Why Professional Writing Skills Are Necessary For Professional Development in Engineering

Our education gives us the basics of communication. We can construct correct sentences and paragraphs because we understand the rules of grammar. We’ve acquired the basic rules and can write grammatically-correct text.

Our college education afforded little in terms of courses on technical communication. An engineering degree program is already overloaded, and it wouldn’t be right to replace engineering fundamentals with more writing content. So this means we graduate with only the essentials of communication. 

And worse, we have perhaps had to write only a few lab reports throughout the course of our technical education. We’ve had no practice with professional communication. Our lack of practice perhaps explains why engineers dislike writing and why so many take so much time to produce so little.

While our efficiency in technical competence improves over our careers, our professional writing skills seem to deteriorate. When we began our careers, we may have written routine reports. As we progress as engineers, our jobs change as we take on the responsibility of other engineers and administrative staff. 

As we experience professional development, the need to communicate with other engineers and those for whom we are responsible increases. In time, our writing purpose widens further and efficient professional communication is necessary for further professional development. We begin to write to instruct subordinates and to explain to our peers. As professional competence builds, we find ourselves needing to influence our superiors. We need to write to persuade.

Professional Communication Is Necessary for Professional Development 

As engineers, we know how to evaluate the effectiveness of our designs. And as technology and management practices change, it is crucial for professional engineers to keep up-to-date. While practice inevitably evolves, so must engineers. As we progress professionally, we must learn how to evaluate the effectiveness of our communication.

We began our careers writing in conventional ways following rigid formats in standard documents. We followed the template. 

But the rising engineer finds himself or herself increasingly writing to an ever-diverging reader. Instead of writing to anonymous reporting systems, emerging professional engineers start writing to people. 

You begin by writing to other engineers and employees. Soon, professionals from government agencies, vendors and contractors are added to your audience. As you progress in your professional development, you will write to individual members of the public, the general public as a whole, policymakers and to others in the profession at large. 

We must realize that our educational preparation is only our beginning — we need to develop our professional communication skills through sustained practice. 

High school English classes set out the fundamentals. College courses in technical writing will have addressed some of the fundamental principles of how best to communicate technical ideas to the non-technical. 

While fundamental engineering principles — such as mechanics — stay with us, communication practices must be learned, practiced, tested and then practiced some more. The technical communication skills of a newly-qualified professional engineer differ from those of the newly graduated engineer in training.

So, engineers should take on courses and programs that serve to refine and develop their professional communication skills. It’s like school and college teach you how to swim, but as a professional engineer, you need to learn the correct strokes. 

At a minimum, we engineers need to write grammatically correct text. And yet, few of us ever address how to make that text clear. We don’t learn how to make text concise, and it’s rare for us to learn how to be truly specific in our professional writing. To develop professionally, engineers must master the skill of writing clearly and concisely while losing none of our detail. We need to be able to write text that’s clear, concise, and concrete.