What Is Functional Writing and How Can It Help Your Business?

13 Dec 2022


Functional writing may not be a term that you are familiar with. However, believe it or not, most people come across functional writing just about every day.

Organizations, large and small, must convey information quickly to employees, prospects, and customers. And the way they do it is through functional writing, which is a form of technical communication utilized by all industries.

Here, you will see how valuable functional writing can be for your business. You will also discover the differences between functional communication and other writing styles. In addition, you will learn the secret to providing vital information without putting undue stress on your reader.

What is functional writing?

Functional writing utilizes straightforward, pragmatic language to convey information or instructions to a specific reader. It comes in many forms, such as:

  • Work instructions
  • Notes
  • Invitations
  • Technical bulletins
  • Product manuals

You can also utilize functional writing as a vital marketing tool. For example, suppose you want to provide readers with information on how to sign up for your newsletter.

You can offer some simple steps. For example:

Functional writing provides solutions to real-life problems. It gives the reader specific information they can use immediately, including:

  • Instructions on how to make something
  • Advice about how to be safe
  • Invitations to an important function
  • Instructions on how to complete a task

How does functional writing differ from other styles?

The challenge for most writers transitioning into technical communication is the need to break the rules within their genres.

While functional writing demands the same adherence to proper grammar, there remain many differences between it and the other styles.


The obvious contrast between functional writing and fiction is that one is true, and the other is not. Despite that, both require logic and reasoning. An illogical plot typically loses the reader. Also, each one must be structured carefully to perform the goals of informing, inspiring, and keeping the reader’s attention.

However, the most overlooked difference between functional writing and fiction is tone. Functional writing uses straightforward language, whereas fiction is introspective and often relies on lyrical or dramatic prose. Still, both writing styles demand exhaustive research and proper word choice to serve their readers well.

Expository Writing

Expository writing provides evidence to support an idea or topic. Examples include magazine articles, scientific reports, and academic papers. The latter two typically open with a thesis statement and work through to a logical conclusion. You can employ several methods to make your argument, including:

  • Definition
  • Comparison and contrast
  • Examples
  • Cause and effect

Expository writing is unlike fiction, where you tell a story. Instead, your focus is to provide a clear, concise discussion of the topic.

While functional writing’s goal is similar, there’s no room for argument. Instead, the reader must follow the instructions precisely to realize a positive outcome.

Narrative Non-fiction

Newspaper and magazine stories are two traditional examples of narrative non-fiction. These journalistic pieces provide accounts of past events. Like fiction, they tell a story, except that the writer’s goal is to provide factual information.

Although functional writing is also grounded in facts, it does not tell a story. Instead, it only details what is needed to provide necessary guidance for the reader.


The main objective of copywriting is to move the reader toward a purchasing decision. The writer does this by utilizing: 

  • Repetition
  • Dramatic language
  • Personal connection with the reader
  • Rhetorical questions
  • Enhanced readability

In contrast, functional writing lays out facts logically and avoids any hint of humor, colloquialism, or rhetoric in the text.

Benefits of Functional Writing for Your Business

Photo by Monstera at Pexels

Functional writing is not only for high-tech industries. Here are five of the most common benefits for almost any business:

Higher Conversion Rates

Keep your blog posts, landing pages, and marketing pieces simple and easy to digest. This one technique alone results in a higher number of leads that convert to customers.

Increased Site Traffic

Online readers think twice before returning to a site they must slog through to receive usable information. You can ensure their continued loyalty by providing writing that is practical as well as entertaining.

Improved Productivity

There’s nothing worse for mid-level managers than to be needed by confused employees every second of the day. That problem goes away when you provide step-by-step instructions for each position. Not only will you increase productivity, but your employees will overflow with confidence.

Employee Retention

One of the main reasons for employee attrition is uncertainty due to a lack of training. By providing clear, concise, written instructions to your staff members, you remove any ambiguity about what you expect from them.

Increased Safety Compliance

Safety is the responsibility of everyone in your organization. Therefore, functional writing will help you achieve that elusive goal of 100 percent compliance.

Functional Writing Best Practices

Wintress Odom, owner and senior editor of The Writers For Hire, explains that functional writing is not devoid of creativity. Rather, it should follow a consistent pattern where the reader can skim over the content quickly.

“This may sound easy,” she says, “but it really isn’t. Knowing how to [structure] your content correctly is vital.” 


