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Difference Between Technical Writing and Literary Writing

Main difference –  technical writing vs literary writing.

Technical writing and Literary writing are two important writing styles used by writers depending on the subject matter, purpose and intended audience. The main difference between technical writing and literary writing is that, literary language is the writing style used in literary work while technical writing is a style used in writing for a particular field. Let us first briefly analyze theses two styles separately before discussing the difference between technical writing and literary writing.

What is Literary Writing

Literary writing is a style of writing that is used in creative and literary work; this is the style of writing that is used in fiction . Examples for literary writing includes poems, novels, short stories, dramas etc. The most significant difference between literary writing and other styles of writing is that the language used in literary writing uses many literary figures . Observe the below-given stanza to observe this feature.

“I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

                                                                        Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”                                                                                       

(First stanza from William Wordsworth’s “I wandered Lonely As a Cloud”)

difference between technical writing and literary writing

A Novel, an example for literary writing

What is Technical Writing

Technical writing is a style of writing used in delivering technical information regarding a particular subject. Here, the intended audience should have a certain knowledge about the subject in order to understand the technical jargon and the meaning of the text. Technical writing is the style of writing that is mostly observed in Non-fiction. Examples for technical writing include essays , manuals, reports etc. This style of writing is direct and simple. If we were to express the idea conveyed in the above poem in technical writing, we’d simply say. “The narrator was walking alone, when he saw a patch of daffodils near the lake.”

technical vs. literary writing

A Manual, an example for Technical Writing

Let us now look at the differences between technical writing and literary writing,


Technical writing:   Technical writing is a process of managing technical information in a way that allow people to take actions.

Literary writing:   Literary writing is a creating innovative, creative work, such as poems or novels, and compilations or volumes of creative work.

Technical Writing: Written to inform, instruct readers about a certain thing.

Literary Writing: Written to entertain, amuse readers.

Technical Writing:   The language used in technical writing is direct, factua l, and straightforward.

Literary Writing:  The language used in literary writing is creative, imaginative and uses literary techniques like hyperbole, personification, similes, metaphors, etc.

Technical Writing: Technical Writing appeals to the mind.

Literary Writing: Literary Writing appeals to emotions.

Technical Writing: Technical writing has technical vocabulary, simple sentences, impersonal, objective tone .

Literary Writing: Literary writing might have complex sentence structure and linguistic aspects like dialects, ambiguity, etc.

Technical Writing: Technical writing is written for those who are knowledgeable about that particular subject area.

Literary Writing: Literary writing is written for general readers.

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Hasanthi is a seasoned content writer and editor with over 8 years of experience. Armed with a BA degree in English and a knack for digital marketing, she explores her passions for literature, history, culture, and food through her engaging and informative writing.

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Technical vs. Academic, Creative, Business, and Literary Writing: What Is the Difference?

what is literary writing definition

Technical writing is all about the content that focuses on providing detailed and clear information on the product or service. It contains a factual and straightforward message. Technical writers convert complex technical information into useful and easy-to-understand language. You should know that there are different types of technical writing , for example, online tutorials , instruction manuals, API documentation, and so on.

The main idea of all types of technical writing is to help the end-user understand any technical aspect of the product or service.

In addition to technical writing, there are many types of other writings, such as creative, business, and literary writing. All of them have distinctive features. Let’s compare these writings to technical writing and see what they have in common and what makes them different.

Technical Writing vs. Academic Writing

Some people might think these two types of writing are similar. The truth is that these are two completely different categories. It may seem that academic writing should be more complicated since it is focused on some specific and narrow discipline. Indeed, this type of writing may describe very complex concepts and provide specialized knowledge.

Technical writing is intended to describe technical information. It may vary depending on the specifics of a particular industry.

Academic writing is aimed to present a certain point of view on a particular subject. Academic papers show results of research and demonstrate someone’s knowledge. In turn, technical writing explains something to readers and informs them. Technical papers often explain how to use a particular product or service. Technical documents can also describe procedures used by the manufacturer to perform certain tasks. What technical and academic writing have in common is that both types may contain jargon.

Academic and technical writing target different audiences. Academic papers are usually intended for fellow scholars. However, there are also academic pieces of writing intended for a broad audience. Technical writing is intended for people who use a product or service.

Technical Writing vs. Creative Writing

Creative writing is a piece of writing for entertainment and education. It focuses on imaginative and symbolic content, and creative papers are published to entertain, provoke, inspire the user. Technical writing, on the other hand, is not done to amuse its reader. It is used to inform someone. Some technical articles are sometimes made to trigger the reader to take action.

