Technical Writing for Engineers: Overview and Tips

November 16, 2023

An engineer’s duties are diverse and often vital to the success of complex projects. Through project management, clear communication and a deep understanding of their specialty, engineers help our world run smoothly from construction to maintenance.

One impactful task that engineers often undertake is providing written information in an easy-to-understand way that is still detailed enough to deliver complex information. That’s where technical writing for engineers comes into play.

Technical writing skills are a sometimes overlooked but incredibly critical aspect of an engineer’s toolkit.

Technical Writing for Engineering

Engineers must communicate with distinct audiences throughout projects as they collaborate with various stakeholders, sharing their expertise. They might write information for non-technical readers in their daily work, including executives, sales representatives, end-users, consultants, and many others with varying backgrounds.

This makes exceptional technical writing skills one of the most important aspects of any engineering role. Successful engineers hone their writing to ensure that their written communication fully encompasses their expertise and conveys their messages, no matter the audience.

Precise writing in engineering has the following benefits and more:

  • It can help engineers make their case for specific processes or resources.
  • It allows safety precautions to be understood and followed.
  • It helps stakeholders of all educational backgrounds to get the information they need to complete their jobs.
  • In complex situations, it helps simplify information and streamline processes.
  • It ensures non-engineers can properly use machinery and products engineers create.

Thus, technical writing skills are extremely valuable for a successful engineering career.

What is Technical Writing?

According to TechWhirl, technical writing is a writing discipline that is "sometimes defined as simplifying the complex." The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the following duties of professional technical writers:

  • Determine the needs of users of technical documentation
  • Write or revise supporting content for products
  • Edit material prepared by other writers or staff
  • Incorporate animation, graphs, illustrations, or photographs to increase users’ understanding of the material
  • Select an appropriate medium, such as manuals or videos, for the message or audience 
  • Standardize content across platforms and media
  • Collect user feedback to update and improve content

Of course, engineers may not have to take on all the above duties, but understanding them can ensure success in their work. Engineers may use technical writing to explain how to operate machinery, prevent accidents, or justify an investment in a project. 

Good engineering writing takes relevant, practical and often complex information and tailors it to a specific audience to accomplish a goal. Often, the stakeholders engineers communicate with only need some information an engineer can provide. Technical writing distills what's necessary for a specific audience to know into concise, streamlined written communication.

Engineers who have mastered technical writing are in an excellent position for leadership duties. Those who can communicate clearly and optimize their engineering writing to target audiences will have the most opportunity to move through the ranks at businesses because they can adequately convey the value of what they’re doing to non-engineers and ensure their knowledge is appropriately implemented.

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How to Improve Your Technical Writing Skills

Engineers are uniquely positioned to function as technical writers because a deep understanding of a challenge and solution and its relevant topics is necessary to communicate through technical writing.

As an engineer, you can follow these writing tips to ensure your technical writing is as clear, relevant and readable as possible.

Read other technical writing: You likely encounter a lot of technical written communication in your engineering career. Think of technical writing that you’ve used in the past. Try to figure out why the piece works and how you can replicate that in your writing. 

Define the audience: It’s important to consider what the audience knows about the subject matter to provide value. Consider questions your audience may have and answer them with your technical writing. Your audience will likely change for each piece you produce, so always take time to consider your stakeholders’ perspectives and needs.

Plan effectively: Find pre-writing exercises that work for you, such as outlining. Talk to your prospective audience to find out what questions they have and how you can create a helpful resource for them. Map out the points you want to cover with your written communication to ensure you stay on topic.

Simplify: Technical topics may or may not be relevant to your audience. Your audience likely won’t need all the information you can provide, so narrow it down to what you should provide. Simplifying the complex can help non-technical stakeholders truly understand the message. Avoid jargon and use subheadings and bullets to make the information easy to digest.

Try new things: If you have an idea for making your writing more digestible, try it. Getting feedback on new techniques will help you develop your technical writing style and tailor your communication to be useful, convincing and easy to read.

Be open to feedback: The best writers, technical or not, must be able to take feedback and apply it. Getting critical feedback on your writing is the best way to grow your skills and improve your techniques.

Technical writing is a skill that can be perfected over time. To gain expertise, consider looking for courses online or connecting with other engineers for mentorship.

Using Technical Writing in Your Engineering Career

An online master’s degree in engineering, such as Ohio University’s online Master of Engineering Management (MEM), can help you learn the technical writing skills you need to move into and excel in leadership roles. Since technical writing and communication are increasingly key in engineering, look for programs that cover the topic.

The OHIO master’s degree in engineering management combines advanced engineering skills with graduate-level coursework in management and leadership. This dual focus is ideal for engineers moving from technical to high-impact leadership positions. The program includes a course titled Communication Skills for Engineers, designed to help you think critically as a communicator by asking questions that help you produce effective writing.

At OHIO, you'll gain skills that increase your effectiveness in your current role and position you for future management roles.

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