ideas, rather than practical skills that the reader should apply. Many people make the mistake that what they disagree with is creative writing, what they prefer to read is technical writing. Be careful about this tendency. If a religious work mentions practical instructions about living your daily life, than it can be considered a piece of technical writing, though we might disagree with its conclusions. Likewise, if a science textbook engages in speculation about what occurs on the surface of other planets, then (despite the fact it is a textbook) that author is indulging in creative writing. Never judge a book by its cover. Keep in mind the definitions. Technical writing equals practical application, and creative writing equals imaginative ideas. You will then be able to judge other works of literature without being negatively affected by the biases of the authors.

There can be some overlap between academic creative writing and technical writing. Many works of literature contain some of both. A technical piece of writing may have come out of the creative ideas mentioned by a science fiction writer such as Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The huge submarine that cruises underwater carrying Captain Nemo and his men sounds a lot like a modern Russian nuclear submarine, which would be described using a technical product manual. We can use creative writing to brainstorm new products, new beliefs, and new ideas. Technical writing than solidifies them into reality.

Many of the biases that people have in their thinking come because they have misidentified technical and creative writing. It is easy to assume that because a certain work of literature is thought of as technical, than all the content in it must be technical. Likewise, it is easy to assume that because a certain work of literature is creative, than all the content in it must be creative. This is not always true. Here are some excellent examples:
  1. An astronomy textbook says, "Scientists have proven that the Universe is precisely 20.3 billion years old. Our evidence regards this as entirely conclusive." Analyzing this sentence, it is tempting to right away decide that this is a technical work of writing. After all, it is a science textbook. However, the author has made a key mistake, which shows that they are engaging in creative writing, rather than technical writing. What is this mistake? Science can never prove anything. It can only compare the evidences for and against what we know already. It would be wrong for the Catholic Church to say 1000 years ago in one of its philosophy textbooks, "Our smartest scholars have proven the earth to be flat." No matter how smart that scholar is, to assume something which he has not personally observed, is creative writing. The textbook's conclusions may lead to further evidence for the Universe being that old, but science can only compare evidence, it cannot prove it. (For more see http://undsci.berkeley.edu/teaching/misconceptions.php#b10)

  2. A passage of ancient religious scripture says, "Husbands love your wives, wives respect your husbands." Most individuals right away assume that because the origin of the writing is religious and old, then everything inside the work of literature is creative writing, and should be taken as such. However, we defined technical writing as not based on the source, but on the tone of the information. This passage is a practical instruction that is given to the reader. Therefore it is a form of technical writing. It is not engaging in speculation of any kind. It is merely giving a practical command, leaving it up to the reader to follow. (Cited from the Letters of St. Paul, Book of Ephesians Ch. 5 v.33)
Once we understand the difference between creative and technical writing, we can also begin to see the difference in how people communicate. Some people prefer to communicate creatively, brainstorming ideas and theories randomly with others. They are usually popular, and are often held up as experts in their field. Some people prefer to communicate practically. They tell us what we should be doing, and why we are not doing it properly. Modern politicians are a great example of creative communicators. Our current President, Barack Obama, is a creative communicator. Phrases like "Change we can believe in!" are examples of creative communication. They do not require action on the part of a listener. This is what contributes to the popularity of creative communicators, because they entertain us, rather than instruct us.