Characteristics of Technical Writing

, Staff Writer
Updated February 17, 2017
man reading technical user manual
    man reading technical user manual
    svetikd / E+ / Getty

Knowing the characteristics of technical writing is very important if you are a person that is interested in writing professionally. The purpose of this type of writing is to explain complex topics in an instructional manner. Technical writing is commonly seen in how-to manuals and other pieces that provide direction. Learning the characteristics of technical writing is essential if you want to build a successful writing career.

Primary Purpose of Technical Writing

Every type of writing has a goal. Some forms of writing are geared to telling a story and other forms are geared to expressing opinions. Technical writing is not intended for either of those purposes. The main purpose of technical writing is to provide complex information to readers in a way that they can understand and apply, even if they don’t have prior knowledge of the topic.

  • Technical writing explains how a particular object works or how to complete a task or project.
  • It is targeted to readers who are looking for information on a particular topic, such as how to operate a computer or to provide detailed specifications on a new drug.
  • Technical writing must be clear, concise and easy for readers in the target audience to follow, understand and act upon. These are key components of effective technical writing.

Key Characteristics of Technical Writing

Technical writing, just as any other form of writing, has certain characteristics which distinguish it from other types of writing. It is very different from writing opinion pieces, essays, prose, non-fiction, or fiction. Technical documents are written in a business writing style rather than one that is academic or creative in nature.

  • clear - Technical writing presents information clearly, leaving little to no room for misunderstanding. It requires the use of clear, concise sentences.
  • straightforward - This type of writing is straightforward; it requires relaying information in a way that is direct and straight to the point, without the use of literary devices.
  • precise - The language used in technical writing should be very precise, describing objects and procedures in an exact manner.
  • easily understood - Effective technical writers avoid words that people may not understand and will avoid an eloquent writing style.
  • denotative meanings - This type of writing relies on the denotative meanings of words to ensure that misunderstandings don’t occur due to differing interpretations based on connotation.
  • detailed - Technical writing is very detailed and informative, leaving nothing to the imagination. The perfect example of technical writing is a textbook. Most textbooks describe the subject matter as fully as possible.
  • very structured - Technical writing is very structured. This type of writing needs to have an obvious composition that makes it easy for readers to follow along. The audience needs to be able to rely on technical writing for step-by-step instructions.
  • skimmable - Technical documentation should be designed with skimmability in mind, so it’s easy for readers to scan through the full document and easily find information they need. Technical writers should incorporate meaningful, descriptive headings and include a thorough table of contents and/or index.
  • problem-solving focus - Technical documents should be created with problem solving in mind. Readers use these documents to learn how to perform certain tasks or gain technical information, so they should be easy to follow and organized in a way that’s easy to refer back to as questions come up.

Documents that Use Technical Writing

Many types of documents are written in a technical writing style. Technical writing is found everywhere.

  • user manuals - Documents that provide instructions, such as user manuals, are a perfect example of technical writing. When readers open a user manual, their goal is to be informed about the product so they can use it correctly and as efficiently as possible.
  • lab reports - Lab reports are another example of technical writing. The main purpose of a lab report is to explain the occurrences in a lab so that others will be able to gain information.
  • driving directions - Even driving directions can be considered a type of technical writing. Their goal is to clearly and efficiently provide instructions on how to go from point A to point B.

Explore more examples of technical writing to discover other types of documents that use this type of writing.


Technical Writing Isn’t for Everyone

While everyone has perused technical writing at one time or the other, this type of writing can be very difficult for some people, especially those who prefer a creative approach to writing.

  • Technical writing requires a focus on factual information and procedures.
  • Technical writers must be able to translate information that is sometimes hard to comprehend into terms that people who are not experts on the topic will be able to read and follow along, without misunderstanding.
  • Clarity, rather than creativity, is the key to effective technical writing.

Technical Writing Insights

Overall, technical writing is a very useful form of writing that is encountered by everyone almost every day. By understanding the characteristics of technical writing, you can better comprehend how this type of writing is used and what is required to write this way. Fore more insights into how technical writing differs from other styles, explore expository writing versus technical writing. If this style of writing appeals to you, you may want to investigate how to become a technical writer.