Writing@CSU Guide

Communicating as an Engineer

In both academia and industry, engineers speak and write their ideas. While some communication tasks are completed individually, others are performed as a group. Engineers also work as project teams to write proposals and reports.

During your training as an engineer, you write and present large amounts of research. Typically, in academia, your instructor dictates what type of communication you'll use. For example, an assignment may require you to write a Technical Report instead of a giving a Presentation. Later, in industry, you may need to determine what type of communication to use in particular situations. However, most companies, like instructors, often provide guidelines for each communication type.

Types of Communication

The list below represents some of the most common communication types you'll use. Typically, content and organization distinguish each of these. However, you'll find variations on these types in both academia and in industry. For example, one instructor might identify the written results of a lab test as a Lab Report, while another instructor might call it a Project Report. Always check with your instructor or company policy to know what type is expected and what to include.

Design Reviews

Often, mechanical engineers participate in writing Design Reviews with design teams. Design Reviews serve as a way for teams to communicate their progress and concerns about a design. Typically, a design team includes various experts. For example, a team designing a product might involve marketing and manufacturing experts, as well as industrial, mechanical, and electrical engineers. Writing a review allows all parties to input and critique ideas before production begins. For instance, electrical engineers may have specific requirements or criteria to meet before they can attach circuitry to a mechanical component. Design Reviews are a good way for everyone involved in a design to formalize his/her concerns.


Graphics provide illustrated information to readers. In general, graphics are designed to make it easier for readers to understand your ideas. Deciding when to insert a graphic depends on the information you need to convey. For example, as you're writing, you find yourself struggling to describe a complex concept. Fitting your description within a few paragraphs is impossible, so you decide to create a graphic. Often, graphics are useful when concepts, designs, or processes are too complex or cumbersome to describe in written or oral form.

Poster Sessions

As an engineer, you'll participate in Poster Sessions during conferences and group meetings. A Poster Session allows you to display and discuss your work on a project or the results of your research. These sessions are popular in both academia and industry.


Engineers typically write Inspections after evaluating an artifact and making assessments. For example, an engineer might inspect the condition of a bridge or pavement and then assess what repairs need to be completed. Often, regulatory agencies require that engineers inspect artifacts within specific time intervals.

The audience for Inspection documents is the people who need to resolve the issues presented in the assessments--a bridge Inspection is most likely delivered to the bridge authority managers. Inspections usually contain numerous photographs depicting an artifact to help the audience visualize an artifact's condition. When writing Inspections, engineers present their observations, not their recommendations. Decision-making is left to the audience.


Mechanical engineers give Presentations when they work on projects and Proposals. Often, professional Presentations require you to verbally and graphically present preliminary designs to colleagues. On the other hand, if you attend technical meetings or academic conferences, you'll discover that engineers use Poster Sessions to present research and other technical information.

Lab Reports

Lab work is an important part of every engineer's training. During a lab test or experiment, you participate in a "hands-on" experience that no textbook or lecture can provide. Writing a Lab Report requires you to reflect on these experiences.

Engineers write Lab Reports to describe their work in labs. As an engineer, even if you don’t work in a lab, you might read and evaluate Lab Reports written by other engineers. Knowing what information to expect and how it should be presented can help you evaluate such reports.

Lab Reports are factual presentations of test or experiment results completed in a lab or simulation. Typically, Lab Reports discuss procedures as well as describe the details of a test or experiment. As a student, you'll write Lab Reports not only for a passing grade, but to learn from the observations you make. As an engineer in industry, you'll read many Lab Reports. Whether or not you write Lab Reports in industry depends on the company you work for and your position there.

The purpose of a lab report is to present the work completed in a lab test or experiment. This information may be used in several different ways. For instance, a lab report may explain why certain materials reacted the way they did. Or, perhaps someone will use the data from the report to make a decision about which material to use in a design or project. In this case, you may have to argue, based on your results, why a particular material is better than another. When documenting your lab work, always consider how someone will use the information.

