The main focus of our work as engineers is developing designs and executing them to solve the world’s greatest challenges. However, the reach of our engineering designs is highly dependent on our method of communication to the relevant audience. Whilst studying engineering, we may have been used to writing reports solely for lecturers and course tutors, hence it may require a shift to effectively communicate to different stakeholders in the engineering industry. Good technical writing in industry is important because we need to transmit engineering ideas, concepts, designs or solutions in an accurate, logical, objective manner.
The first step required to achieve good technical communication is to understand our audience. The key questions to ask are:
- Who are they, what background knowledge do they have on the subject matter?
- Why are they interacting with this communication?
- What should they do/know afterwards?
Engineers in the industry may be required to communicate with different types of audiences. These include:
- Executives/top management: They are likely to be interested in a high-level summary of the technical work that has been carried out and what the next strategic/financial steps are required.
- Fellow Engineers/Scientists: This audience would be interested in the details of the technical work for a better understanding. For example, process engineers could study a process safety report to understand the effects on process design conditions.
- Operators/maintenance staff: They would be interested in technical details for actions/effects on process operations/maintenance.
- Members of the public: The are likely to study an engineering communication to educate themselves on that topic. It is important to note that they may not be familiar with the jargon specific to the engineering industry.
Once the target audience is understood, it is important to select the right form of communication. It is important to take into consideration the amount of information that is required for each form of communication. The types of technical communication include:
- Technical/ Justification Reports,
- Technical manuals,
- Standard Operating Procedures,
- Dashboards/Infographic materials.
The next step in the communication process is planning the layout of the communication of choice. It is very important to identify the key points and sections that must be relayed to the audience. It may be helpful to start with an outline of the sections required. For example, if you are writing a report, you would need to decide what key message should be passed across in the introduction, main body and conclusion of the report.
Next, you can finally get into the writing process. This involves fleshing out the key message in each section that has been previously identified in the planning stage. This could be in the form of texts, charts, graphs, pictures or drawings.
After all the information has been added into the communication, it is very important to read through from the beginning to the end to ensure that the information is presented in a logical and concise manner. It is a great idea to imagine yourself as the reader and try to make their experience whilst reading through as enjoyable and seamless as possible. Key things to look out for in this process include;
- Alignment and spacing of text to ensure that it is easy to read.
- The use of appropriate headings in the right font and text size are important, so that the reader can quickly scan and head to the appropriate section to obtain the required information.
- All abbreviations should be appropriately explained.
- Figures should have appropriate legends and headings that accurately describe the intent of the figures. They should also be referenced in the text to keep the flow of the document.
- Picture and graphic quality should be monitored. Where they are used, zoomed-in screenshots should ensure that they remain legible.
- Important text can be highlighted using bullet points, numbers, underlining or use of italics.
- For reports, a table of contents is essential as a guide to the reader.
- The choice of the colours used should be made carefully to ensure that it is legible both on printed and on screen.
- Proper references should be made to any information used from other sources. Any engineering standards or legislations which are used should be referenced with dates, to avoid plagiarism and lend confidence to your report.
The final step is to read through the write-up with a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ to spot any spelling, punctuation or formatting errors. Depending on the company policy, a system can be set up for review of documents by peers and managers.
It is important to note that all of the tips mentioned may not apply to all forms of communication, but adopting a few of these would definitely help in better communication of all the remarkable engineering work you are doing.
Thank you for reading.
What guidelines do you follow when preparing your reports? Please share below, I would love to hear from you!