Academic vs Technical Writing

writing styles face-off

Shared and Unique Characteristics of Academic Writing and Technical Writing

A common mistake that many people make about writing is not using the appropriate type of writing for the purpose. Every mode, or type, of writing, has inherent situational value. Writing is a purpose driven practice with clear goals and unique style characteristics.

Some professional writing occupations include article writers, columnists, copywriters, ghostwriters, novelists, reviewers, songwriters, technical writers, and academic writers of the 25 total types of professional writers. However, the purpose of this article is to examine the unique characteristics of academic writing and technical writing.

Characteristics of Academic Writing

  • More complex than technical writing
  • Heavy use of jargon due to its focus on a specific discipline—includes business and IT domains famous for using technical writing
  • Goal is to persuade the reader
  • Contains essential elements (Structure (Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusion), Style & Formatting, Avoids plagiarism through judicious use of citations)
  • Logical progression of ideas that flow smoothly
  • Only allows third person pronouns (avoids I, me, myself, you, yourselves)
  • Includes a reference or bibliographical section
  • Uses in-text citations
  • Analytical and critical
  • Uses cautious language
  • Objective, formal, & impersonal language

Examples of Academic Documents

  • Essay
  • Research
  • Book review
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Review of literature
  • Journal
  • Article
  • Dissertation
  • Thesis

Characteristics of Technical Writing

  • Process oriented resembles a “how-to” instructional document
  • Goal is to clearly explain the sequential steps to achieve a specific task
  • Audience is the layperson
  • Clear, concise, & complete
  • Coherent
  • Allows 2nd and 3rd person pronouns
  • Avoids passive verbs 

Examples of Technical Documents

  • How-to guides
  • Resumes
  • Complaint letters
  • Proposals
  • Progress reports
  • Warning labels
  • Product descriptions
  • Policies & Procedures Manuals
  • Standard Operating Procedures
  • Instructions
  • Technical Specifications
  • Primary research reports
  • Classification
  • Definitions
  • Patents
  • Glossaries
  • End-user documentation

Qualities of Good Technical Writers and Academic Writers

Qualities Academic Writers Technical Writers
  • Communicates the main focus
  • Task-based heading
  • Describes what reader wants to do
  • Mostly active
  • Active
Colloquial language
  • Avoids, unless quoting (e.g., evidence collected during an interview)
  • Avoids
Language complexity
  • Generally complex
  • Avoids complexity
  • Avoids needless words
Strong/Weak language
  • Uses cautious language (e.g., data results indicate, show, or suggest.
  • NEVER proves because the statistical possibility of an error or random event makes 100% = proves impossible)
  • Limits the use of “to be” verbs
Standard Verb Tense
  • Present simple
  • Past simple
  • Present perfect
  • Simple future
  • Mostly present simple
Write for…
  • Scientific journals
  • University magazines
  • Often, employed by a company
  • Freelance clients
Monetary compensation
  • Generally not; Most academic writers are university professors. Publication in a scientific journal is an honor used to ensure continued employment and professional advancement.
  • Freelance clients can be lucrative
  • A lucrative business with continuous development of technology and products
Sentence length
  • Mostly medium to longer
  • Short
  • Heavy use
  • Avoids


Technical writing vs. Academic Writing
Types of Academic Writing
Sentence Structure of Technical Writing
Online Technical Writing: Examples, Cases, & Models
What kind of Writer Do You Want to Be?




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