The Techno-Creative Conundrum

©2015 Mark Henderson

One of the things I’ve observed in dealing with business people and individuals considering their options for developing their book is that most of these people seem to have pre-formed distinctions between technical or business and creative writing. And, while these types of writing are written for very different purposes, for very different audiences, and are therefore, by necessity, quite different in style, they are still writing—written communications intended to convey information from author to reader.

man writing a contract

As professional writers and editors, we are called on to write for all types of audiences over all types of media in all manner of styles. But, what we find is that most folks share some sort of secret belief system that the writer who produces technical writing cannot author powerful prose, or the writer who develops transactional business rules and processes cannot produce compelling copywriting, or poetry, or memoirs. It is, what we call, “The Techno-Creative Conundrum.”

But to us, there is no conundrum—other than having to convince others—between technical, business, and creative writing and editing. This is partly based on our work for a vast array of clients and a vast array or documents finding their intended marks across a wide spectrum of audiences. But, it is also based on a fundamental belief, or recognition rather, that all writing is both technical (i.e. structured) and creative.

“Say what?” you ask.

Yup. All writing is both technical and creative.

Let’s look at the creative side first. Let’s say, for just a brief example, Julie wants to write a story about how she became a CEO of a large company starting out as a sharecropper’s daughter. The story is there—she lived it and knows the facts. It’s up to somebody to write it and to write in a compelling way that reaches her target audience and not only communicates her story as a matter of facts; but rather, compels her readers to identify with her, to feel what she felt or feels, and in essence, to think along with her. It’s definitely going to take some creativity to do that. But without some technical discipline, without some structure, it’s going to wind up as some sort of “stream-of-consciousness” drivel that nobody with get. This story will require “structure”—technical discipline, if you will.

Starting with the most basic elements of written communications—sentence structures or compositions—moving to conceptual conventions such as when in the story to relay certain informational elements and how best to create and resolve conflicts, etcetera. And need we add agreed-to conventions of style, punctuation, grammar, and more, all of which are rules or disciplines of writing that provide structure to any good story.

But what about the technical writing side of the conundrum, you might ask? Where is creativity required in such writing?

Here’s a quick example. Let’s say the business needs to develop a form and a procedure for starting up huge uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs). Furthermore, it’s important to the business to gather data on the form, and to be able to find key elements of information at any point in the future.

The “strictly technical” side may elect to create a form for technicians to fill in blanks, develop a start-up procedure for each model of UPS that refers to the form, and then archive the forms. However, with a little creativity, the technical writer can create the procedure and the form in the same document. With some collaborative creativity, the writer may coordinate with the IT folks to create this instruction/form with the key fields placed so that the critical information from every UPS start-up can be archived electronically and searched on parameters important to the business.

Hopefully, without citing a nauseating series of examples for both creative being technical and technical being creative, we’ve made some headway into solving the “Techno-Creative Conundrum”.

I love what I overheard an anonymous senior runner at the Little Rock Marathon:  It’s all about the people, baby! It’s all about the people. In the case of technical versus creative writing, in a nutshell, it’s all about the people. Great technical and business writers and editors utilize tremendous creativity in producing documents that hit the mark; great creative writers use tremendous technical discipline and structure—even technical descriptions—in creating compelling creative writing that communicates the author’s message in a way that makes the reader go, “Wow! That was good.”