As a student, it may seem as though your instructor is your audience. However, this may not always be the case. Your instructor may ask you to write for someone else, such as a peer in your class or a fellow engineer. Always check to see whom your audience is. This is important because you may need to explain a lab in more or less detail, depending on your audience. For instance, your audience may already know the procedures you used; therefore, you don’t need to explain these. On the other hand, your audience may be unfamiliar with the lab, and you might need to describe the lab set up, the equipment you used, and every procedure you followed.

How you develop a Lab Report depends on why you are writing the report (purpose) and who will read it (audience). Typically, a Lab Report includes specific information relating to the work done in a lab. This might include:

  • Background Research on Testing Materials
  • Equations
  • Graphics
  • Lab Set Up Description
  • Equipment Description
  • Procedure Description
  • Data
  • Results
  • Explanations/Conclusions

Project Notebooks

As an engineer, you should always keep a Project Notebook, containing notes of all your work. The Project Notebook provides a convenient place to keep track both of what you think about and the work you do on lengthy projects.

Letters, Memos, E-mail

You might assume that as an engineer, you won't have to write business letters, memos or e-mail. This assumption is wrong! Any college instructor will tell you that these skills are necessary in industry. Every project you work on will demand that you communicate with other engineers and clients about your ideas and research.


Engineers write Proposals to present a topic to be researched or to suggest a plan of action. Typically, consulting engineers send Proposals to other companies in order to get work. The Proposal then works to convince its recipient that a particular engineer or firm is the right choice for the job.

Narrative Writing

As an engineer, much of the writing you do is not specifically essay or creative writing, such as the writing you might do for a composition or poetry class. However, Narrative Writing is useful for explaining concepts or depicting situations that might otherwise be difficult to understand.

Narrative Writing involves telling a story. Typically, this writing is not accepted in the technical writing found in most engineering publications and in industry. Readers, specifically other engineers, expect what they read to deliver information in a straightforward way without comparisons or anecdotes. However, Narrative Writing can help readers visualize a concept or design in specific situations.

Public Meetings

As a civil engineer, you'll attend and conduct many Public Meetings. Since much of the engineering work you'll do centers around planning and decision-making, people, both politicians and citizens, want to know how you're spending their tax dollars. These meetings require strong presentation skills due to diverse audiences and situations.

The purpose of a Public Meeting is to communicate what plans or decisions are being made on a project. Typically, the information engineers convey at a Public Meeting is objective so that unbiased decisions can be made. A Public Meeting's purpose can change, however, depending on the audience and the situation.

A Public Meeting's audience can range anywhere from city council members to citizens. When presenting to any of these, engineers always consider what their audience already knows about a topic and what they expect to find out about a topic. They are also informed about how an audience feels towards a topic.

For example, homeowners living near a busy intersection are complaining about noise and traffic congestion. The city has plans to widen the streets at this intersection, thus welcoming even more traffic according to the homeowners. Civil engineers would discuss the city's plans to both city officials and homeowners. Obviously, they can expect support from city officials since they initiated the plan. The homeowners, on the other hand, are likely to be angry and have much to say against the proposal. The engineers' job, as presenters, is to cater to both audiences. They can justify why the streets need to be widened and how the noise and heavy traffic problems might be solved. They must present objective information to aid in decision making.

Operating Procedures

Engineers write Operating Procedures to ensure that the artifacts they create are properly utilized and maintained. Operating Procedures require a specific type of writing for a particular audience.

Civil engineers write Operating Procedures for different types of artifacts. These artifacts include single pieces of equipment, such as a pump, and more complex equipment, such as reservoir or wastewater treatment plant. Whenever engineers write Operating Procedures, they consider who will need to understand the information they provide.

The purpose of Operating Procedures is to instruct technicians and other equipment operators how to operate and maintain equipment. Operating Procedures are similar to VCR instruction manuals that inform you about how to operate the equipment.

The typical audience for Operating Procedures is the technicians who operate equipment. This audience varies, depending on the type of equipment and how detailed the procedures need to be. For example, some technicians are high school graduates who have been through training programs, while others have college degrees or various levels of technical knowledge. This audience then determines how engineers write the procedures and the language they use.

Operating Procedures combine technical writing with writing for not-so-technical audiences. For instance, instead of writing, "Turn knob B' 30 degrees counter-clockwise," an engineer may write, "Rotate the green knob to the left as far as it will turn."

