The Technique of Technical Writing

technical writing tips
Image source: Foter.com

I challenge you to think of a job in which communication skills won’t increase your chances of success. Even zoo keepers working with other species benefit from communicating non-verbally with the lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) in their care.

In our engineering/business careers, technical writing skills are an even more important subset of communication, and highly valuable. If you follow this blog regularly, read the BHS newsletter or visit our website, you know already how much I enjoy writing and communicating ideas to the marketplace.

To me, while we may call ourselves engineers and professionals, we are also technical writers. All of us craft e-mails, white papers, reports, proposals, justifications, etc. Thinking about this made me want to share some of my thoughts on clarity of communication (with an appreciative ‘I’m not worthy’ nod to all the editors, some of whom I count as friends, of engineering magazines who have studied technical writing / journalism much more closely than I have).

Consider Your Audience

What language are you using? I do not mean to ask whether you’re utilizing a foreign language. Rather, are you employing the language of your audience? For example, many words are relative and they reflect the experience of the writer. Consider for instance the word “large.” What is a large motor, large pipe diameter, or large filter area? The answer depends upon the marketplace, application, place in the world, company, etc. A large motor for a pharmaceutical engineer is much different than for the engineer working in a refinery.   A large filter area is different in the mining industry compared to a specialty chemical. Or what about the word “high”? Think about all of the ways this one word is used…high cost, high efficiency, high pressure, high temperature….I could go on and on.

Going further, when we look at language, we should also look at our own company’s languages. Every vendor, every client, and every software device has its own acronyms and code words. It is like the United Nations without the use of the headphone translations.

Ultimately, clear and concise writing can prevent a safety accident, make a project proceed better, reduce the need for calls in the middle of the night to the process engineer (or worse to the vendor) and improve overall satisfaction. Take care with your writing.

Principles for Better Writing

How do we get better at writing? Write often. Read a lot (you’re off to a great start subscribing to this blog!). I also try to focus on the following:

  • Accuracy — Don’t get caught up in impressing people will all that you know about a subject. Instead, pay attention to accurately communicating the essential information.
  • Write to the audience — You draft for you. You revise for your audience. Always look at what you have written with fresh eyes to consider what will make sense to the person reading.
  • Conversational — Technical writing doesn’t need to be bogged down with jargon. Everything is more interesting to read when the reader is engaged in the story you are trying to tell.
  • Clear and concise — Don’t try to impress people with multisyllabic words and quotes from great classical minds. Cut the excess in favor of getting right to the point and staying there for only as long as you need — no longer.
  • Simple — There are many complex concepts we address every day in our professional lives. That’s what keeps it interesting in the office, right? Only you needn’t share all of the nuances with your reader. The job of the writer is to process the information and identify the main point and important takeaways. Do the thinking first and then share your simple observations in your writing rather than rambling on at length about all of the options you might have considered.

These are the techniques that I focus on in my writing. I hope that you’ll see my blog follows these principles.

Have you had any specific experiences or funny experiences where “language “has been confusing? Let me know. I’d love to follow this blog up with one sharing amusing stories from our field.

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