The Second Most Important Skill in Engineering Is… Writing?

April 30, 2012 | By Julie Eaton

Engineering is complicated, but when all is "derived' and done, you only need to answer two questions:

  1. Does your design work?

  2. Why is your design better than alternative solutions?

 

Your answers need to be clear: make your case—don’t relive the entire design process

Translating your equations and data into words that clearly convey the value of your design can be daunting. It’s no surprise that the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) lists technical writing as the second most important skill in engineering.

 

Define “optimization”

During my undergraduate mechanical engineering experience, my professors often asked the class, “What makes a design optimal?” Our various answers included the design that

  • was cost effective

  • produced the least waste

  • required the least amount of energy to work

  • was not over-engineered.

 

Know your audience and what results matter to them

Our answers varied because different audiences will value different aspects of a design. Consider your reader when describing your design’s benefits; a summary of how you satisfied your boundary conditions will not convince someone in finance that your design has value.

 

Structure your results: put your bottom line on top

Instead of forcing your reader to go through miles of equations to get to your answer, put it up front. Use an executive summary to emphasize your solution’s benefits and impact. This will help shape your reader’s initial impression of your solution before you go into the details.

 

Formatting will help guide your readers through your results

Use visual design to your advantage when explaining your results or solution. This will also help your reader easily go back to your results later, which is essential during redesign and implementation. Helpful formatting options include

  • clearly labeled tables and graphs that reflect your data

  • headlines that preview a paragraph’s contents

  • bullets that highlight your key points

  • numbered lists that emphasize action steps.

 

Clear writing will help you sound as smart as you are

You can use writing as a strategic tool to drive your engineering projects forward. You have the structural thinking skills—now just apply them to writing!