Expository vs Technical Writing: How Are They Different?

Brianna Anderson
March 20, 2024
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Effective writers have a lot in common with chameleons. They can quickly analyze a situation and adapt their communication style in the blink of an eye. One day, they might craft an industry whitepaper with technical jargon and hard-hitting facts. The next day, they could use vivid metaphors and puns to create a compelling narrative for a travel blog. 

Understanding the difference between expository vs technical writing can help you seamlessly transition between formats and styles. Expository writing presents factual information in an analytical or explanatory way. By contrast, technical writing synthesizes and simplifies complicated concepts for specific audiences. Many writers work on a mixture of expository and technical projects throughout their careers. 

This guide provides an in-depth look at the differences between expository and technical writing, including common types of each and strategies to hone your expository and technical writing skills

What Is the Expository Form of Writing?

Expository writing uses evidence and analysis to educate readers about a topic. It aims to present factual information in a straightforward and objective manner. Writers typically use a linear and structured approach to lay out all the facts. 

This kind of writing often involves research to gather relevant evidence about the topic. Writers may include data, quotes from reliable sources, statistics, and other credible information. They also list their sources to establish their authority and allow readers to verify their claims. 

Additionally, the informative purpose of expository writing shapes the language and sentence structures. Writers aren’t trying to persuade readers or sell them a product, so they tend to use concise and unemotional language. They also organize information logically to guide the audience through the content.

But that doesn’t mean expository writing is boring or predictable. It should still engage the reader, even if it doesn’t try to sway them emotionally. 

Types of Expository Writing

There are many expository writing styles with different purposes and audiences. You may encounter these kinds of writing in academic, professional, and personal settings. 


Essays are one of the most popular kinds of expository writing. This piece of writing uses evidence and analysis to explain or make an informed argument about a particular topic. An essay typically has a clearly defined introduction, body paragraphs that explore the subject, and a conclusion. 

There are four main types of expository essays: 

  • Cause and Effect: This essay unpacks the factors or conditions that led to specific outcomes. It aims to uncover the origins of an effect and may also explore the consequences that follow. For example, the Mayo Clinic’s essay “Teens and social media use: What’s the impact?” explores how social media usage (the cause) can negatively impact teenagers’ mental health (the effect). 
  • Compare and Contrast: This kind of writing focuses on the similarities and differences between two or more ideas. The most effective compare-and-contrast essays examine concepts that connect in a meaningful or unexpected way. For instance, U.S. & World News published “Private School vs. Public School” to inform parents about the similarities and differences between schooling options for their children.   
  • Problem and Solution: This essay introduces a problem, explains why it’s important to address it, and proposes one or more potential solutions. It may also anticipate and refute objections to the solutions. CNBC pitches solutions for climate change in “8 easy – and cheap – ways to cut your carbon emissions.” 
  • Process: This piece of writing offers a step-by-step explanation for a specific task or mechanism. It teaches broad audiences about the sequential steps involved in making a process work or completing a task. The New York Times article “How to Write a ‘How-To’: A Step-by-Step Guide to our Contest” is an example of a process essay and a guide to writing one yourself. 

Descriptive Writing

Descriptive writing uses rich language and literary devices to educate the reader about a topic. It’s more creative and expressive than other expository writing types. However, descriptive writing is still grounded in factual information and objectivity. Writers aim to engage readers and evoke vivid images without compromising the essay’s accuracy.

Descriptive expository writing has these characteristics: 

  • Appeals to the five senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch) 
  • An emphasis on the storytelling aspect of writing 
  • Detailed descriptions of people, places, and other subjects 
  • Use of similes, metaphors, and other figurative language 

Exploratory Writing

Exploratory writing investigates a problem, a topic, or experience. Creators often use this type of writing to work through an idea or explore different aspects of an issue without taking a firm stance. For instance, in this article from The Guardian, a writer weighs the pros and cons of having children: “As a science journalist I’m reconsidering having kids. I’m not the only one.” 

An exploratory piece of writing has these traits: 

  • Considers the topic from multiple perspectives 
  • Incorporates evidence from a broad range of sources 
  • Use exploratory language, such as “I wonder” and “what if”
  • Has a questioning and curious tone 
  • Has an open-ended conclusion

Anecdotal Evidence

An anecdote is a story based on an individual’s personal experiences or observations.

Anecdotes can be incredibly powerful, especially if they’re engaging and resonate with audiences. In fact, a meta-analysis found that anecdotal evidence is more persuasive than statistical evidence when the audience feels emotionally invested in the subject. 

