Want to Be a Better Engineer? Learn How to Write

Greg Wheeler
Posted by

Better engineering begins with learning to express yourself. Whether your area of expertise is civil engineering, aeronautical engineering, or software engineering, none of your work will achieve the results you desire if you can't organize your thoughts into a coherent picture for other people to understand. Learning to write puts you on the path to better engineering, not just because it's an invaluable aid to communication but because the discipline required to write intelligibly is very like the discipline required to master a technical field such as aeronautical engineering. Learning to write is one of the first steps to becoming a better thinker, a better communicator, and a better engineering professional.

The first purpose of good writing is to accomplish the clear communication of ideas to other people. To grab hold of your private ideas and opinions and mold them into a shape that others can understand is arguably a more important skill for better engineering than being good at math. After all, the best idea in the world isn't worth much if nobody ever hears about it or, hearing about it, has trouble understanding your explanation of it.

Beyond the basic need to communicate reasonably well with your fellow engineers, better writing leads to better engineering overall. Clear and coherent thinking, free of unnecessary clutter, is one of the diagnostic traits of an engineer. Teaching yourself to write will call on and sharpen many of the skills you need most in your work. Just as better engineering calls for logical pathways to be created between what you have right now and what you can do with it in the future, so better writing calls for logical pathways to be laid down from one point to another. Even fiction—perhaps fiction especially—calls for a natural-feeling flow of ideas and settings from one point to the next. This pressure is felt on every level, from chapters to paragraphs to individual sentences. If ideas can't be driven into a coherent shape, you get bad copy. Something is similar of engineering. If your design doesn't hang together logically and intuitively, your design doesn't work. Writing will pave the way to better engineering by exercising those mental muscles and teaching you to organize your thinking.

Once you've got yourself organized, you're going to need help making your plans come to life. There's another element to good writing that rises above the simple need to communicate mentioned above. This is the need to persuade. The task of a good writer is to take the clear, or at least grammatically correct, writing skills you've taught yourself and present your newly super-logical internal monologue to others in a persuasive and compelling form. As an engineer, you'll be writing for your employer, government regulators, and customers. In every case, you need your reader to want to follow along. You need to sway these people with your arguments before the first swamp is drained, before the first line of code is written, and before the first dollar is raised.

Engineering is the art of getting things done. Better engineering requires the ability to develop a clear idea of what you want to do, recruit allies who will help you get it done, and help them understand what you need from them to make it happen.


Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net


Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

Jobs to Watch