Deciding between which of these two procedures to write depends on which the audience is more likely to understand and how familiar the audience is with the equipment. Consider a VCR instruction manual. The manual doesn't assume that you know the electrical terms for every component. Instead, the manual's goal is to familiarize you with how to operate the equipment on a non-technical level in a language that you can understand. Engineers write Operating Procedures in much the same way.

Engineering Reports

Just about every engineering project requires engineers to produce numerous reports. Some situations require only one report while others demand several reports to communicate work progress. The number of reports written typically depends on the type of project and who funds the project.

Engineers write Progress Reports to communicate the status of their work or when they reach a milestone. Typically, consulting engineers produce these reports; however, other engineers might write them as well. The main purpose of this document is to inform funding agencies, mangers, and co-workers of problems or changes regarding a project. Often, changes can affect schedules and even budgets.

A Progress Report can be as informal as a quick e-mail or as formal as a bound report. Its format generally includes information such as project background, the work completed, the work currently being completed, and the work to be completed. It also states any problems and presents suggested solutions either already implemented or to be implemented. The details in a Progress Report depend on who the audience is. For example, a client may be more concerned about the financial status whereas a supervisor may care more about when the work will be completed. An audience analysis is necessary to determine what details to include.

Policy Statements

Policy Statements are regulatory documents that help ensure safety. Unlike Specifications and Codes that guide engineers as they create designs, Policy Statements are more concerned with specific procedures and operating decisions. As a student, you may not write Policy Statements, but as an engineer, many projects will require you to produce Policy Statements.

Policy Statements are crucial in every day operating procedures, and they also play a large role in emergency situations. As an engineer entering the field, you probably won't write Policy Statements. However, as you advance into management positions, you're more likely to produce such documentation.

Policy Statements are specific procedures that help ensure safety for operations. Often engineers write these documents as manuals and divide them according to specific areas of responsibility. For example, at a wastewater treatment plant, the procedures may be to bolt all large items to the floor and to keep the premises free of clutter at all times, i.e. no ladders left in the open.

Policy Statements also inform readers of specific design limitations and what actions to take should limitations be surpassed. For example, A storm hits a city and the amount of incoming wastewater surpasses the amount that can be treated by the wastewater system. Operators can then refer to a policy that states how much water can be treated in a given time and what course of action they should take.

The audience for Policy Statements varies, depending on different situations. Often, operators read these documents to inform themselves about equipment or operations. However, government officials or city engineers responsible for operations are also likely to read Policy Statements.

Specifications and Codes

As an engineer, it's likely that you'll read countless Codes and possibly write many Specifications. Depending on your position as a civil engineer, you may even be involved in creating Codes for other engineers to use.

When engineers develop designs for their projects, they consider many issues. In particular, civil engineers have to follow a strict set of restrictions known as Codes. These Codes help them write the Specifications needed for a specific design. Since many engineers develop public artifacts, they also have to consider how a design's appearance appeals to citizens.

Specifications are what engineers write after reviewing the Codes affecting their projects. Codes are regulatory sets of rules, so Specifications "specify" the work that will be completed in order to comply with specific Codes. Engineers must take Codes into account because these prescriptive rules assist them in meeting the minimum performance standards necessary for health and safety.

For example, in Colorado a foundation has to be at least 48 inches below the ground's surface. This is a Code. Engineers designing a particular project must then write the Specifications to follow this Code. So, they might state that the soil should be placed within a density range of x to y and that the moisture content is A to B. These are the Specifications.

Codes are mainly read by:

  • Regulators, whose job it is to enforce Codes
  • Engineers, who rely on Codes to write their Specifications
  • Lawyers, who review Codes when an artifact fails.

Typically, citizens don't read Codes. Instead, citizens see the results of Codes in the artifacts designed by civil engineers.

Technicians read Specifications to help them maintain equipment. Since most technians don't have an engineering background, they don't understand technical engineering terminology. However, technicians are familiar with the equipment and tools necessary for maintenance.

At the same time, when engineers write , they can't assume any background knowledge. That is, they don't assume a technician is familiar with the way equipment reacts, etc. Instead of writing "Carefully remove the end cap," an enginner needs to consider that the pressure behind the cap could explode if the cap isn't removed properly. Specifications must be very specific and detailed.

