To Convey With Open Accuracy

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Posted on 05 Feb 2013 01:40

One of my first engineering experiences was a workshop for a program called the National Student Leadership Conference at Maryland. Not much writing was required, and I mostly interacted with my teammates in an engineering environment. I soon learned that good communication with my teammates within this environment is key to achieving goals — as it is key in any other environment. My teammates and I — just like engineers — were assigned projects to complete, and we were always within speaking distance of each other. According to my conference leaders, however, engineers heavily rely on writing to convey their messages to other people that may not be in the vicinity — such as superiors or clients.

Engineers, like writers, have a process. They have to design a solution to a problem, propose it to their coworkers, and then model this design. They have to improve and change the design, and make sure that it is easy to mass produce — similar to how writers have to draft, proofread and revise. Engineers have to make sure their prototype works; writers have to make their sentences work to serving the whole purpose of the writing. Engineers must be organized when their projects go through their processes, while writers must be organized when they present their ideas in sentences. The writing process is similar to the engineering process in many ways — engineers have to use the writing process themselves.

Based on my inquiries about my friend’s father (an electrical engineer), an engineer can write many types of documents for many different types of people: a policy statement for a product, a proposal letter for a superior, an information memo, or a lab report for a co-worker. An engineer may have to adjust their forms, styles, and diction (including technical jargon) in order for the intended audience to understand the idea or report that one wants to offer. A letter to a client may not contain the amount of jargon that a lab report may require. In addition, a proposal may not be as informal as an email to another co-worker. The abstract of a lab report (which is a written explanation of findings) may be the only part of a report that is read by a manager. In this case, one would have to explain his or her findings in a way that both co-workers and managers would understand. For example, Maurice Karnaugh summed up his research in his IEEE article in the first page. In all cases, context greatly affects the technique in which we convey information as an engineer.

I, personally, have to improve my own technique. Although I enjoy writing creative essays and fiction, I would — with practice — be able to write in a formal, technical tone. In the context of writing precisely, however, I'm concerned about being unable to express every single detail on paper. I like to write short and summarized papers, but in the past I have seen myself unable to include some specific details in lab reports; English's semantics have sometimes made it hard for me to explain certain findings. Small details may be too significant to leave out — especially when co-workers would need these details in a lab report, or if a lawyer would find a loophole in my policy statement. With practice — and study of genres — I may be able to write with more precision.

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