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NON-FICTION VERSUS TECHNICAL WRITING

January 11, 2017

Sometimes, people have confused the two. Turns out, they’re completely different styles. Since I’ve written both, I can speak from experience. I did technical writing as a profession for a decade. I’ve also written a number of non-fiction stories.

NON-FICTION

Oh…kay. When you think about it, both non-fiction and technical writing are “technically” non-fiction. So, what’s the difference? When it comes to just non-fiction writing, in this case, we’re usually talking about a non-fiction story of some kind. That could be an autobiography, a memoir, history, philosophy, news or something that’s not made up. Something told in story format that’s not fiction.

TECHNICAL WRITING

Now, as for technical or tech-writing. What is it? It’s usually instructions, raw information, something that isn’t in a story format. Directions how to get from point A to B. Instructions on how to put together a piece of furniture. Procedures on how to fly a plane. How to use a piece of software.

DIFFERENCES

Okay, both are non-fiction, per se, but in one, a story is still being told where in the other, instructions are being conveyed. There’s a huge difference in the style of the telling (or showing, if you want to go there).

NON-FICTION STORYTELLING

In non-fiction storytelling, there are characters, there’s a goal (sort of a plot), and there’s a story flow. The writing had this flow from A to B and it’s up to the writer to make it interesting and to keep the reader engaged. This is where a lot of non-fiction books fail. The writer’s, at least to me, go too much for the literary and overdo minor details, description, mood, so as to paint a vivid picture. They bog down in details that have little to do with the main gist of the story. That’s one reason I rarely read non-fiction, besides that I like to spend my reading time being entertained rather than getting educated. Don’t get me wrong. I like to learn, but pick and choose. I’ll often pick up a book and go right to the section I’m interested in, rather than slog through all the background.

In summary, in non-fiction writing, all the elements of fiction are there except it’s true and there are certain restrictions and barriers that cannot be crossed without losing the integrity of the story, such as certain emotions and feelings the writer cannot know without being the person (unless it’s second hand information).

The point is, in this type of writing, there are potential feelings, emotions, actions and descriptions.

TECHNICAL WRITING PROCESS

In the technical writing process, there’s no emotion, no philosophy, no personal pronouns! This is neutral prose with the whole purpose of conveying information. Period. There is no other purpose. There is no story, no plot, no entertainment. There are instructions to show you, the reader, how to get from point A to B and that’s it.

EXAMPLES

NON-FICTION STORYTELLING

Nicola Tesla was a man of electricity. However, he had a stiff competitor in Thomas Edison. They were at loggerheads over which had the best method of a national electrical distribution grid. In the end, Edison won.

TECHNICAL WRITING

Take the new blade, face it forward in the bottom clamp. Rake your finger over the teeth gently, to make sure the teeth are facing down. Once this is assured, set the bottom end of the blade into the bottom clamp and tighten the knob. Make sure it’s standing straight up through the hole in the table.

Now, thread the blade through the pilot hole in the wood piece and clamp the other end of the blade to the upper clamp. Make sure enough of the blade sticks through the clamp to ensure a good grab. Then tighten the upper clamp.

Finally, lock the tensioner and fleck the blade with a finger to make sure it’s tight.

Turn on the saw.

SUMMARY

Notice the differences now? There are two types of non-fiction. Story and technical.

There is another type, such as in textbooks. In this case, what you might have is a mixture of the two styles. It might start with the story part, then when it gets down and dirty, the style may shift to the technical side.

There are, of course varieties.

Use them wisely, Grasshopper!

Happy writing!

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