Distilling Complicated Information for Public Consumption: Writing Tips for Engineers

One of the essential technical writing skills for engineers is learning how to distill complicated information for the lay audience.

dis·till (dəˈstil): (v) extract the essential meaning or most important aspects of.

For engineers to communicate effectively with the public, they must know how to simplify complex systems and distill complicated concepts into comprehensive summaries that are easily digestible by the layperson. In short, distilling complex information requires you to compress a lot of important information into a much smaller space.

For engineers to communicate effectively with the public, they must know how to simplify complex systems and distill complicated concepts into comprehensive summaries that are easily digestible by the layperson. In short, distilling complex information requires you to compress relevant information into a much smaller space.

It’s easier said than done.

Effective Technical Writing Skills for Engineers

Most engineers tend to over-explain and provide more detail than necessary to convey essential concepts to the layperson. And more often than not, this excess of extraneous information only leads to the confusion and disinterest of your public audience.

And while engineers may have the technical writing skills to communicate effectively within their profession, the use of industry jargon and overly technical terms will lose the lay audience even if the information is distilled into digestible pieces. 

To maintain the attention of the public, you must write not only clearly and concisely, but also compellingly. Most engineers’ technical writing is lacking when it comes to clarity and conciseness – and storytelling is a completely foreign concept – but these are all writing skills that can be learned.

Distillation of Information and Technical Writing Frameworks

It’s important to know that distillation does not mean the elimination of information; it means compressing the overarching concept into a more concise message. One of the best ways to distill complex information for the lay audience is through document organization.

Document and Section Summaries

Designed to give the reader all the information they may need at a glance, document, and section summaries provide all of the most critical information in one place. These summaries allow the lay audience to absorb all of the vital takeaways before diving into the details.

Tips for Compelling and Informative Technical Writing

Be Concise

It’s been said before in this article and it will be said again: be concise in your writing. This technical writing concept is important enough to convey over and over again…

Being concise is one of the most difficult writing skills to master. Rule of thumb? If you can say it in fewer words, do.

Tell Stories

This may seem like a strange suggestion for effective technical writing, but when it comes to engaging a lay audience, encouraging interest through story can help you maintain your readers’ attention when distilling complicated but important information.

Focus Points

Focus on only one concept at a time and make sure each section contains only two to three takeaway points. Don’t overwhelm your lay audience with too many concepts in too small a space.