There is no such specific reader who prefers creative papers. Anyone can read the creative paper if they want to, and it gives readers a theme, message, moral, or lesson which is helpful in their real lives or provides temporary entertainment to the reader.

Creative writing has many genres and subgenres. If you want to write creatively, you should have talent. Of course, talent alone is not enough - practice is everything here.

It doesn’t mean that creativity can’t be used in technical writing. Technical articles contain so many facts and data that they can bore and overwhelm readers. This is where creativity in technical writing might come in handy. A tech writer should be creative to encourage their readers to continue reading the document.

hands pointing on documents with a pen

Technical Writing vs. Business Writing

Business writing is just about any kind of writing people do at work, if we are not talking about journalism or creative writing. Business writing includes reports, emails, proposals, white papers, minutes, business cases, letters, copywriting, bids, and tenders.

However, many reports, bids, and proposals contain technical data and specifications. So business writers may find themselves editing technical content, and technical writers may be called upon to write persuasive documents for a non-technical audience.

The main objective for both these writings is to inform, be useful, build something or operate the equipment.

The language needs to be clear, concise, and accurate. Wordiness, repetition, and unfamiliar words that the audience may not understand do not belong in either business or technical writing.

Of course, you can use technical jargon in documents where the audience has the same technical background. But too much jargon tends to be a huge problem. So, if in doubt, avoid jargon or explain it.

Some business documents need to be persuasive, whereas technical documents tend to be neutral and objective.

However, there are differences in the content, language, and style of technical and business writing. More on technical writing in business is in our article What Value Technical Writers Bring to Business?

Technical Writing vs. Literary Writing

The main difference between technical writing and literary writing is that literary language is used in literary work while technical writing is used in writing for a particular field. Literary writing is used in fiction. Examples of literary writing include poems, novels, short stories, dramas, etc. The language used in literary writing is creative, imaginative and uses literary techniques like hyperbole, personification, similes, metaphors, etc.

Technical writing is the style of writing that is mostly observed in non-fiction. The language used in technical writing is direct, factual, and straightforward.

Literary writing appeals to emotions. Technical writing appeals to the mind.

Technical writing is aimed at people who have knowledge about a particular subject area. Literary writing is written for general readers.

flatlay pens pencils notebook laptop

Every writing style is important in its own way. They are used by writers depending on the subject matter, purpose, language, and target audience. Below is the table that summarizes what you found out about the types of writing mentioned in this article:

comparison table of writings

It doesn’t matter what you write: essays, business materials, fiction, letters, or just notes in your journal, your writing will be at its best if you stay focused on your purpose and target audience.

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The boys and the frogs, the metamorphosis, the declaration of independence in american.

what is literary writing definition

What is literary fiction? How to develop a literary voice

What is literary fiction? Literary fiction explores subtleties and complexities of language, theme and symbolism and tends to be character-driven rather than plot driven. Read a definition plus tips on how to develop literary writing style:

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What is literary fiction

What is literary fiction? Literary fiction explores subtleties and complexities of language, theme and symbolism. It tends to be character-driven rather than plot driven. Read a definition plus tips on how to develop literary writing style:

How do you define literary fiction?

If you read the definition from Oxford Languages and the Cambridge Dictionary , combined with other definitions from around the web, it becomes clear that literary fiction is:

  • valued highly for its quality of form, endurance and playful use of language
  • writing placed into the category ‘literature’ (books culturally accepted as ‘literary’ because they have common features such as elevated writing style or dense allusion)

Examples of literary fiction include the modernist author Virginia Woolf’s book To the Lighthouse  and the novels of Nobel-winning authors such as Toni Morrison and J.M. Coetzee.

Common features of literary fiction

Demanding subject matter, themes, or interpretive framework

Often, literary fiction is more ‘demanding’ than genre fiction. Like genre fiction, it may use tropes such as the Hero’s Journey , yet may depart more from expected conventions, too.

This is one reason why many describe literary fiction as cerebral or ‘difficult’. It tends to require the reader to be more active in the act of making meaning and interpreting. It doesn’t always hand a decisive, singular interpretation to the reader , wrapped in a neat bow.

Emphasis on context and milieu (in reception)

The themes and subtexts or references of the text (often serious rather than comedic) in literary fiction are often important.

Writing happens in a context, after all. It happens in place and time. A story’s social and historical context (aspects of reading that change over time) shapes (and shifts) how readers approach it.

