The Importance of Technical Writing for Engineers

All professional engineers have to write, but most of us dislike writing because we’ve never tried to improve.  We procrastinate, which is stressful, and when deadlines force us to write, we hurry, and we write poorly. So, we are inefficient writers.

Most of us recognize the value of outlines, but we copy existing outlines.   This only works if the outline we copy is well designed, appropriate for the task, and has the correct detail for the reader.

Sadly, with so few excellent writers, copied outlines rarely meet these criteria because outlines are usually the legacy of many former technical writers.  These outlines evolved and were never designed.  We need to customize our outlines to serve our purpose, not those of others from the past.

Most of us copy text written by other engineers, which is not a good idea because technical writing quality is low.  Engineers invert sentences, e.g., “the materials were delivered by a truck” (7 words) instead of the shorter “a truck delivered the materials” (5 words).  Engineers prefer self-important words such as “assistance” instead of “help” which makes their text turgid, bureaucratic, and slightly pompous.  Laziness makes us  omit detail e.g., “the project was delayed by material shortages etc.” instead of “the project was delayed by material shortages, poor weather, and late funding.”

Other engineers act on our writing which makes our writing a meaningful reflection of our abilities.  So, while important, we ignore this key skill.  We do it inefficiently, we copy poor writing from others, and we project ourselves poorly.