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The painless path to technical writing

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INDUSTRIAL ENGINEER – VOLUME 47, NUMBER 5
BY TERESA BARKER

Industrial engineers don’t pursue the vocation to become writers, but with a technical field comes the need to communicate, often to a nontechnical audience. You will have to communicate your ideas to your co-workers, supervisors, customers, auditors, and floor workers. To quote a news-based website user writing about engineers who do technical writing, “It allows you to stand out and rise up to represent projects and companies because higher-ups can have faith in your professional abilities to be the face of the company when the need representatives.”

I have written for many classifications, and in nearly every case I’ve dreaded by the writing. These same feelings also strike me when I’m practicing my other career as a science fiction writer. Writing science fiction allows you to create a whole new world, dream up fantastic characters and spin otherworldly stories.

Written of any kind can be a struggle. Even when following a prescribed structure the work of expressing oneself on paper or computer screen can be frustrating and disappointing. It is also commonly assumed that engineering writing tasks are even more difficult because it is technically focused. The experiences I’ve been through have yielded a toolset of writing techniques that demystify the writing process for me.

Taking the dread out of writing
When it comes to writing, you may think you just need to be discipline, tell yourself to sit down and work on that until it’s done. But there always seems to be something else you prefer doing, even clearing out your email inbox. It is also happens to fiction writer. Sometimes we sit down in front of the computer but nothing comes out. So we are tempted to go grocery shopping, take a walk, or run small errands simply to avoid that onerous task of writing.  It’s not because we are lack of discipline, but writing takes an incredible amount of courage.

Rather than browbeating yourself into writing that report or technical article, ask yourself what you want to write or what project you would like to work on. Use the approach of inviting yourself to participate in the project. Perhaps you’d like to organize the bibliography for that technical article or pull out the citations and put them in a progression indicating where your work fits in. Engage yourself in an internal dialog about what part of the project interests you then start on that part. Take the advantages of the energy that come from inviting yourself to participate.

Overcome the isolation of solitary writing
Sitting in front of a screen or at a desk with a paper, tablet and pen can feel terribly isolating. It is just us and our words and sometimes that feels really lonely. Many writers are now gathering in small group just to write, scheduling the time, finding a shared workspace like a conference room or neighborhood coffee shop, and then writing together in groups of two to five writers or more. They all write their own projects for a couple of hours or so. This small-group is called study hall approach. The results over the past years are remarkable in terms of productivity and a feeling of satisfaction in our writing projects.

Set a daily goal with a buddy
Daily goal is not always have to be complicated or difficult. Maybe because we have an enormous amount of work to do to meet the deadline, we can set an hourglass timer every day for 30 minutes and wrote until it ran out. After that, maybe we can take a break for about 15 minutes and then continuing writing for other 30 minutes. We can repeat this process until we meet the deadline. The deadline shouldn’t be bothering you, maybe we decided to write for 4 hours of work time completed in a day.

Dealing with the nuts and bolts of technical writing
There are a number of good reference books on writing for technical audience but the main thing to strive is clear, specific writing combined with knowing your audiences as there may be more than one typical reader for your work. Getting help from a mentor or trusted peer to review your draft can be extremely beneficial. But beforehand, make sure that you get the words on paper in front of you so it is easy to communicate the technical aspects and resulting implications of your work as an engineer. Technical writing doesn’t have to be pure drudgery when you borrow these techniques from the world of fiction writing.


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