Suppose a journalist wants to write a story about a local warehouse fire. The typical model would be to convey:

  • What happened
  • Who was involved
  • Date and time the incident took place
  • Where it happened
  • Possible causes for the incident

Armed with this information, the journalist writes something like this:

“A fire broke out Saturday evening in the old warehouse located on 5th and Elm Street. Investigators do not know what caused the blaze, which damaged most of the structure. However, sources tell me the electrical circuit breaker box was faulty and needed to be replaced.”

Here, most readers would be willing to spend the time necessary to get the whole story. However, to prevent the fire from happening in the first place, the electrician would read something like this:

Notice that there are no adjectives and minimal descriptive language in this list of instructions. Also, while fiction readers will find this style boring and redundant, the electrician will appreciate not having to slog through large paragraphs to find the information they need.

Like-Type Instructions

Writers transitioning to technical and functional styles often have difficulty getting over their past training. Most teachers, from elementary through secondary education, insist on varying sentence structure to enhance the reader’s enjoyment.

However, this method seldom works when giving the reader specific guidance on how to do something.

For example:

“Turn the knob to the left, then rotate it to the right. Next, position it further to the right for 10 seconds before pivoting it back to its original position.”

This example represents an extreme case, but you get the idea. These instructions become increasingly confusing when you inject synonyms to replace the word “turn.” 

Instead, try using like-type instructions. Here is an example of a bank manager closing their doors at night:

The phrase “close and lock” used repeatedly would drive any fiction editor crazy. However, the bank manager in this scenario understands the need to have every access point “closed and locked.” In other words, this written information becomes highly functional for the reader.

Active Voice

Functional writing demands strong action verbs followed closely by the subject. For example:

  • Reset the 20-volt circuit breaker.
  • Move the pallet.
  • Lift the bag.
  • Turn left on Elm Street.

Also, the person performing the action is implied, so there is no need to expand on it. Avoid writing like this:

  • The 20-volt circuit breaker must be reset by the technician.
  • It is a good idea for warehouse personnel to move the pallet.
  • The bag should be lifted by the person in charge of trash removal.
  • The driver must turn on Elm Street just before arriving at the destination.

Not only are these instructions written in passive voice, but they’re too cumbersome for the reader. By writing in active voice whenever possible, you avoid unnecessary wordiness.

Correct Grammar Usage

While it is obvious you want perfect grammar in every piece of written content, it becomes a crucial factor in functional communication. Misspelled words and grammatical errors can change the meaning of a document. Take this example from a big box retailer:

Again, this is an extreme example, but having your functional, written communication reviewed by an expert can save you time and money. It can also help improve your credibility with customers and employees.


Technical communication requires the writer to present complex ideas in simple terms. The following tools help accomplish that goal.


Bullet points within your document make it more scannable to the reader. They also focus attention on key elements you want highlighted. Here are a few rules to follow when utilizing bullet points for functional writing:

  • Use the same bullet formatting throughout
  • Ensure all items are related to each other
  • Capitalize the first word in each bullet point
  • Try to keep the length of each line the same
  • Do not use periods at the end of sentences


Numbered lists indicate chronological steps within a work process. There should be a period after complete sentences, and the first word should be capitalized. However, lists, such as consumable items, should not have periods after sentences.


Use bolded text to highlight areas of content where you want to focus the reader’s attention. It is also useful for emphasis or creating a heading using normal text. With that said, it’s best not to overdo it.

White space

One of the most often overlooked elements of functional writing is the use of white space. With it, you can exploit the areas between text to emphasize your point and direct your reader to what’s most important. Therefore, trimming margins and cutting back on clutter will go a long way toward improving readability.


SEO and Functional Writing

Search engine optimization (SEO) should not be pushed aside when producing functional pieces. Instead, since lower word counts are the norm, keyword placement becomes critical.

As with long-form blog posts, try placing your keywords close to the top of the document. Also, you should avoid keyword stacking since search engines often penalize you for it.


Search engine crawlers always look for relevant content based on the reader’s search intent. For example, if you are supplying vegan recipes online and mention steak dinners, you could find your site ranking lower than it should.


The latest trend in SEO is quality over quantity. Gone are the days when you could write anything you wanted, stuff a bunch of keywords into the content, and use poor grammar. Instead, Google’s sophisticated crawlers are looking for well-written content that serves the needs of human readers.

One Final Note

Functional communication is not like other writing styles. It conveys a message quickly to the reader. Therefore, it must be scannable and easy to digest.

Functional writers help your business by creating content that gets results. If you would like to learn more, feel free to reach out to The Writers For Hire at (713)-465-6860.

Steve Epperson 

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