Part of this is due to the way literary texts are given as set works and studied in educational contexts. Critical thinking requires learners to read more broadly, compare texts, situate them in their contexts (or create interesting new conversations between them).

A story’s literary status is not static Many books classified literary were written in past centuries. The so-called classics.

Societal beliefs and values change. Vocabularies do, too. Charles Dickens, now found on ‘Classics’ shelves, was the Stephen King of his Victorian times . The way he serialized popular stories such as The Pickwick Papers (1836) predates Kindle Vella.

H.G. Wells quote - nothing leads so straight to futility as literary ambitions without systematic knowledge.

Literary vs popular fiction: Blurring the line

Before we discuss ways to develop your literary style , we’ll briefly examine the ‘literature vs genre’ debate, and the idea of genre snobbery.

Literary is a bookstore category, not a genre

A lot has been written debating the merits of literary fiction versus genre fiction (genres such as fantasy, romance, crime, thriller).

Elizabeth Edmonson, writing for The Guardian , for example, argues that Jane Austen wasn’t writing ‘literature’ and that posterity made that decision for her. In some respects it’s true that ‘literary fiction is just clever marketing’, as her article’s title suggests.

But what are some useful differences?

Literary fiction may combine genres or create its own

Many novels classified as literary are simply tough to categorize. Experimentation, subverting tropes or narrative conventions, might weaken argument a story fits this or that genre, for example.

Sui generis (Latin for ‘of its own kind’) stories might mix fictive elements with non-fiction.

Genre fiction tends to require of writers that you know your genre and deliver on its promises. For example, the reader knows they’ll find the meet cute and happily ever after in feel-good romance.

Now Novel writing coach Romy Sommer shares more on knowing your genre in the writing webinar extract below:

Literary writers have explored hybrid genre often. Several of Margaret Atwood’s books explore science fiction or speculative themes, as did Kazuo Ishiguro’s  Never Let Me Go .

Graham Greene famously alternated between writing literary fiction and genre thrillers while the Scottish literary writer Iain Banks published science fiction novels as Iain M. Banks.

Other literary books mash up multiple genres ( David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas , for example, which mixes historical, detective, dystopian and sci-fi elements).

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Genre fiction has many of literary fiction’s hallmarks

Although some may say literary fiction is ‘art’ while genre fiction is ‘mass market’, can one say this about the epic historical quality of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings cycle?

Many essays and even whole books argue that Tolkien deserves ‘serious’ study in literary and critical establishments.

Some genre fiction also concerns itself with elements such as language and is not necessarily plot-driven (a common but false distinction used to separate genre from the literary – plot-driven equals genre, while character-driven equals literary).

Examples of writers who write or wrote genre fiction but who are literary in the breadth and depth of their work include Ursula K. Le Guin, John le Carré and Neil Gaiman.

What is literary fiction? 5 features - infographic

Literary fiction and the genre snob debate

Some argue that literary fiction goes hand in hand with snobbery or elitism.

Literary novelists may come from any number of backgrounds. Literary fiction is, however, mostly written and read by a more privileged class (people who have access to things like libraries or tertiary education). Genre fiction, with its more mass-market roots, is often seen as more working class.

Whether or not you see it as rarified, complex or overwrought, literary fiction has a great deal to offer. If you usually write genre fiction, reading literary fiction can show you ways to use language and form playfully – though not reinventing the wheel entirely does ensure the accessibility that helps genre fiction sell.

Whether your focus is primarily genre or literary fiction, here are some of the ways that you can develop your own literary style:

How to develop literary style in writing:

  • Avoid or subvert genre clichés
  • Read literary writers
  • Copy out passages from literary works you like
  • Play with form and narrative conventions
  • Go deeper with allusion and intertext

1. Avoid or subvert genre clichés

In some genre fiction, heroines are always beautiful, heroes always brave. The detective always solves the crime. People live happily ever after, and good prevails over evil. Bad guys are bad through and through.

There is nothing wrong with these clichés (or rather, tropes – story elements that recur and are recycled). Authors repeat tropes because:

  • They are familiar and recognizable and thus comforting – we know what we’re getting in a James Bond movie
  • Readers of specific genres tend to expect them
  • They often serve important story elements such as plot development, or characters’ goals, motivations and conflict

How to make stories literary – undercut genre tropes

Genre fiction often gives us tropes such as ‘innocent orphan boy must save the world’ ( Star Wars , Harry Potter ). Literary fiction often turns these commonly recycled ideas upside down.

