Challenges versus Benefits
Adding technical writing to your toolkit will add a surprising amount of value to your career.
Writing is an important part of the engineering process. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to refine your writing, this guide takes you through engineers’ common writing challenges, the benefits to overcoming them and tangible solutions to help you do just that.
Challenge #1: Communicating Technical Knowledge
If you’ve ever wondered why your boss or technician hasn’t understood the importance of a particular concept, the problem is likely communication. When too many technical details are presented in a report or other document, the crucial ones can get buried.
Engineers often write technical documents as if their audience were fellow engineers. However, the audience is always changing. The reader of one document may be an expert while the reader of your next document may be a business-minded executive or a consumer.
Writing for a non-engineering audience is a significant, important challenge.
Benefit #1: Increased clarity and communication
Good writing by an engineer will increase communication effectiveness. Directing your writing to the intended audience will allow the reader to understand the content on the first read, rather than needing to ask for additional details or explanation.
By understanding the audience’s goal in reading the document, you as the writer can highlight the important data. Only the most crucial supplementary or background information should be included. The information that is needed for a decision, instruction or education must take center stage.
Good technical writing will save time, avoid misunderstanding and increase workplace efficiency by promoting good communication between engineers and other staff.
Solution: Use Technical Writing Style
There is a major misconception that a complex and scholarly text is good technical writing. However, the opposite is true. Elaborate text often confuses the reader and conceals the purpose.
Keeping the information accessible is most important. Technical writing uses the simplest and most direct language to convey the information. The tone is neutral and professional.
To achieve this tone, use the active voice in your writing. Choose your words carefully so you use the fewest words possible while being precise. Avoid jargon and use clearly-explained terms instead. These strategies will create a text that effectively communicates technical details.
Solution: Enhance with Graphics
Good graphics support good writing. Include diagrams or schematics where they add value and increase reader comprehension. They should be directly referenced within the text and clearly explained in a caption.
Challenge #2: “But no one ever reads it…”
Some engineers get frustrated by the fact that their reports gather dust. Documenting can seem like a customary process with no real value. Why write a text that will never be read?
The problem is not with the reader, but with the text itself. Technical documents that bury crucial information or are difficult to understand can delay reading, decision-making or worse, be altogether overlooked.
A good technical document is written for a specific purpose and defined audience. Therefore, it is written to be read.