The second major difference is in the source material for the writing. Again looking at creative writing, the writer may have no particular source information upon which to base their work.
As the term suggests, the author may create the work from their own minds. Whilst some of the details or facts that a creative writer may use will be factual and could be checked, in the main, it is an art form.
Not so with technical writing, which should be regarded as a discipline.
All of the facts and information contained within a technical writer’s work should be traceable, and generally sourced from a piece of technical or design information for the product, system or process being described. All of the technical writer’s source data needs to come from an authoritative source.
For example, a writer has been tasked with producing a set of repair instructions for a washing machine. The first thing the writer will need is a set of plans or drawings from the manufacturer for the machine. If these are not available, the writer will need a specification from the designers to tell him what the machine does and how it operates. This is the writer’s source data upon which all of the work can be based to communicate the necessary information to the user. Sometimes, the writer may start with the product itself and figure out how it works and how it is built or maintained. This is still source data of sorts; the writing is still related back to the product with no creative input.
A third major difference is in the liability that a writer can bring upon themselves or their company as a result of producing and publishing a piece of work. You may have been reading the previous paragraph wondering why you need to be so rigorous just for a washing machine. This is where you find out.
Imagine the writer is not describing how to repair a washing machine. Imagine the writer is describing a set of procedures for replacing the nose undercarriage on a Boeing 747 passenger jet, or emergency shut-down procedures for a nuclear reactor. You can see now why the source data and the ability to trace the information back to the design is so important.
The writer could be caught in the middle of a potential safety issue if this information is not auditable and traceable back to properly governed engineering or technical data.
Hopefully now the differences between technical and creative writing are a bit clearer.