General Format of a Lab Report

Some Lab Reports may be as simple as jotting down your results onto a piece of paper. Other reports are actual forms, requiring you to fill in blanks with the requested information. And still other reports are lengthy documents that include an Introduction and various other sections.


A Lab Report typically includes a title clearly identifying the lab. A title should be descriptive and accurate, but not wordy, verbose or too terse. And, of course, you should always include your name and the date on a title page, as well as any other information identifying the lab.


The abstract is a brief summary of the report. It typically ranges from 50 to 150 words, depending on the report’s length. Abstracts can be organized in a number of ways. A typical organizational pattern presents the objective of the experiment, briefly lists the procedures that were followed, and briefly reports the key findings. Depending on the importance of the findings, some abstracts report the results first.


Readers may expect, and require, a list of all the equipment used in a test. This list includes the equipment's name, as well as the equipment's number. Listing your equipment ensures that you use the same piece of equipment throughout a test.

Check with your instructor to determine whether or not this information should be included and where. You may need to provide a separate "Equipment" heading or include this information within the "Procedures."


Here is where you document everything you did during a test or experiment. In a way, this section is like a recipe because you present the exact steps you followed. In fact, someone should be able to read your procedures section and imitate the test or experiment exactly. More than likely, you’ll also incorporate graphics here to help describe exactly what procedures you followed.


In this section, you report the test's outcome(s). Here, tell your readers what the test measured with exact data. You might also include calculations or equations. This section may or may not include data interpretations. Some readers expect interpretations, or conclusions, to be a separate heading. Check with your instructor for what to include in your results.


In the conclusions, you comment on the outcomes of a test. Here, you might also speculate about the implications of the results or even about the methods used to obtain the results. Some readers may not expect conclusions. For example, engineers reading a report may interpret, or make conclusions, about the results themselves. Typically, as a student, however, you may need to interpret, or make recommendations about, the results for your readers.

Communication Conventions

The engineering field has many established writing conventions. These conventions affect how you organize your thoughts and how you phrase your research and ideas.

Most of the conventions you'll read about here represent what's generally expected when you communicate as an engineer. However, you may need to use different conventions in different situations. For example, your instructor may require you to use first person pronouns in a Technical Report, while the same report submitted to a publication may require the passive voice. Always check to know what's acceptable and what's not.

Headings & Subheadings

Headings and subheadings are good organizational techniques, and they also help readers locate information. For example, students writing a design report about a performing arts center used "Main Hall Acoustics" as a main heading and placed "Background, " "Materials," and "Design Considerations" as subheadings. This way, a reader interested in the necessary materials could quickly find this information without reading the whole report.

Additionally, headings and subheadings break up your text. They provide readers with visual stopping points. These stopping points help keep your reader's attention focused on your content rather than on where they are in the text.

Group Writing

Engineers often compose documents as a group. This occurs in both industry and academia when engineers have to present large projects. Writing as a group means that you have to work well together in order to assign tasks and complete the work.


Lists are effective ways to present information. Not only do they break down large amounts of text, but they're also visually pleasing. Lists are especially useful when you have to convey steps, phases, years, procedures, or decisions. When creating a list, consider writing phrases, fragments or even questions and answers. By avoiding full sentences in a list, your information is concise and more likely to engage your readers. For example, to receive a degree in engineering, you must complete the following:

  • Core Courses
  • Elective Courses
  • Senior Design

Lists can be bulleted, as in the previous example, or numbered. Typically, you should use a numbered list when you need to stress the order of the listed items. Priorities and steps are best presented as numbered lists.


Graphics provide illustrated information to readers. In general, graphics are designed to make it easier for readers to understand your data. Deciding when to insert a graphic depends on the information you need to convey. For example, as you're writing a technical report, you find yourself struggling to describe a complex concept. Fitting your description within a few paragraphs is impossible, so you decide to create a graphic. Often, graphics are useful when concepts, designs, or processes are too complex or cumbersome to describe in written or oral form.

