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, minutes, letters, copywriting, bids and tenders.
However, there is some crossover. Many 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.
A different language?
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. 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.
Style and structure
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.
However, some business documents need to be persuasive in style, whereas technical documents tend to be neutral and objective.
This doesn’t mean that bids and proposals aren’t clear, factual or accurate. Their structure focuses the readers’ attention on business benefits, such as cost savings or increased revenue, rather than on technical features. The technical detail supports and validates these benefits.
On balance, there are differences in the content, language, style and structure of technical and business writing. But they also require similar skills – both need to be clear, concise, correct and tailored to the audience.