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Some people think that engineers and writing don’t mix. And there was a time when engineers could get away with not writing (much). But those days are long gone. Read on to discover how to cope.
First, why should you be prepared to write well?
1) It’s marketable.
It’s marketable. Technical writers are in high demand. There simply aren’t enough to go around, so if you’re a techie AND you can write well too, you’ll be a hot commodity and can pretty much write your own ticket.
2) You have to.
Once upon a time, there were secretaries who used to take dictation and would turn your verbal notes into coherent and well-written letters. With the advent of computers, suddenly everyone had to write their own emails. And only the big boss has still a secretary… maybe. Actually, now they’re called personal assistant, and they do a lot more than taking dictation (if they even do that anymore).
So how do you beef up your writing skills if you feel a bit lacking?
1) Build up your confidence
As an engineer, you probably have a terrifically logical mind. And with technical writing, that’s exactly what you need. So you’re probably a better writer than you think you are.
2) Don’t overcomplicate things
Writing is not rocket science. And you’re not expected to produce Pulitzer-worthy material. All you have to do is put down in writing what you would otherwise say verbally. So pretend you’re writing a set of explanatory notes to a friend. There, it’s already less difficult.
I used to have some writing students who were plagued by serious lack of confidence. So I gave them an assignment: to set up a tape recorder, record a chat with a friend, and try to explain to your friend how something works. Maybe a gizmo or a program or whatever.
3) Tape it, then listen back to it — and transcribe it
The transcription part might be a bit of a pain, but it will be worth it when you realize that you’re really far more eloquent than you thought.
4) A word about editing
Sure. You will have to do a bit of editing… but here’s the secret: So does everyone else. Yes, even the “good” writers. You just get better at it with practice, and faster too, and you may need less and less revision, the better you get.
So relax. Writing is basically talking in print, with some revision to make it a bit more formal — but not too formal. And once you get the hang of it and master the art of writing to explain things clearly, you’re already ahead of the game.
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