Engineers have a bad rap regarding crimes against the literary world. While it may be true a good percentage of the time that engineers prefer to use their writing implements to solve an equation rather than pen a technical masterpiece of prose, it is not an absolute fact that all engineers create a vacuum when writing.
I attend conferences and lunch meetings where engineers present their research findings and technical opinions, which are often first captured and shared with the world by way of a technical paper. These papers are normally well-written, peer-reviewed, and interesting products. So, obviously some engineers can write well.
Writing is a key component of the work we do at Cognascents. We document our results and analysis in reports and session worksheets and carefully crafted recommendations. One of our measures of literary quality is whether someone five years from now will be able to read and interpret our words effectively. When you write with this criterion in mind, you naturally pay careful attention to word choice and sentence structure and artistic flare. Writing for someone is different than writing for a grade or to simply complete a task. It helps to put yourself in the shoes of someone five years down the road when trying to figure out if your words are the best you can do.
We also try to ensure our grammar is correct and that we use only the words necessary to convey our message. All too often, we write how we speak, which is typically not a good model. Try recording your conversation with someone and you will be surprised how different your speaking grammar is compared to your written grammar. A portion of your speaking grammar is assumed or conveyed by way of body language, which do not always translate well to paper. When writing, you should ask yourself if the reader will be distracted by your grammar or your choice of words. You are fighting relatively short attention spans these days, so anything you can do to keep the reader engaged is recommended. A reader appreciates your consideration and efficient use of their time and energy.
I like to write, which also helps. If you do not like to write, then writing always seems like a chore. All I can say on this topic is that things always get easier the more we do them. I know, I probably sound like your parents or your teachers of yesteryear, but it is true. I have developed one practice to help me get started when torn on what to write, how to start, or distracted by all the things I want to say. I simply start writing. I type whatever is running through my head in whatever order it happens to be flowing. Starting to write can be the greatest barrier to finishing. Sometimes you just need to start listing things before the natural order of the literary piece reveals itself to you.
As you move into the New Year, hopefully these few tips will provide a renewed energy to refocus and improve your literary skills. Let’s break the mold and worldwide impression that engineers cannot write.