Striving for Efficiency

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Posted on 05 Feb 2013 00:49

The aspects of an engineer’s work can be reflected in the way he writes. For example, engineers aim to make machines more efficient, creating a greater ratio in the amount of work executed to the amount of energy consumed. Analogously, writings by engineers on engineering-related material are ideally concise and meticulous; they produce high quantities of information compacted into the smallest possible amount of content, in other words, creating efficient papers. However, compact content does not mean that some information in the descriptions, methods, observations, results and explanations should be neglected. Doing so would depreciate the quality of the writing. Compact content only means that verbosity should be kept to a minimum while retaining clarity, comprehensiveness and detail. Engineers often work with images—three-dimensional models, product designs and improvements, prototypes, etc. In their writing, it is important to describe the aspects of their work in documentation as thoroughly as possible to ensure that the same results can be obtained in following attempts. Therefore, a picture can be, quite literally, worth a thousand words. The picture itself is also helpful to include.

This is all based on my speculation that most of what engineers write about is their own work or the work of others in textbooks, journals, or databases. This work may include any products they have invented, any improvements they have developed, or a new technique to accomplish a task. Often instructional and informative, there’s not much room for subjectivity in such literature, so it is probably very direct and easy to understand, given that the reader is familiar with the terminology used. However, I could be wrong, as I don’t often read compositions in the field of engineering, nor have I personally had a conversation with professionals in the field. I know that I will have difficulty reading engineering-related material because I find them dull, and I usually find myself on the computer with fifteen Wikipedia tabs open to concepts mentioned in what I’m reading that I have never heard of before and am struggling to understand. My inexperience will work to my disadvantage, and realizing my lack of interest makes me wonder why I’ve chosen to be a mechanical engineering major.

Reading technical papers is already a struggle for me, and I can’t imagine how writing an engineering paper myself will turn out. Hopefully, my writing will not resemble my reading habits, although they often go hand in hand. I tend to write in first person and what I write most often takes the form of a narrative. I like to write about what I know and understand very well if not completely, so I was a little uneasy when Andrew mentioned that we will have to write about topics that we don’t fully understand. To me, that’s like trying to put together a puzzle with missing pieces. There have been times when I would unintentionally assume things are true to fill the gaps in my knowledge, making up my own puzzle piece and trying to use the pieces around it to guess what it looks like. Some of my writing skills that may work to my benefit as an engineer could be my attention to detail (which, on the other hand, is what impedes my writing if my knowledge is incomplete) and my ability to make analogies to explain concepts through more familiar representations.

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