Active & Passive Voice

In the past, many engineers stressed that the passive voice should be used in writing. However, this trend is changing. Some instructors, publications and industries now accept the active voice in written documents. To differentiate between the two, consider the following:

  1. I used the electric identifier to solve the problem.
  2. The electric identifier was used to solve the problem.

The first sentence is in active voice. It stresses who completed the work, "I." The second sentence is in the passive voice. It stresses the work completed, "The electric identifier was used." Typically, if you use a first person pronoun (I, we) you are writing in active voice. Always be sure you know which voice you should use in your writing.


Many engineers stress that writing should be terse. Lengthy sentences and long paragraphs are signs that your writing is not terse. The reason why terseness is necessary to good engineering writing is because it helps your readers understand information quicker. For example, you can write five paragraphs about the procedures you followed during a lab, or you can summarize the key points in a paragraph or two.

What's important to remember about terseness is that you shouldn't give up any detail. In other words, don't delete large portions of text because you think you've been too wordy. Remember that good writing is descriptive, but it also gets to the point as quickly as possible. The information you present should always be relevant to your topic, as well as to your audience.


Like active voice, pronouns were once unacceptable in engineering writing. According to some engineers, using pronouns made writing more "personable" and less "scientific." However, this trend is changing. Some instructors, publications and industries now accept pronouns in written documents. For example, "We tested each sample," as opposed to 'The sample was tested." Before you begin writing, always determine whether or not it's acceptable to use pronouns.

Advice from Engineers

Engineers who've been in the field for years have learned that presenting information requires writers and speakers to consider specific issues. These issues can help you effectively present your ideas and research. In this section, we discuss the following:

  • Present Information Logically
  • Format Your Documents
  • Know Your Purpose and Audience

The advice you'll read here comes from engineering instructors who have been reading student writing for years. As a result, these engineers have found that students need to understand how to effectively present information, how to format documents, and how to incorporate purpose and audience into writing. Following this advice can help you prepare organized, logical documents.

Present Information Logically

Many engineering professors note that much of the writing they read from students often doesn't have a "logical flow." By this, they mean that the writing doesn't present ideas in an order that makes sense. Consider, for example, that you are writing the procedures to a lab you conducted. Obviously, you should relate the steps you followed in the order you completed them. This way, your readers can visualize how you completed the tasks. You should also make sure that your entire document or presentation presents information logically. For instance, don't include conclusions or results in either the procedure section or the introduction.

Format Your Documents

Another common mistake many engineering instructors identify in student writing is that writers give little or no consideration to formatting. Whenever you produce a document, you should always consider how you've organized your thoughts and how you can make this known to the reader. For example, if you're writing a report, you should use headings and subheadings to alert your readers of the various sections your report presents. Then, bolding or somehow highlighting (with various font sizes, etc.) these headings can make them stand out to your readers. Also, consider how your document appears. In other words, you should use a consistent style (according to the style guidelines in your discipline). This includes margin sizes, line spacing, and even the title page you attach to the front of your document. The final draft your instructor collects should look good enough to send to a publication or a conference.

Know Your Purpose and Audience

Many student writers don't consider why they're writing and who will read what they write, according to several engineering instructors. These are important aspects to consider even before you begin researching a topic. For example, by determining who your audience is and what your purpose is, you can then gather specific information instead of including everything that you might find on a particular topic. This way, you don't have to worry about presenting information that may bore or confuse a particular audience.

Perspectives on Communicating as an Engineer

Dave Alciatore, Mechanical Engineering

Writing Style

"Engineering writing should be very clear. When you enter the industry, you're expected to write efficiently and not be as creative as you may have been while in school. Your boss won’t want you taking a lot of time to write something and your readers don’t want to read more than is necessary. Good writing is structured, concise, well-illustrated, and therefore relatively short. I get fed up with long paragraphs because they take longer to read. "

Creativity in Engineering Writing

"Most engineering writing is rather dry. I usually count off for story telling, especially when students should be describing what they did and how they did it. If the material is straightforward and simple, it should be presented in a straightforward and simple way. Typically, it’s not professional nor appropriate to liven writing with stories. On the other hand, I’ve read some publications where analogies, anecdotes, and metaphors were used to depict a concept. One example was to show the limitations of technology. In the article, the writer compared a robot to an ant in a bath tub. Like the ant with its sensory limitations, the robot also has limitations. The conclusion was that a robot can’t operate in certain environments. It makes sense, though, that this type of writing is used with this subject matter. After all, in behavior based robotics, writers build comparisons between living creatures to show how we want robots to act. Usually a writer has to have a solid reputation in the field before readers will accept this type of writing."

