Creativity in Technical Writing

Subject: Creativity in Technical Writing
From: Jennifer Kraus <jlkraus -at- AMETEKWATER -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 26 Mar 1997 15:39:53 -0600

Rachel Schumacher asks:
"The manual HOW TO KEEP YOUR VOLKSWAGEN ALIVE: A Manual
ofStep-by-step Procedures for the Complete Idiot. by John Muir, John Muir
Publications, is an example of a more creative type of technical writing.
There is also the entire line of Dummies books for various things like computer
programs and other tasks. My question: Is there a place in technical writing
for creativity, and if so what are the limitations?"

It sounds to me as if you may be more interested in comparing "creative writing" to "technical writing." I think any piece of technical writing a person "creates" involves creativity by default, even though it may not be what a poet or literature buff has in mind when they speak of the creative impulse. So much of technical writing is finding the best solution to a particular documentation problem, or trying to bridge the gap between how an engineer thinks his product should work and what a customer needs to know to install/use it. And that takes the ability to apply a type of "usable" creativity, as opposed to the "artistic" creativity inherent in literature.

I don't think you'll find a whole lot of documentation/web sites dealing with the correlation between creative and technical writers. I recently graduated with an English lit major and a technical writing minor, with almost enough credits to have a creative writing minor as well. The "techies" and the lit/creative writing people were like different species. For the most part, my technical writing colleagues thought the creative writing people were loony and long-winded, and the creative writers thought the tech writers were those who decided to "sell out" rather than be starving artists. As a fence-walker, I felt like an alien in both environments. I personally felt that learning technical writing helped make my creative writing more succinct, and that my creative writing/literature background helped give me the ability to view the English language from different perspectives. I'm all for having every tech writing program require a creative writing class and vice-versa. I think the different genres can teach each other a lot, even if it's just developing a healthy respect for each other.

If you are interested in exploring some of the creative aspects of technical writing, I used a textbook in a class last semester in which we studied narratives in technical writing...it was really fascinating stuff. I can't remember exactly what it was called, but if you are interested, email me and I can find out for you.

Jennifer L. Kraus
Technical Writer/Web Administrator
AMETEK Water Filtration Products
Sheboygan, WI


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