What happens if a crime is never solved? David Lynch famously ended Twin Peaks (a very postmodern – some would say ‘difficult’ – TV show often requiring the viewer to draw their own conclusions) on a detective becoming a possible antagonist. The story thus opens out into disturbing possibility rather than providing the comfort of closure .

What if two people move mountains to be together and then discover they don’t actually like one another very much? In literary fiction this might be the premise for a tragic or comedic story.

The bleak, violent, morally ambiguous world of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire is a far cry from high fantasy fiction in which good prevails. Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley crime novels are not about a cranky detective catching a criminal. Instead, they’re narrated by a sociopath.

Think of ways you could subvert or undercut what is expected of genre elements in your story. This is a common literary device, including parody (which sends up or pokes fun at typical genre ploys).

2. Read literary writers

You need to read the kind of fiction you want to write. Answering the question ‘what is literary fiction?’ is easier the more you read.

Make an effort to read some of the classic writers (such as Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Chinua Achebe and William Faulkner, for example) as well as contemporary writers.

Magazines such as The New Yorker ,  The Paris Review   and  Granta   publish short fiction by the top literary writers of today.

Prizes such as the Booker and the Nobel Prize for Literature can point you towards critically acclaimed literary novels, too.

As you read, notice the many different types of literary writers and how writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Helen Oyeyemi experiment with genre or the fantastical. On the other hand, writers such as Alice Munro and Jonathan Franzen work in a more realist storytelling – yet still literary – vein.

Reading literary fiction avidly will help you understand its conventions well. When you try to write it, start by imitating authors you love because this will help you develop your style:

3. Copy out passages from literary works you like

Copy out sentences by famous literary authors often. This is how Bach (considered one of the greatest masters of western classical music) learned musical composition .

In addition to copying passages word for word from the writers you admire, you might also try to write some passages of your own or even an entire story mimicking an author’s style. John Banville wrote Mrs. Osmond as a kind of literary-pastiche-meets-sequel after Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady .

Copying writers you love helps because you pay closer attention to the mechanics. You peel back the skin to see the bones that knit together an author’s specific writing style and voice. This helps you assimilate the elements you like, and filter them through your own voice.

4. Play with form and narrative conventions

One thing you’ll notice as you read literary fiction is how freely literary writers depart from narrative convention.

This is nothing new; many consider the 18th Century novel  Tristram Shandy  by Laurence Sterne an early forerunner of 20th Century postmodern playfulness.

In the early 20th Century, modernist writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf play with language and modify traditional narrative structures. Decades later, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest told much of its story via footnotes. In literary writing, we don’t have to reproduce traditional ideas about storytelling or ‘given’ forms.

Genre has its experimental writers as well such as science fiction Samuel Delany. Mark Z. Danielewski, while not necessarily a horror writer, wrote a haunted house novel,   The House of Leaves , that upends both narrative and typographical expectations.

5. Go deeper with allusion and intertexts

Intertext – literally ‘between text’ – is a literary theory term coined by theorist Julia Kristeva . It refers to the way writing exists in conversation with other writing.

A hallmark of literary fiction is that it often draws on other writing. One way it does this is through allusion (for example, the way Aslan being resurrected in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series calls to mind Jesus Christ). A character hesitating or looking back and losing everything by doing so would immediately call to mind (for those familiar with it) the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice .

Some literary texts literally rewrite or retell prior stories, from different or novel vantage points. As an example, Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) tells the story of Bertha, a secondary character in Bronté’s classic Jane Eyre (1847), from a more feminist perspective.

How can you hide easter eggs or allusions for the astute or well-read reader to discover? Or how how might you ‘write back’ to a previous story, questioning some of its blind spots, the failings or follies of its times? These are literary questions.

If you want to start and finish writing a literary novel, get writing feedback and help developing your book on Now Novel .

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  • Tags literary fiction , writing genres

what is literary writing definition

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

16 replies on “What is literary fiction? How to develop a literary voice”

Overly obsessed with patting the bottom of genre fiction.

This is a great phrase (though I’m not sure who is overly obsessed with patting bottoms here) – as long as it’s consensual! 🙂 Thanks for reading.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this essay on literary fiction! Such great points and no, I don’t think it is condescending to genre writers at all.

I’m writing my first Literary Fiction novel after attending the Iowa Writers Workshop 26 years ago.

I read/listen to mostly thriller And detective fiction. But I read/listen to James Lee Burke, Greg Iles, and other authors who really like to use language in form and meaning. I find there are many great works in genre fiction that cross the lines.

Great piece! I’m bookmarking this!