Operating Manuals

"If you are designing and selling a product, you might have to write an Operating Manual. Your customers will need to know the product's features, maintenance information, and other general product descriptions. We've all read Operating Manuals at one time or another. Think about software manuals. Mechanical engineers write those, and may even write them for other engineers. For example, an engineer might write software that analyzes the stresses in a piping system and predicts the flow rate. Only an engineer can write the manual because it's very technical. It requires an understanding of how the software works. "

Types of Specifications

"As a mechanical engineer, you'll encounter many types of Specifications. One type is a maintenance spec. Engineers write these to illustrate how a system should be maintained. For example, technicians maintain turbine power generation facilities by lubricating parts, tightening bolts, applying paint, and replacing rubber fittings. Specifications tell them how to do this. Another type of Specification is a materials spec. Here, an engineer lists a material's properties and how they should be used. These might include temperature variations or corrosive environments. Other types of Specifications include operation specs and design specs. Engineers write Specifications for various stages in a product's design. Although Specifications can be boring to read, they must account for every detail affecting the product. "

The Legal Aspects of Specifications

"Specifications can become legal documents. For instance, another company might use your Specifications to build a product you've designed. They will follow your Specifications exactly. If you aren't satisfied with the final product, you can blame either yourself for not providing enough detail in the specs, or the company for not understanding the specs. Regardless, the final product is a direct result of what you presented in the Specifications. "

O & M

"Often, engineers combine operation specs and maintenance specs. These are called "O & M." That's something every engineer should know."

Patrick Fitzhorn, Mechanical Engineering

Terseness in Writing

"When I grade technical papers from students, the most common comment I write is "Why?" In order to be as terse as possible, many students make statements without providing back-up, support, or reasons to believe that’s the case. As much as terseness in writing is desired in engineering, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to justify what you write. You still have to explain how you arrived at decisions, etc."

Neil Grigg, Civil Engineering

Narrative Writing in Publications

"Narrative writing is acceptable in some publications, but most technical people don’t want to read anything like that. They demand cut and dry writing. I’ve noticed more creative writing in publications recently; however, it takes a lot of confidence to write that way. You don’t want to risk loosing your readers’ attention because of your creativity. "

Presentation Levels

"A comfortable situation is when you present information to a project team or other people, like city council, who understand engineering terminology. In a more formal situation, you might present your proposed plan to politicians and citizens. Or you might pitch a sales presentation to a panel selecting an engineering company for a contract. This is a formal situation, however, you should act informal, so they’ll like you. A hostile situation is at a large public meeting where citizens are usually against the proposed plan. An ultimate hostile situation is where you are threatened and need to take control. As a professional, you need to come across as neutral, unbiased. All of these situations are out there."

Explaining a Concept

"I worked with a group to write software for state government supply. At a meeting, we were setting up protocols, that is, who would own the software, who would modify it, control it, distribute it. I told everyone that we needed to stop discussing these issues and look at the future to see how the software would be managed. To do this, I used a narrative story."

"The year is 1999 and Judy is the software manager in Fort Collins. Jack works on the Western slope and needs to stay in contact with Judy. The two communicate via e-mail. They exchange files over e-mail, etc. This technology plays a major role in getting the job done. "

"From this story, everyone could visualize how this situation would work because the e-mail trend was apparent to everyone. A narrative story helped in that situation. "

Writing Specifications that Satisfy Codes and Citizens

"When engineers write Specifications, they must satisfy both Codes and citizens. Consider, for example, that an engineer must design a flood control channel in a stream. The control channel, according to the Code, must be big enough to pass a certain size flood. Since the control channel is visible to citizens, it must also be appealing. So perhaps the engineer will plan a bike path along the stream. The path will have flowers instead of concrete walls. It'll look just like a babbling brook and still have functional control channels. "

