A Future Engineer's Writing Aspirations (BP1)

Blog » A Future Engineer's Writing Aspirations (BP1)

Posted on 05 Feb 2013 02:11

By: Brian Wang

When I think about how biomedical engineers (or engineers in general) use writing, I usually come to the conclusion that we generally write for one of several reasons: 1) To apply for research grants and/or funding, 2) To write research articles describing experiments, 3) To informally/formally communicate with other researchers and/or businesspeople through e-mail and snail mail, 4) To write presentations and reports for potential sponsors and buyers. However, while each of those reasons for writing clearly dictate a different audience and/or purpose, the manner in which engineers write for each of those scenarios doesn’t vary very much, if at all. When I am in a position where I have to write for each of the situations listed above, I want to make sure that I not only make my writing concise and effective but also tailored to whoever will be reading my writing.

I was first exposed to engineers’ technical writing in high school. I was part of a science research program, and one of our recurring assignments was to read, analyze and present research papers in areas we were interested in. To put it bluntly, I either couldn’t understand the researchers were presenting or became too bored to finish reading the paper. It’s true that many of these papers were written for peer review by other researchers, but these papers were also published in general journals, such as Nature. Essentially, papers often sounded like their authors were just looking to get all of their information down on paper without thinking about organization or appearance. With some papers, the research was incomprehensible unless one had extensive background in the topic area. As a result, I now want to write research article in such a way that both researchers and students alike will be able to understand my writing (though students may only be getting a general picture of my research).

Another part of my science research class was seeking professors at local universities to perform research with. While my cover letters and other correspondence were carefully though out, written, and organized, the responses I received from professors were often short, without greetings/endings, and grammatically incorrect. I do understand that professors are busy people and often don’t have time to write responses to high school students. However, such an attitude does not give me a good impression of researchers in general. So, I want to make sure that no matter who I am writing to, my writing looks and sounds professional in terms of layout and appearance.

While I don’t have much experience dealing with grant requests and reports tailored for potential customers/sponsors, I do have a good idea of what I do and do not want to include in either of those pieces of writing. For example, my engineering 101 professor always told us that businesspeople don’t care for the technical details of some engineering solution – that information is for other engineers. Since the people who read grant requests and product reports/descriptions are often businesspeople, as my professor said, make sure you keep them interested. I would imagine that successful engineers would keep those genres of writing concise and written from a business perspective. He might talk about what the research funds will be going to be used for without going into technical detail, for example.
All of my observations should be taken with a grain of salt, however. I do not have any experience working as an engineer or even going through a day of an engineer’s professional life. However, I do know that successful engineers (like my engineering 101 professor) are effective communicators (especially with written communication) and stay on top of their projects at all times.

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