Writing know-how is a key tool for engineering career success
Many engineers spend their careers believing they don’t know how to write, they don’t like writing, or they’ll never like writing.
In reality, writing and engineering are closely related. Both involve brainstorming, idea development, and fine-tuning on the path toward creation of an accessible, usable end product. Unfortunately, though, engineering ideas can feel controlled and gatekept, eliminating easy access to the general public. To increase interest in tech and engineering ideas, there needs to be more accessibility. Technical writing can bridge the gap between complex ideas and public understanding, since communication should be understood by all.
Strong writing makes for stronger engineers
Engineers need to present their ideas clearly and succinctly, and strong writing is the tool that can help them do that. No matter their engineering specialty, to do optimal work, engineers need to be able to write well.
Engineers depend on clear writing for:
Engineers use Critical Design Review and Preliminary Design Review in their idea development process. These written documents allow the engineering teams to discuss and share their design ideas while they’re still being developed. Engineering managers depend on this written information to see what improvements need to be made with the design. Without clear writing, engineers would be unable to express the processes and products involved in their viable proposals.
Similarly, engineers must lean on strong writing skills to share their ideas with individuals outside their immediate development team. For example, well-written technical documentation allows future engineers to understand the thought process and coding decisions made by the previous developers. Having clear technical documentation helps with turnover in code, especially when there is a change in developer. This also allows for a smoother transition when passing off projects from one engineer to the next. This is essential in both the workplace and school. You want your professor to know what steps you are trying to take, and having important comments and documentation — such as the purpose of the function and the input and output features — helps a lot.
Strong writing also plays a key role in helping protect technical or intellectual copyright. When applying for patents, engineers must carefully document the key building blocks of their innovative product, idea, or design — to avoid the risk that another company or individual might steal or copy them. Having solid writing skills allows engineers to express their ideas and designs clearly in patent applications. This improves the likelihood that applications will be understandable to patent examiners in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office — the reviewers who judge and approve applications on the basis of their usefulness and novelty.
For these reasons — and many others — engineers should invest time and effort in developing their writing skills. Being able to write accessibly about high-level intellectual information enables engineers to convey the value of their ideas and designs to those in their field, as well as non-engineer project stakeholders and the general public.
Summer 2022 writing intern Val Nguyen wrote this article.