Unfortunately, writing in engineering is often overlooked.
Engineers need to master many technical skills to perform their work. Is writing one of those skills, or is it just an unavoidable necessity of the job—a deliverable that must be done to satisfy a schedule milestone? Engineering involves working with people from many professions, so the ability to communicate effectively is important. Being able to explain complex concepts clearly to your audience is not just an asset, but essential.
It’s surprising the amount of writing an engineer must do, from construction work packages (CWPs) and scope-of-work (SOW) documents to studies and design criteria. Communicating with effective, concise, and clear writing can’t be taken lightly or haphazardly.
Don’t leave the written work to the last minute. Make a plan to ensure that there is time to do it right. Consider writing as another tool in your engineering toolkit—something that adds value to your organization. Effective communication is as vital to an organization’s success as creating a correct specification and can differentiate one employee or company from another in the highly competitive engineering services industry.
Tips for Writing in Engineering
Here are some tips to help you with your next writing task:
- Take time to know your audience.
- Focus on the content and don’t fuss the details of writing.
- Get perspective on your writing.
Know Your Audience
Before you start writing, consider who will be reading your document. Here are some questions to help you get started.
- Is it another engineer, a manager, a client, a regulator, or someone else?
- What is it that you need to tell your audience?
- What do you expect them to do with this information?
- Do they understand technical terms or jargon?
- What is their level of technical competence in the subject matter?
Understanding these things will influence how and what you write. Consider the tone of your writing when addressing different audiences.
Focus on Content
Once you understand your audience and your objective, you can start writing. Start with an outline and the key points you wish to make. Don’t get sidetracked or bogged down in the details of punctuation and grammar. What is important here is getting your thoughts—the content—onto the page.
Let the writing flow uninterrupted. Editing your draft can come later.
The Value of Perspective
If possible, take time away from your writing to clear your mind. A break, even a short one, allows you to engage your writing with fresh eyes and gives you insight into issues with your first draft. Read your document aloud so that you can hear your mistakes. Printing a hard copy of your document is useful because the brain processes hard-copy information differently from reading it onscreen.
Finally, get input from others: teammates, your manager, or possibly even a technical writer-editor. Having other perspectives can provide valuable insights into your document. Don’t forget to include time in your schedule for these reviews.