However, writers must use anecdotal evidence responsibly. Anecdotes often don’t tell the full story and may contradict scientific knowledge. For instance, a pet owner may claim that cheese made their dog sick, but that doesn’t mean cheese is unsafe for all animals. This anecdote may also overlook factors contributing to the dog’s illness, like the cheese’s expiration date and the pet’s overall health. 

Writers can also unintentionally reinforce bias if they only choose anecdotes that confirm their assumptions. That’s why it’s essential for writers to use anecdotes from diverse sources and balance them with other types of evidence, such as expert testimony and empirical data. 

Sequential Writing

Sequential writing presents information in a logical and chronological order. The narrative moves from beginning to end without jumping around in time or taking unnecessary detours. Creators use this type of writing to establish a clear progression of events. For example, Vox’s article “A timeline of Israel and Palestine’s complicated history” discusses a sequence of events that have taken place in the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

These are key traits of sequential writing: 

  • Uses specific dates or times 
  • Consistent tone and pacing 
  • Clear transitions to delineate events 

Tips for Mastering Expository Writing

Expository writing is one of the most effective ways to communicate knowledge with others, but it's not always easy. Writers must engage readers without sacrificing clarity and objectivity. 

These five strategies can help you create excellent expository writing: 

  • Understand your audience. Identify your target audience and tailor your expository writing accordingly. Industry leaders may prefer to read long-form content with sophisticated language and in-depth analysis. Meanwhile, readers unfamiliar with your topic will need simple language and plenty of definitions. 
  • Follow a clear and logical structure. Expository writing should present information in a clear, well-organized manner. Start with an introduction that provides background information and summarizes your main point. Next, use headers and paragraphs to lay out your evidence logically. You may choose to present information chronologically, hierarchically, or thematically. 
  • Choose high-quality sources. Research is the cornerstone of every expository piece of writing, so it’s essential to pick the right sources. Look for accurate and timely content published by experts on your topic. Google Scholar is an excellent resource for finding peer-reviewed articles. You can also gather evidence from industry reports, government websites, and reputable news outlets. 
  • Provide diverse evidence. Strengthen your expository pieces by providing diverse evidence from various sources. A short article could include statistics from different studies and real-life examples. Extended writing can consist of many types of evidence, such as case studies and expert testimony. This evidence highlights the depth of your research and makes your writing more compelling. 
  • Present information objectively. Expository writing sticks to the facts. Include credible evidence for all your claims and use a neutral tone. You should also carefully review your writing to make sure you don’t accidentally insert your own biases or views. 

What Is the Technical Form of Writing?

Technical writing conveys specialized knowledge to a specific audience for a purpose. It aims to provide clear and precise instructions or information about complicated topics.

This form of writing often requires inside knowledge of an industry or topic. Technical writers use their expertise to synthesize complex ideas into concise and easy-to-understand language. They also explain or translate technical terms for broad audiences.

Like expository writing, technical writing prioritizes clarity and objectivity. It uses purposeful language catered to the needs of the audience. Technical documents are clearly organized with headings and subheadings, bulleted lists, and numbered steps for easy comprehension. They often include diagrams, charts, and other visual aids to illustrate complex ideas. 

Types of Technical Writing

Many different types of writing fall under the umbrella of technical communication. Organizations often use different methods to reach different audiences, so it's important for writers to understand the basics of each type.

User Guides or User Manuals

User guides and user manuals teach customers how to set up, maintain, and use products. Many people use these terms interchangeably, but they’re different forms of writing with distinct purposes. 

User manuals are comprehensive documents that provide in-depth information about a product or system. They typically include: 

  • Assembly instructions
  • Product specifications
  • Maintenance requirements
  • Safety information
  • Troubleshooting tips
Tesla Model Y Owner's Manual - DOWNLOAD
This Tesla user manual includes detailed product specifications. Source: Teslarati

User manuals for cars and other complex products may have dozens or hundreds of pages. They're often broken into chapters and sections so readers can more easily find the information they need.

User guides are much shorter and teach users how to perform essential tasks. They may also include a quick overview of the product’s features and functions. Furniture and simple appliances often come with user guides that provide basic instructions for assembly and usage. 

Statements of Work (SOW)

A statement of work is an agreement between a business and a client. It describes the products and services the company will deliver as part of a project. 

A SOW typically covers these key components: 

  • Goals of the project
  • Project scope, including deliverables and limitations 
  • Timeline and milestones 
  • Budget
  • Resources needed
  • Acceptance criteria 

Technical writers often collaborate with project managers and clients to create SOWs. 

