By following these 13 engineering writing tips, you can become a better engineer. Engineers need to master technical writing to reach their full potential.
It may come as a surprise, but engineers do a lot of writing. And the higher you climb in the profession, you’ll find yourself writing even more. This applies to all types of engineers.
I write all the time myself. But, I’ve noticed only a few engineers focus on this skill.
It’s unfortunate, as I think writing is a very important skill. I even outlined a guide for what I consider greater technical writing.
So, improve your technical writing to set yourself apart from your peers.
Here are some examples where you’ll need to flex your technical writing skills:
- Emailing clients, sub-contractors, vendors, and managers
- Writing memos, reports, manuals, specs, and proposals
- Documenting how someone can and can’t use your device
- Editing the writing of other engineers
Clearly, technical writing is very important. Plus, it’s a great way to deeply understand complex subjects.
Try writing something you don’t know about. You’ll end up with a scramble of words.
So, improve your technical writing by following these 13 easy to follow tips that I use myself.
#1 Read and read some more
Reading technical writing will show you how to structure your sentences. As well as teach you the type of content to include in your writing.
You’ll learn how to quickly jump into the meat of subjects without any fluff talk. All the while, learning how detailed your writing should be.
Start with reading those boring textbooks from school. Another great resource you have is manuals.
Pick up and read any technical manual you find lying around. Everything has a manual these days. Even better, you can download any random manual online.
By reading more, you’ll find yourself naturally writing better over time. Plus, seeing how different people approach technical writing is very beneficial.
#2 Think about who your audience is
Think of the people who will read your writing. Then massage your content accordingly.
Your writing style will change depending on your readers. As an engineer, one day you may write to other engineers. Then the next day, you’ll write to people who could care less about technical details.
For example, if you’re writing to business people, you need to water down technical details.
In short, every audience requires a specific type of content. Your job is to give people exactly what they want.
#3 Practice your writing
Like anything else, you need to practice. So write, and then write some more.
I’m constantly writing. Today, writing has become second nature for me.
I know technical writing is more difficult because it’s dry. It’s like cooking a meal without any added sauces.
But if you’re trying to lose weight, you only care about healthy calories anyway. The same applies to technical writing. Only the technical content is important.
That said, over time, you’ll become fond of technical writing. Once you get good at it, it becomes enjoyable.
#4 Keep it simple
The trick to explaining complex ideas easily is to keep things simple. Don’t add unnecessary content.
Can you convey the same idea in 2 paragraphs versus 4? If yes, then it’s a no brainer to go with 2 paragraphs.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather read 2 paragraphs versus 4.
This is why after I write something, I always go through my writing many times over. The goal is to cut the fat and make my writing leaner.
Plus, to find and fix difficult to understand sentences.
#5 Use an active voice
Technical writing doesn’t typically focus on the past. So, use an active voice as you write.
This will make your writing more authoritative and engaging. A passive voice won’t sound right in most instances.
Let’s go over an example:
Active voice: mount the charging station next to the building for better access.
Passive voice: better access will be had by mounting the charging station next to the building.
You can see how the active voice version reads more clear. Also, it’s more authoritative. That’s what you want.
#6 Proofread your writing
The first version of a document is never the final.
You NEED to always proofread your writing. I’m not talking about one read-through. But several.
After each read-through, my content always improves. Even better, space out your read-throughs.
Take a break after you finish writing. Then the next day, go back and review your writing again.
This always works for me. A fresh mind helps you to spot things you initially had missed.
This will allow you to do the following:
- Remove unnecessary words and sentences
- Add missing technical details
- Simplify content
Also, you can catch sentences that may lead to confusion. Any miscommunication can lead to problems for a reader.
#7 Take a technical writing course
Universities offer technical writing courses. You’ve taken writing classes since childhood to write a certain way.
But, a big difference exists between being a good writer and a good technical writer.
Good technical writing requires a special skill set. This is where a specialized course can help teach and motivate you.
A course will force you to write a certain way. Then a teacher who knows what to look for will critique your writing.
I find this to be a great way to pick up good writing habits if you need hand-holding.
#8 Avoid broken English in text messaging
People send so many text messages these days. Some people text more than formal writing.
Given we’re creatures of habit, you can see the problem here. Texting can lead to poor writing habits.
In other words, you’ll carry your broken texting English to your formal writing. For this reason, it’s important to not build bad writing habits.
For example, I don’t use broken English when I text. I’ve built a good habit of writing good everywhere.
This way, I can quickly transition from texting to formal writing. It’s almost the same writing style for me.
#9 Discover a passion for writing
Passion goes a long way in anything you do. If you don’t have a passion for writing, a reader will know.
I’m not saying you need to love writing more than anything else. But, don’t despise it.
Writing can be difficult. You’ll have dry spells where no ideas spill out. Plus, you need passion to want to improve as a writer.
Personally, I never was a huge fan of writing growing up. But over time I began to really enjoy it.
The better the writer I became, the more I enjoyed writing.
#10 Be sociable and step outside your comfort zone
Become sociable. Speak to your colleagues. Speak to clients. Also, if you’re an engineer, you probably have engineer friends to speak with.
This will force you to communicate technical ideas. Verbal skills will translate over to your writing.
It’s like how reading a lot translates over to improved writing skills. Or, if you immerse yourself in a foreign land, you’ll quickly pick up a language. Even more, you’ll pick up the special lingo of the area.
So, go speak with a technical person who speaks perfect English for several months. I bet your technical writing will improve.
Most great verbal communicators write great. Thus, this is a great way to tackle technical writing from a different angle.
#11 Online tools
There are countless helpful online tools to use.
One great free tool is the Hemingway app. It’ll help make your writing more clear and simple.
Be selective with the recommendations it makes though. The app will try to oversimplify some sentences. This sometimes becomes overkill in technical writing.
Then there’s Grammarly. Even the free version works great to catch grammar mistakes.
Finally, try out Google’s own resources to improve your technical writing. These free technical writing courses are easy to follow. It’s a great way to learn the basics of technical writing.
#12 Know your subject well
The more familiar you are with a subject, the more easily you can simplify complex ideas for readers.
You can’t write about something you know nothing about. And copying material from someone else won’t cut it.
If someone else publishes content, it doesn’t mean it’s accurate. But you wouldn’t know, as you can’t verify the information.
Plus, most of the time you’ll be writing on your own unique work.
So, learn your subjects the best you can. What’s more, I find writing to be a great way to learn complex subjects.
When I write on certain subjects, I end up diving down various rabbit holes. Doing a lot of self-research to deeply understand a subject. Otherwise, I can’t write on it.
At the end of my writing, I end up learning more about a subject than I ever knew. Win-win!
Engineering writing tips conclusion
Becoming a good technical writer takes time. I’ll tell you right now, it won’t happen overnight. And it’s not easy.
It took me several years and A LOT of writing to become good. But, it’s well worth it.
So, don’t shy away from the challenge. The wider and deeper your skillsets are, the better engineer you’ll become. Also, you’ll become more valuable in the workforce.
So put your head down and write!
From these 12 engineering writing tips, what’s your favorite? Do you enjoy technical writing?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.