Operating Procedures

"The more complex a system is the more complex the Operating Procedures will be. Consider a wastewater treatment plant--it's like a human body. A plant has many systems: a flow system, an electrical system, and an environmental safety system, all of which have to be monitored and operated. Someone has to make sure these systems are in compliance with the standards, and that's what Operating Procedures accomplish. "

Derek Lile, Electrical Engineering

Being Hired as an Engineer

"When hiring, job recruiters look for someone with a reasonable reputation. They assume you already have technical abilities. What they look for are strong writing skills, good presentation skills, team skills, and leadership skills. "

Logical Flow

"Technical writing has a logical order to it, an accepted flow. It can be varied, but you better have a good reason to do so. Within sections, you should also have a logical flow. I've seen writing where the information is in the wrong section. For example, writers placing results in the conclusion section. I've also seen information placed in the wrong order. Instead of A leading to B, some writers jump directly to B."

Writing Style

"Engineering writing has a specific style. Open any publication and you'll see that style: never use personal pronouns, use the passive voice, etc. It's very impersonal. This is the accepted style, and I honestly don't know the history of it. In a technical paper we can't write, "I bought a bunson burner, I did this with it, and I made these measurements." This type of writing would get thrown out by any journal."

Carmen Menoni, Electrical Engineering

Engineering Writing

"Our approach to writing is similar to the way we, as engineers, work. Because writing is a process by which you start with something and you improve it by shaping it into a particular form. This is exactly what we do with an experiment. We start with a problem, devise a way to solve the problem, and then consider the outcome. Engineers do this type of analytical thinking. "

Structured Writing

"Engineering writing is very structured. We teach you to write this way because it's expected in industry. We all learn to write this way from reading published articles, our colleagues' work, and by writing ourselves."

Ken Reardon, BioChemical Engineering

Details in Engineering Writing

"Calculations, graphics and other engineering information are important details in writing, but you have to know how and when to use them. A good engineer must know how to integrate these details into the bigger picture to answer "why" questions with them. For instance, calculations can be used to make decisions or convince other people of your ideas. They support what you have to say. "

Developing Your Writing

"Some writers think that because they're writing as an engineer, they can use numbers and symbols instead of words. Not true. In these cases, the writing is almost always too terse. These writers need to learn the differences between what constitutes terse and what's enough explanation. I personally like writers to think outside the lines. Tell me what would happen in different cases and why. "

"However, it's important to come to the point and not write excess information. Most engineers discuss and hypothesize more than a scientist ever would. I don't want someone to say, "The answer is this." I look for the reasons why it is a certain way. As a writer, you should be efficient with your words; be terse, but don't leave out information. As an engineer, you look at problems and see multiple solutions. You then determine what solution is most effective. I want to know why. "

Tom Siller, Civil Engineering

Public Meetings

"As a civil engineer, you’ll often be called into the public domain to make speeches. For example, when city councils propose ideas, they have a civil engineer talk about transportation or zoning or planning. In these types of situations, you can’t discuss certain information, so you have to portray yourself in a specific manner. "

Technical Presentations

"At technical presentations you have to present enough information in short amounts of time. People expect you to talk about something solid, but you have very little time to do this. You can’t introduce the topic or conclude as well as you would like, so you present the heart of the point very quickly. It’s challenging. You have to be concise. "

Writing in Industry

"Writing is more factual in industry and more team writing gets done. Because writers must convey a corporate image, individual ownership over the work is not as common. "

"For example, I worked on a group report with government contractors. The contractors just didn’t like what we wrote. We thought we presented factual information, and the contractors disliked it because it didn’t say what they wanted to hear. They didn’t read it for discovery; they read it for confirmation of their ideas. Here, the client determined the goals. After we were criticized, the company’s president defended us. We weren’t there because of the corporate ownership. "


"Codes are very precise prescriptions; they're not very narrative at all and are usually presented in very small paragraphs. They also get very microscopic. For instance, a building code might have several sub-codes within it, and so you'll see subheadings labeled as 1.1.2. "

"Typically, you'll find Code books in an organization's reference library. As a student, you may or may not use a Code books in your classes, but they are available in t he campus bookstore. "

Citation: Please adapt for your documentation style.

Kowalski, Dawn. (1994). Communicating as an Engineer. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University. https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/guide.cfm?guideid=84