Policies and Procedures

Policies and procedures spell out how employees should behave and perform their job duties. They provide detailed guidelines for every aspect of an organization’s operations. Employees can use these documents to understand their roles and comply with regulations and standards. 

Here are a few common examples of policies and procedures: 

  • Anti-discrimination policy 
  • Code of conduct 
  • Data security protocols 
  • Smoking policy 
  • Termination procedures 

White Papers

A white paper is an in-depth report that provides expert analysis of an issue or trend. Businesses create white papers about topics related to their products and sales. However, these documents aim to educate readers, not make an overt sales pitch. 

Infographic showing stats of "30% are planning to leave their current jobs", "50% of those leaving plan to leave clinical practice completely", and "90% of those planning to leave clinical practice won't return once gone"
This infographic from the white paper "Stay, Please - A Challenge To the Veterinary Profession To Improve Employee Retention" uses statistics to highlight the retention crisis in the veterinarian field. Source: American Animal Hospital Association

White papers are academic and typically contain infographics, statistics, and expert quotes. Writing technical white papers helps companies establish themselves as industry authority figures and thought leaders. 

Software Documentation

Software documentation refers to written materials and illustrations that describe a software program’s system, processes, and functionality. This documentation can address various audiences, including software developers, engineers, and end users. 

There are many types of software documentation, including: 

  • Design documentation 
  • Requirements documentation 
  • Support documentation 
  • System architecture documentation 
  • User manuals

Scientific and Medical Papers

Scientific and medical papers are peer-reviewed academic articles written by researchers, doctors, and other experts. These documents present research findings, cutting-edge advancements, and theories. They’re written for other academics and specialists, so they often use jargon and sophisticated language. 

Conventions vary somewhat by discipline, but scientific and medical papers typically have these components: 

  • Abstract summarizing the paper’s goals, approaches, and results
  • Introduction with a hypothesis 
  • Description of methods and tools used 
  • Results presented in descriptive paragraphs, charts, or figures
  • Discussion of the findings and their implications 

Assembly Manuals

An assembly manual is a brief document that guides readers through the process of putting together a product. It contains simple step-by-step instructions written for non-experts. It often includes troubleshooting tips and safety precautions as well. Manufacturers often provide assembly manuals for furniture, electronics, and toys. 

Technical Reports and Reviews

Technical reports and reviews are non-peer-reviewed documents that describe and analyze technical processes, projects, and products. They aim to inform the reader about the significance of their subjects and their implications for industry practices. 

Technical reports and reviews may include descriptions of unsuccessful experiments, data, literature reviews, and recommendations for future projects. These documents are typically created by scientists, engineers, and other academics. 

Tips for Writing Technical Tests Flawlessly

Technical content writing can be a challenge, even for experienced writers. Writers need a deep understanding of their subject, or else risk sharing misleading or flat-out false information. They also need to synthesize and simplify complex information without compromising precision. It’s a tricky balance to strike.

These tips can help refine your technical writing skills: 

  • Develop expertise in your subject. Study the product or process you’re documenting before you fire up your computer to write. If possible, use the product first to understand how it works. You can also interview subject matter experts, read relevant articles, and attend training sessions. Your knowledge will allow you to create the most comprehensive and accurate documents. 
  • Study other writers’ technical documents. Reading real documentation is one of the most effective ways to master the basics of technical writing. Analyze their structure, language, and style to gain insights into technical writing conventions. 
  • Simplify and streamline your language. Technical writing should be concise, easy to understand, and unambiguous. Avoid complex terminology and jargon that your target audience may not understand. You should also cut the fluff in writing and only include strictly necessary information.  
  • Test your documentation. You won’t know if your technical writing has achieved its purpose unless you test it with users. Ask stakeholders or users to review your documentation and identify confusing or ambiguous areas. For instance, you can ask representative users to try to assemble a bookshelf based on your directions. This process can help you identify weaknesses in your documentation. 

Showcase Your Writing Skills at Compose.ly

Expository and technical writing both aim to communicate factual information to audiences. However, they use different strategies and formats to accomplish this goal. Learning the differences between these different forms of writing can help you communicate more effectively while reaching larger audiences.

You can put your writing skills to the test as a freelance writer for Compose.ly. You’ll have the opportunity to work on expository and technical projects for a broad range of clients. We also offer the freedom to work on your schedule and choose the projects you want to work on. Apply now to become a writer and extend your reach to new audiences. 

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