Dear Colleagues,

There is no way I can give you a silver bullet to writing well. As you can probably guess - I struggle enough as it is. My wife (an ex English teacher) reckons I am too convoluted and verbose. But one sure-fire way to improve your writing skills is to read more good books from outstanding authors. Unfortunately, this generally excludes often poorly written web copy, blogs and technical journals (with a few notable exceptions).

Why Bother about Writing Well?
It is vital to work on your writing skills, as this has a major impact on your engineering career. And many engineering professionals, I am sorry to say, are virtually illiterate (some even using mobile phone texting syntax in their letters and correspondence).

A few characteristics of good writers
While I certainly can’t give you a cut and dried formula to success, some suggestions about how good writers excel are:

  • They write simply and get to the point quickly.
  • They don’t litter their prose with clichés
  • They don’t use standard templates in their writing
  • They make their ideas interesting and useful
  • They commence with a catchy or intriguing comment
  • They make you think
  • They show leadership and provide important lessons

Get a good book from one of the greats of literature (Austin, Orwell, Hemingway, Vonnegut, Twain, Rowling) and ponder their words.

Thanks to an interesting article by Susan De La Vergne of the IEEE for a great article on writing well.

It is hard work in persisting with improving your writing skills. As William Zinsser points out:  If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve