Why Engineers Need Strong Writing Skills

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Online Master of Science In Civil Engineering

: In an office setting, an engineer sits at a desktop computer with CAD software on the screen and types on the keyboard.In its latest report (2017), the American Society of Engineers (ASCE) scored the United States’ infrastructure a grade of D+. Clearly, the U.S. needs to invest in civil engineering projects to maintain its infrastructure. The country also must invest time in honing the communication skills of civil engineering leaders.

Engineering firms understand the importance of writing skills for engineers and seek professionals who exhibit such skill. In every business, communication is key to organizational success, especially for those in senior positions.

It is important that senior engineers develop the written skills to translate technical information into simpler, non-technical terms that can be easily understood by those without an engineering background.  Engineering professionals who are looking to pursue a leadership position in the field — and who are willing to hone their engineering writing competency — can consider an advanced degree in civil engineering.

The Importance of Engineering Writing Skills

Engineering writing is one of the most important “soft skills” for engineers. The ability to write in a clear and concise manner has a variety of benefits.

  • Allows the engineering team to document its work and request further resources to complete a project
  • Conveys in non-technical terms the importance of increased funding for the engineering department; enabling non-technical executives to understand concerns and make necessary changes
  • Resolves engineering issues that could result in safety hazards and ensures that all safety guidelines and standards are met
  • Provides the necessary information to complete their prospective jobs
  • Offers the ability to effectively collaborate with other departments.

Audience analysis is an important aspect of engineering writing. It gives engineers perspective on whom they are writing for — executives, subject matter experts, or laypeople. For example, engineers who are seeking funding for their department may want to target their request toward a non-technical audience. In most cases, an executive in a non-technical role will determine the outcome.

If an engineer’s writing is difficult to follow, outcomes may suffer due to readers’ misunderstanding of the intended message. When a senior engineer writes a project manual for junior engineers, they understand that the audience — despite having junior status — is knowledgeable in the field.

Another fundamental aspect of engineering writing is simplicity. Regardless of the audience, compelling writing is concise and precise. Outlining a document’s major objectives is key, as is organizing critical information.

Another essential of engineering writing is modularity, or developing written text that can be re-used for different purposes. For example, an engineering firm can apply the concept of modularity when responding to a request for proposal (RFP). Modularity saves an organization time and money, allowing certain text and documents to be re-used as templates for responses to a variety of project proposals.

The fundamentals of engineering writing bring clarity to a project and minimize miscommunication that can potentially lead to mishaps and safety concerns.

Writing in Civil Engineering

Effective writing in the civil engineering field is essential for engineers who are producing technical documentation, project manuals, standard operating procedures, project proposals, and interdepartmental communications. Civil engineers need the technical expertise and written capability to convey detailed engineering concepts to non-technical personnel, as well as to produce documentation that conveys the technical aspects of a project or product.

Civil engineers are responsible for designing, implementing, and organizing infrastructure engineering projects. These may include producing roads, bridges, water supply systems, and buildings for the public and private sectors. They may also work in the fields of construction, geotechnical, structural, and transportation engineering. When civil engineers write, they must communicate technical information.

In certain cases, civil engineers in construction are responsible for writing reports during an engineering project. These reports detail the methods used in completing the project, as well as the scope of the work itself. Engineers must define the project timelines and construction procedures.

It is important that engineers home in on procedures that were effective and those that were not to improve future projects. For example, an engineer can note that using a software tool such as Solidworks or AutoCad can impact workflow by giving an accurate model of project timelines.

Geotechnical engineers are responsible for developing reports that analyze the safety of infrastructure at building sites. The field is a subsector of civil engineering that focuses on soil mechanics pertaining to the movement of “clay, silt, rock, and snow,” according to the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute. Their responsibilities include the following.

  • Analyzing and documenting the effect of soil mechanics on buildings, tunnels, bridges, and various infrastructures
  • If soil erosion threatens the stability of a bridge, geotechnical engineers can write a report requesting local governments fund a project to maintain the bridge’s infrastructure

Structural engineers write technical reports on building safety. In particular, these reports document the engineering processes used to ensure a building’s structural integrity to withstand environmental stressors. These engineers take into account the impact a specific environmental region may have on a structure.

  • Engineers in California must ensure that skyscrapers can not only withstand high winds, but also earthquakes. Engineers design the buildings to absorb the seismic wave by fortifying the building so it can transfer the energy back to the ground.
  • Structural engineers write technical reports that can be easily understood by clients, government officials, and other contractors.

Moreover, transportation engineers take special precaution when preparing their technical documentation. It is important they address the federal, state, and local infrastructure requirements pertaining to materials, systems, and procedures. Transportation engineers have a variety of roles and responsibilities including the following.

  • Responsibility for planning, designing, and executing transportation systems such as highways, roadways, and waterways
  • Involvement in analyzing the transportation demands of a community through the construction of systems and detailing their impact on cars, people, public transportation, and beyond

Effective writing is required in all branches of civil engineering, including construction, geotechnical, structural, and transportation engineering. This requires technical writing skills that can convey a clear and concise message to a diversity of audiences — executives, shareholders, government entities, and the local community.

What Are the Types of Writing for Engineers?

Engineers are responsible for understanding the fundamentals of their field, yet it is important that they understand and perfect the various types of writing for engineers. These can include the following:

  • Proposals
  • Inspection reports
  • Research reports
  • Specifications
  • Progress reports

Proposals

Engineers write proposals for funding or in response to RFQs (requests for quotation) drafted by government agencies or private sector organizations.

Engineers are responsible for responding to an RFQ by drafting a document that addresses specific questions and providing an argument as to why their firm is the best to accept the bid. Engineering writing is particularly important for responding to an RFQ and winning new business. An ideal RFQ response also includes a cover letter thanking the company for issuing the RFQ and for the opportunity to be considered.

Inspection Reports

An inspection report is produced to provide a client with information regarding the existing condition of a building, including any hidden deficiencies. This document enables engineers to present to clients the estimated cost for fixing structural and other damages.

Inspection reports can also provide a client an estimate for preventive work. Inspection reports are important in providing transparency between the engineering firm and the client.

Research Reports

An engineering research report provides all the technical information relating to a project, product, or process and defines the overall objective. The report details the results of the project, product, or process through various data (graphs, charts, models, etc.). The report also allows engineers and clients to draw conclusions and recommendations on how to move forward.

Specifications

Engineers are responsible for understanding project specifications when accepting a bid. Specifications entail project timelines, milestones, and deadlines. Engineers ensure they are able to provide the engineering services and the prices specified in the contract bid.

Progress Reports

When an engineering firm accepts a bid, a senior engineer must provide the client with detailed progress reports. These reports document work completed, problems encountered project timelines, and the overall assessment of the project.

Tips for Writing an Effective Engineering Report

Engineering writing requires all engineers to understand how to write an engineering report. The first step is to pinpoint the report’s specific goal. The objective is usually to convey the aim of a project or to prove an engineer’s finding.

  1. The report should begin with a solid introduction describing the problem the engineering team must address, and the steps it will take to solve the issues. The steps should be technical in nature and involve approaches that are supported by scientific experimentation.
  2. The report then transitions into the procedural approach taken by the engineers. This defines not only the work conducted, but also the technical aspects of procedures and industry-recognized engineering methods.
  3. The report should provide enough analytical data to prove the project’s goal as defined through accurate charts, graphs, and models. Based on the analysis of this data, results can be understood, and further inquiries posed.
  4. A report appendix is then added to provide further information. It usually includes supporting material and mathematical equations, tabulated data, sample calculations, and other relevant data.
  5. Furthermore, sources must be cited to ensure proper credit and prove the report’s integrity.

Honing the Tools for Effective Engineering Writing

Cultivating writing skills and understanding the writing process in the context of civil engineering goes a long way to help engineering professionals become leaders in the field. Professionals who are looking to further their careers should consider honing the tools for effective engineering writing.

Engineers who have developed their writing skills can usually position themselves more successfully to be promoted. The ability to write captivating cover letters and resumes certainly helps in this regard. In the simplest terms, hiring managers are looking for engineers who can express themselves succinctly.

Moreover, engineers who have developed exceptional writing skills can communicate with management more successfully. Effective writers also have the potential to land more contracts by responding to RFQs in a manner that grabs the attention of clients.

Furthermore, effective writing skills enable engineers to engage their superiors in understanding how they are contributing to the organization. Managers who can understand and quantify the work of their subordinates are more likely to consider these employees as valuable and promotable.

Effective engineering writing enables engineers to productively communicate with other departments, which increases workflow and project success. Engineering professionals who are looking to advance their careers and improve their engineering writing would do well to consider an advanced degree in civil engineering.

Discover a Rewarding Career with a Master’s in Civil Engineering

To meet the global demands of an ever-changing world, engineers may consider earning an online Master of Science in Civil Engineering degree from Ohio University. The Russ College of Engineering and Technology offers the curriculum to better position graduates to be leaders in the field.

Ohio University’s advanced degree in civil engineering prepares students to tackle the infrastructure demands of the 21st century. The program offers the unique option of specializing in environmental engineering, structural engineering, or transportation engineering.

All students in the program take the following courses — Construction Planning and Scheduling, Applied Civil Engineering Statistics, and Engineering Writing.

Ohio University’s MS in Civil Engineering is a unique program that encourages students to develop their engineering writing, which can prepare them to meet the unique demands of a global economy.

Discover how an online Master of Science in Civil Engineering can prepare students to become future thought leaders in the field of civil engineering.

Recommended Readings

Essential Soft Skills for Engineers in Leadership Roles
Engineering Interview Questions and Career Opportunities for MEM Graduates
A Comparison: Engineering Management Certificate vs. Engineering Management Degree

Sources:

Bizfluent, How to Write an Engineering Proposal
Career Trend, How to Write a Practical Report
Civil Engineering Bible, What is Transportation Engineering?
Engineering Management Institute, How Good Writing Skills Can Benefit Your Engineering Career|
ExpertPages, What to Expect from an Engineering Inspection|Exploratorium, Damage Control Engineering
NGI, What is Geotechnical Engineering
Ohio University, An Introduction to Engineering Writing
Ohio University, Online Master of Science in Civil Engineering
Pen & the Pad, How to Write an Engineering Report
Professional Engineers Ontario, Engineering Report Guide
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Civil Engineers
Writing Assistance, Inc., Why Audience Analysis is Essential in Technical Writing