Un-Heavy Reading: How to Add Value to Engineering Reports


Robert P. Harrison
Technical Writer, Science and Engineering, RPH Technical Writing


April 5, 2017 - 2:00 PM


April 5, 2017 - 3:00 PM

Un-Heavy Reading: How to Add Value to Engineering Reports

Engineering firms produce a tremendous volume of technical writing.  A single project can generate hundreds or even thousands of pages.  Because engineers work to tight schedules and are often overloaded, this could be a great business opportunity for outside technical writers.  But first we must understand what engineers need, and what they lack.

Everyone knows that science is heavy reading.  Engineering is applied science, so it is similarly difficult to communicate, with abstract concepts, complicated equations, specialized vocabulary, chemical symbols, and heavy use of mathematics.  Engineering has an additional challenge, however: the audience.  A successful and heralded scientific paper may never be read by anyone other than scientists.  In contrast, the ultimate goal of an engineering report is to convince business or government leaders to spend money, goodwill or political capital on some kind of project.  Most of these decision-makers will not have a technical background.

An engineering report must therefore be understandable – and even persuasive – not just to other engineers, but also to managers, accountants, government authorities, environmental specialists, journalists, or sometimes even the general public.  Engineers who read the report will demand all the technical details, because they want to make up their own minds about the findings.  The rest of the readers, however, do NOT want the technical details.  These two groups have non-overlapping requirements.  Fortunately there are ways around this paradox, as discussed in the first half of the webinar.

Engineering texts can easily fall into another trap: bad logic camouflaged by jargon.  Again, the ultimate purpose is to persuade somebody in authority to approve a project.  The logic must be airtight.  Jargon and acronyms will give the text a heavy “accent”, which can disguise poor or non-existent arguments and weaken the entire report.  This major pitfall is covered in the second half of the webinar, along with hints on how to sell technical writing services to engineering firms.

The following questions will be answered throughout the webinar:

  • What are the business opportunities at engineering firms for outside technical writers?
  • What kind of documents do engineers prepare?
  • What do engineers need, and what do they lack?
  • Who are the (multiple) target audiences for engineering reports?
  • How do engineering texts differ from science writing?
  • Besides scolding them, how can we persuade engineers to put more emphasis on good writing (hint: engineers love logic)?
  • How can we demonstrate the ‘added value’ of an outside technical writer to an engineering firm?

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