Top 10 tips to take the pain out of engineering writing


Posted Oct. 10, 2018

Engineers typically don't get into engineering to write, and the last thing many technical experts want to do is write dry, dense technical manuals, reports, or other works. Nevertheless, writing is a key part of any engineering project, if only to document the work being completed. Here are 10 professional writing tips to make the process of writing less painful.

1: Treat writing like an engineering project.

Apply the same basic work methodology to the writing as you would to engineering a product.

2: Take an iterative approach.

If nothing else, start small, and build out the piece one pass at a time. Start with basic outline with just the main points. Then fill out supporting arguments. Then add factual details. Then draft in natural language. Then go back and revise. Just take it one step at a time, fleshing out the work bit by bit.

3: Dictate your writing.

If facing a blank screen gives you pause, record yourself speaking on the topic and the points you want to make. Then use speech recognition software or a transcription service. Though you’ll still have to edit, this approach can give you a workable first draft without you having to type a word.

4: Write like you talk, at least in the first draft.

Even if you don’t transcribe an audio recording, try to write the first draft as though you’re having a conversation. Often, the aspect of writing that gives us pause isn’t what to say but how to say it. Trying to force ourselves into a stilted, unnatural voice – the way we often think this writing must read – doesn’t help. So, just write it like you’d say it. Even if a conversational tone is too casual for the final product, you’ll have the meat of the piece ready to edit.

5: Read. Then read some more.

Specifically, read a lot of the kinds of materials you need to produce – white papers, books, research studies, documentation, etc. – and pay attention to attributes that characterize well-written pieces from poorly written. Reading others’ writing will help you with your own. Also, read books about writing. Try On Writing Well by William Zinsser, or even On Writing by Stephen King.

6: Find inspiration.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as the expression goes. While you do not want to copy another writer’s work word-for-word – plagiarism! – you can certain use well-written pieces as inspiration. You might even be able to use the same basic structure or approach, as long as the writing itself remains your own.

7: Collaborate.

Don’t write in a vacuum; involve your colleagues or other trusted people in the process. You might go back and forth, starting from the outline, building off of each other’s input. Or you might simply have the other person edit or comment on your draft. It can be a downer to see a lot of red ink on your carefully written work but getting an outside opinion can greatly strengthen its quality.

8: Practice.

Writing is like any other skills: it improves with practice and experience. The more you write – and take a hard look at the quality of your writing – the better you’ll get.

9: Get out of your own way.

It’s your own ego that will cause you the most problems when trying to write and that will push you to procrastinate. Kick your ego to the curb.

10: Get training.

Nothing will make a writing task easier than feeling confident that you know what you’re doing. Formal training in writing can make a world in difference in making writing projects feel conquerable.  
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 25 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.