Can Technical Writing Be Creative?

Even technical writers go through an intense creative process when they work. Technical writing doesn’t necessarily have to be dry and boring, but the tone of the writing does depend on intent, purpose, and audience. Technical writing often has to explore incredibly dense topics in an accessible way, and this absolutely necessitates both in-depth understanding of the subject and a certain creative mindset.

Connecting With and Engaging the Reader

Technical writers often struggle with keeping the focus of their reader. When particularly difficult subjects are being described, it can be easy for the reader to “tune out,” disengage, and skip ahead to something easier. A proficient technical writer has to find ways to make their information compelling and interesting. This often requires a level of creativity. The technical writer has to find the most unique and interesting ways to describe their topic. Depending on how dry or convoluted the topic is, this can be quite a challenge. This creativity occurs behind the scenes: it doesn’t necessarily show through to the actual writing. But it can. A common example is often found in mathematics textbooks. Mathematicians will write absurd, surreal, or just funny examples for problems so that these problems stay in the student’s mind. But at the same time, it can’t be too much of a departure from the source material.

Educating and Informing the Reader

But there are problems with being overly creative, too. Technical writing needs to be precise. The more creative a writer becomes, the more likely it is that they could actually end up confusing the reader rather than educating them. The writing absolutely has to be clear or the entire purpose of the technical writing is lost. After all, technical writing is designed to explain and inform. It is not designed to entertain. Thus, though creativity can be included in some ways, it can never be included in a way that would potentially mislead the reader or lead to an obstruction in their understanding. This can be a difficult line to walk. In the example of a mathematics textbook, a suitably entertaining example may not just be remembered, but could actually distract a student from learning.

Finding the Right Blend

For the most part, a significant amount of writing lies on a spectrum between technical and creative, rather than entirely within one section. A work of fiction would be entirely creative. A product manual would be entirely technical. But a white paper may fall on the technical side of the spectrum with some creativity, and advertising copy may be creative but also technical. It’s usually important to find a balance between the two styles that is suitable both to the subject and to the audience.

There are benefits and drawbacks to getting creative with your technical writing. On the one hand, you’ll create more memorable and entertaining copy if you get a little creative. On the other hand, you may actually obfuscate your topic if you get a little too creative. It can take a practiced hand and a good eye to successfully straddle the line between engaging and distracting. When in doubt, most technical writers should err on the side of clarity.

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