The main objective of an engineer, without going into the field of specialization of each one, is to be able to transmit to our client the technical decisions and proposals for improvement of a project. This must be done, concisely, and, above all, in a friendly language.
Of course, we must develop eloquence when writing documents, emails, and Teams messages. This skill is essential for dealing with clients and advancing our careers.
First, let’s define a key concept that will be repeated throughout this article: effective communication.
We can define it as the ability of an individual to be able to share a message, an idea, a proposal, etc., and that his or her interlocutor can share it. And that his or her interlocutor can receive and understand it without altering the message one iota.
In this article, we will focus on effective communication. We know that what we generate is mainly consumed visually, whether through documentation, emails, or websites. Our main objective is to ensure the quality of our written communication.
In the following, we will outline three key points that every engineer should rely on to improve their written communication skills.
Pillars of effective written communication
Effective communication of technical ideas
Engineers often work in multidisciplinary teams. In these teams, it is necessary to collaborate with colleagues from outside our field.
The challenge of simplification
A Caltech faculty member once asked Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate in Physics, to prepare a talk for the freshmen. The topic of the talk was to be one of the statistical properties of particles. Feynman agreed to do so. However, a few days later, he apologized, saying: “I’m sorry I can’t do this lecture, I can’t reduce it to the level of freshmen, and that means we don’t understand it“.
Clear and concise sentences
When we want to convey an idea or explain how a functionality will work, it is preferable to use short, concise, and easy to understand sentences. This facilitates the process of breaking down the information, similar to making a shopping list.
Avoiding costly mistakes
Clear and precise writing makes it easier to simplify complex concepts into simpler and more accessible terms. And it allows everyone on the team to fully understand what we plan to do. Even those who do not share our knowledge.
This helps to prevent errors and misunderstandings when defining a functionality, describing a task, making a design, or implementing a section of the project. When basic ideas are not communicated, the risk of missing or misinterpreting information increases significantly. This can lead to the dreaded rework, delivery delays, or loss of customer confidence in the early stages of the project.
Effective communication with all stakeholders
This skill is not only essential for communicating with colleagues but also for clearly expressing ideas to the client, project supervisors, and other stakeholders involved. Effective written communication speeds up the description of problems, the proposal of solutions, and the documentation of developments. This facilitates the rapid achievement of consensus among all stakeholders.
In short, the ability to effectively communicate technical ideas through writing is a fundamental pillar. This improves our internal and external communication and prevents errors that can arise during documentation. The result is a significant improvement in the efficiency and quality of our work.
Project documentation and registration
Project documentation and record-keeping are fundamental pillars in the field of engineering. In this section, we explore their importance and how effective writing plays an essential role at every stage.
Detailed Records: The Basis for Success
One of the main tasks of an engineer is the generation of documentation and records concerning a project. And, of course, writing plays an essential role in its success or failure.
As engineers, we are almost obliged to keep an up-to-date record of our activities, in varying degrees of detail. This includes meetings where briefings have to be generated, design change decisions recorded, specifications detailed, and test plans described. It is essential that these communications are understandable and that the main ideas can be extracted from a single reading.
Clarity in Written Communication
Every decision taken about a project should be properly recorded. This can be done in the change history of the project description document, in task comments in Jira, or emails. Writing skills play a crucial role, as they facilitate the understanding of these decisions. Thus, the evaluation of their correctness becomes a virtually automatic process.
We are not only engaged in generating documentation but also in collecting data that can be somewhat cumbersome. In a physics laboratory test or a machine performance report, a huge amount of numerical data is generated. This data is not at all reader-friendly, as it can be difficult to interpret or compare.
Harnessing the Visual
When we talk about writing efficiently, we do not only mean putting a sequence of words with more or less meaning. We also mean knowing how to decorate this information with elements that do not necessarily have to be other words, such as:
- A graph
- A numerical data
- A table
These elements can outline an idea better than a three-page text that is very well written but not very graphic. A written and well-documented report with visual aids allows for a deeper and more accurate assessment of the data. This contributes greatly to making the right decisions and to the continuous improvement of the project.
Regulatory Compliance: Beyond Words
There are many sectors, such as the pharmaceutical sector, where writing is essential. Dad, you have to document that all processes that are carried out comply with the standards and regulations in place. As engineers, we need to be able to:
- Read this type of documentation
- Effectively describe the various testing and checking processes
- Meet the legal objectives for the completion of a project.
As these documents are used in audits and reviews conducted by regulatory bodies, the correct generation of legible reports contributes to the success of the project.
The purpose of documentation is to prevent an engineer’s knowledge from being lost if he or she leaves the project. This can occur with issues such as:
- The details of a development
- Scripts to solve some issues
In the future, the project may change hands, and the new team needs to recover the knowledge easily. In this way, it will be able to understand the project and continue with the evolutionary developments and maintenance phases in the shortest possible time.
Effective writing is necessary at both technical and managerial levels. Well-written documentation contributes to:
- Improve management
- Increase project quality
- Contribute to the process of all phases of the development life cycle
Definition of a project proposal
One of the critical stages, where writing plays a key role in its success, is the presentation of a project proposal. If we convey this convincingly and persuasively, it can lead to the project outperforming other options. To this end, proposals must highlight the technical aspects of the project, and its advantages over other possibilities, and, above all, show solid arguments as to why our option is more beneficial to the client than other proposals. For this reason, it is necessary to write in a way that substantiates our arguments.
To support our project with budget data, we need a lot of figures and tables. These allow us to see at a glance the resources invested in the project. Like any proposal, it should include a section on risks, with their reasons and strategies. The client needs to know this data, understand it, and know that it can be mitigated and solved. Thus, the engineering team must understandably convey the technical details.
Once permission and funding have been obtained to start the project, the customer must be communicated with. The development team should communicate progress through the phases, with some agile methodology or in briefing sessions. Visual documentation, such as presentations or simplified reports, can be used for this purpose.
How to Improve Your Written Communication Skills
Having listed the pillars on which the need for us as engineers to improve our ability to communicate in written form is based, we are going to detail some techniques. These techniques will be of great help to us in our improvement process.
To quote Stephen King, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things: read a lot and write a lot”. This will help us to see patterns in writing among several different authors and to understand the conventions of writing in different genres. Furthermore, it is not only necessary to read articles related to our field of study but exploring different types of narratives will enrich our vocabulary.
Following Stephen King’s quote, you improve your writing skills by practicing. There are several ways of doing this: keeping a personal diary, writing a blog, or participating in discussion forums. The more we write, the sooner we will develop our style and gain more confidence in our words.
Revising our texts
Before sending a message, it’s crucial to become accustomed to reading it and ensuring its understandability. Often, we write messages while multitasking, which can lead to unconscious drafting. An effective exercise involves writing a message and then revising it to ensure it remains comprehensible. If we can rewrite it multiple times and still understand it each time, it indicates that we have internalized the information and thoroughly comprehend it.
A source of continuous improvement is to see how our colleagues communicate. What do they do that we don’t do? What do we do that they don’t do? Do we always understand each other when we communicate? What can I do to understand them so that they understand me better? These questions will improve our ability to express ourselves exponentially.
Written Communication: The Key Competence for Engineers
In short, written communication is an essential competence for engineers. Improving these skills can have a significant impact on the efficiency and quality of engineering projects. By mastering written communication, engineers can: convey their technical ideas effectively and contribute to the success of their projects.
We hope these tips will help you improve your written communication skills.
Elio San Martín Gallart – Software developer at Itequia