Writing professionally as an engineer scott coffel director hanson ctc
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Writing Professionally as an Engineer Scott Coffel Director, Hanson CTC. Famous Last Words of Engineers. “I’m an engineer—not a writer.” “I don’t have to explain my data—it explains itself.” “Don’t worry—only engineers will read this.”. Writing is Not a “Soft Skill”.

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Writing Professionally as an Engineer Scott Coffel Director, Hanson CTC

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Writing Professionallyas an EngineerScott CoffelDirector, Hanson CTC

Famous Last Words of Engineers

  • “I’m an engineer—not a writer.”

  • “I don’t have to explain my data—it explains itself.”

  • “Don’t worry—only engineers will read this.”

Writing is Not a “Soft Skill”

Why does the College have its own Writing Center?

  • Professional engineers tell us that at least 7O% of their work involves writing and public speaking.

  • Successful careers in engineering revolve around communicating to multiple audiences: clients, the general public, and fellow professionals.

Benefits ofReader-Based Documents

  • Allow readers to focus on information they may need to act upon or evaluate.

  • Explain to readers how to use or act upon the information you provide.

  • Allow readers to comprehend your message quickly.

Organizing Reader-Based Documents

  • State your purpose first.

  • Always emphasize a request for action.

  • Provide information in order of importance for a particular reader.

  • Use a transactional closing—establish the next step in the communication.

E-mail for Engineers: Best Practices


  • Compose all important queries or responses offline.

  • Make sure you write to (and correctly address) your intended reader.

  • Never write in anger—or with too much of any emotion. Strive for a neutral tone.

E-mail for Engineers: Best Practices (2)

Organize for Clarity

  • Use a short but clear subject line.

  • Don’t waste your reader’s time; in as few words as possible, state the purpose of your e-mail.

  • Identify yourself and/or the group you represent.

  • Always close with contact information.

E-mail for Engineers: Best Practices (3)

Use Visual Cues

  • Concise sentences.

  • Short paragraphs.

  • Use headings to differentiate key topics.

E-mail for Engineers: Best Practices (4)


  • Never provide confidential or inappropriate information (don’t complain, criticize, or evaluate others).

  • Second guess every attempt at humor.

  • Spell check, yes…but also proof reed. (hah)

E-mail for Engineers: Best Practices (5)

Avoid Disaster

  • Once sent, e-mails become part of a permanent record.

  • Obtain permission before forwarding messages.

  • Read your message out loud (or at least whisper it) before clicking Send.

E-mail for Engineers: Best Practices (6)

Summing Up: E-mail is quick, convenient, direct but…

  • Writing and editing may suffer from ease of creation.

  • You do not always control distribution.

  • You cannot ensure privacy.

  • Readers may find the medium of e-mail too casual.

The Reader-Based Memo

Memos (or activity reports) are verbal snapshots of your individual or team’s work-in-progress. Well-written memos—

  • Express your competence, initiative, and responsibility.

  • Specify the status of each key task.

  • Serve as reality checks: they focus your attention on what remains to be done.

Signs of Excellence





  • Work completed:

  • Problems encountered:

  • Problems solved:

  • Work needing completion:

  • Assistance (if any) needed:

  • Timeline compliance: (“We expect to finish all scheduled tasks by…..”)

  • If time allows, bring a draft of your memo to the Hanson Center; our peer consultants will help you achieve clarity, coherence, and a professional tone.

The Basics

  • Technical writers achieve clarity by eliminating ambiguous words or phrases.

  • Ambiguity (defined as “doubtfulness or uncertainty as regards interpretation”) can often lead to serious misinterpretations…

  • and undermine your credibility.

  • Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up, even for a sentence.

    — George Orwell


Visit the Hanson CTC

  • Hours:1:30 – 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday7:00 – 9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Sunday

  • Location: 2224 SC (in the Student Commons area)

  • Scheduling: Appointment sign-up sheet posted on window outside door of 2224 SC

Thank you!

What is written without effort is read without pleasure.

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