To those outside the industry, the idea that an engineer might need good writing skills seems a strange one.
Aren’t engineers more numbers or visual people? It’s not like they need to write sonnets at work.
But there are a huge variety of tasks that almost any engineer – from civil engineers to those with software engineer jobs – does every day that can be improved with good writing skills.
They’re also a way to get in and get ahead with your engineering career. As a specialist engineering recruitment agency, Ernest Gordon sees how engineers with solid writing abilities can find themselves with better job prospects and promotion opportunities every day.
How do good writing skills benefit an engineer?
1) In recruitment
Writing a good CV and cover letter is an art form. Without good writing skills, even a solid engineering degree or qualification might not be enough to get you the kind of job you want.
Using a recruiter can help with this. But if you can’t clearly express why you would be such a good candidate for an organisation – and demonstrate the good writing style that many HR types use as an indicator of candidate worth – you may struggle to get your foot in the door.
2) In document creation
A huge percentage of an engineer’s job role is to figure out how to concisely communicate complex and important concepts and details to other people. On any given day as an engineer, you might need to create specifications, product documentation, manuals, describe system requirements, and contribute to any number of other documents that have vital technical applications. If you don’t have the writing skills to define terms, link them to others, and describe things like processes and standards, this is a task that will always be a weakness of yours. But armed with good writing skills, you’ll be known for the clarity and concision of the documents you create. That’s a real strength for you and your career.
3) Internal communications
If you have a sales engineer job or another externally-facing role, your communication skills are going to be paramount to your success. But good writing skills are a benefit to you as any kind of engineer. They help you to communicate inside, outside, and up and down the organisation you work in.
Imagine trying to explain the technical concepts of any engineering project you’ve worked on to someone who doesn’t know much about engineering. You need to go further than just laying out the bare details. You often need to persuade with the language you use. The same kind of skills stand you in great stead when communicating with your line manager or boss. Do you have the writing skills to help them understand why your new idea or approach will be better? If not, they might not be convinced it’s going to work from figures alone. Equally, communication between departments or offices in the same organisation is always smoothed by good writing skills. Even if it’s only to be able to communicate effectively via email.
How to improve your engineering writing skills
1) Understand what you’re writing about
If you can’t explain something properly, it might be because you don’t understand it as well as you thought you did.
That’s not a problem though. Do a little more study and make sure you have a complete grasp of what you’re writing about.
2) Don’t let the writing be an afterthought
The presentation and writing involved in many projects are almost as important as the calculations and research that have gone into them.
By the same token, documentation should be a set phase of every stage of a project. Don’t rush it out the door at the last minute.
The old phrase “keep it simple, stupid” is a good attitude to have in mind whenever you’re writing about an engineering subject. Keep things simple and you keep them clear.
Not having to crawl through incredibly complex sentences makes it much easier to spot mistakes too.
4) Use an active voice
An active voice keeps your writing more engaging and reinforces the fact that you know what you’re talking about.
The passive voice has its place. But it tends to make it sound like something happened in the past or that something just happened to someone. It might be what’s making your writing sound a little strange:
- Passive voice example – “The view that technical writing is a simple write-up of important work done elsewhere is shared by many scholars.”
- Active voice example – “Many scholars share the view that technical writing is a simple write-up of important work done elsewhere.”
5) Proofread your work
For most people, it’s a good strategy to take a break after you’ve finished a piece of writing. Go for a walk. Make a cup of tea. Do something else for five or ten minutes.
Then come back and review what you’ve written. This should make it easier to spot any little (or not so little) errors that you might have missed otherwise.
Whatever approach you use, it’s very useful to have someone else perform a final review of your work if possible. Using a colleague is a good plan if you can. Or perhaps a family member if you’re in the job application process.
Because no matter how well you understand why writing skills are important for your engineering career, everyone makes a mistake every once in a while. But by following all the steps here, you should be on course to make sure your writing skills are an asset to your engineering career rather than a liability.
Ready to put those writing skills to work for the right employer?
Let’s talk. Ernest Gordon is a specialist engineering and manufacturing recruitment agency. We place candidates across the UK with their ideal job every week.
Get in touch for a chat. There’s no commitment. Just more information about how we might be able to work together to find the job that’s best for you.