Hi Iowashorts, thank you for sharing that! It’s true, many works do blur the lines between the literary and the popular. Thank you for reading our blog and sharing your thoughts, and good luck with your novel.

This was very informative. Thank you for writing this. I want to write children’s books. Does this information apply to that genre and if it does, could you recommend some examples?

Hi Angela, it’s a pleasure, I’m glad you found this helpful. I would say it does not entirely, as literary fiction is quite far from children’s books in terms of style, format, tone and reading level typically. Children’s author Alan Durant has a good article on writing for younger readers for Penguin UK here .

What about literary faction?

What about it, DF? Please share your thoughts.

Fiction, fiction, fiction … why are so many historical and in particular espionage novels thus? It is a real shame more historical and espionage thrillers aren’t truly fact based. Courtesy of being fictional the readers’ experience is narrowed and the extra dimensions available from reading fact based books are lost. Factual novels enable the reader to research more about what’s in the novel in press cuttings, history books etc and such research can be as rewarding and compelling as reading an enthralling novel. Furthermore, if even just marginally autobiographical, the author has the opportunity to convey the protagonist’s genuine hopes and fears as opposed to hypothetical drivel about say what it feels like to avoid capture. A good example of such a “real” espionage thriller is Beyond Enkription, the first spy novel in The Burlington Files series by Bill Fairclough. Its protagonist was of course a real as opposed to a celluloid spy and has even been likened to a “posh and sophisticated Harry Palmer”. The first novel in the series is indisputably noir, maybe even a tad Deightonesque. If anyone ever makes a film based on Beyond Enkription they’ll only have themselves to blame if it doesn’t go down in history as a classic espionage thriller.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about fiction vs historical/factual books, Daniel. A very interesting read.

One thing it made me think of is how theorists of historical writing have posited that history is also written with agendas, points of view, and other imaginative or ‘invention-oriented’ (for want of a better word) principles, so that history texts presented as non-fiction do not necessarily give us ‘non-diluted’ truths (or avoid hypothetical drivel!). In some instances, history has been written by technologized victors, for example, while the side of the story in oral cultures goes untold – at least in books.

So I agree with some of what you say, but I also like how reading fiction can help a person to arrive at a sense of ‘truth and lie in an extra-moral sense’ (to borrow a phrase from Nietzsche), through the cracked mirror of invention.

to the question of why aren’t more historical/espionage books fact based? well other than the huge question of whose version of events to base the story on, I prefer to write made up worlds that are *very* similar to real places and events because of the zeitgeist, i.e. the fear of being torn down not on the merit of the story but on the ‘authenticity’ of the voice and location.

Hi Jen, thank you for sharing your perspective and contributing to the discussion. That’s true about factual writing, that it becomes a question of perspective and how one deals with multiple versions of events or possibly contradictory sources. This is one of the reasons why some authors prefer to blend factual and fictive elements (and give a caveat that a story is partially factual).

I remember a history textbook from my schooling days that had a single, ‘grand narrative’, but then used text boxes with micro histories throughout (individual people’s stories). This worked well as you got a sense of the broad sweep of history, plus a chorus-like sense of multiple perspectives and the different experiences across class and ethnicity. Alternating viewpoints would be one way to incorporate different sources like this in a narrative-only format.

Following the advice to read what you want to write, can you recommend any contemporary literary fiction written in third-person omniscient POV? I’m new and having difficulty finding that combination with my poor search abilities.

Hi James, thank you for your question. What genre are you writing? Third-person omniscient isn’t nearly as popular today as it was in previous eras as it’s fallen out of favor to a large extent as more writers adopt either limited third person, first person or multi-POV fixed viewpoints (for example, a novel with three first-person narrators whose viewpoints alternate). A contemporary example that comes to mind (though not that recent) is Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief which is narrated by Death personified. What confuses matters is I’ve seen many lists proclaiming books to be third-person omniscient when they are actually multi-viewpoint third person. For it to be omniscient, a single character or non-involved narrator must be able to know what is happening to (or has happened to) multiple characters; changing viewpoint alone does not make the POV omniscient.

Hello, James! I am newish, too. I’m not too keen on the modern trend of writing in the first person, either. Two years ago, when I began my Mediocre American Novel, I thought I was writing in third-person omniscient. I soon realized that I was using third-person limited. The POV sometimes changed rapidly, but the reader never received information hidden from the characters.

Thank you for joining the conversation, Kathy! I love ‘Mediocre American Novel’, haha. I’m guessing it’s a riposte to the idea of the ‘Great American Novel’.

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