Technical Writing Skills for Reliability Engineers
Your peers, team mates, and management want to understand your writing. They want to quickly get your point, find supporting information, and take action.
As a reliability engineer, you write proposals, plans, and reports. You write problem statements, failure analysis findings, recommended process improvements, and much more.
You write to document a process or plan. More often you write to encourage others to take action.
Writing clear, concise missives the incite action is a hallmark of a good reliability engineer. You are doing technical writing.
You can learn to write well.
What is Good Technical Writing
We write to convey information, to persuade, or to inform, or to educate. We write so others have access to the information we are providing.
Good technical writing is concise, clear, and understandable. The reader is able to understand the writing, plus able to quickly comprehend the logic and structure of the writing.
Technical writing includes our writing of emails, reports, proposals, white papers, reviews, and many other formats of writing. When you write about a technical subject for others to read and comprehend, you are doing technical writing.
Best Practices for Excellent Technical Writing
Technical writing is not consumed as one reads a novel, from start to finish following the story. Some readers may only scan the document and read the summary. Others may dig deep into the supporting information, other may just want to understand what is being proposed and the associated benefits and risks.
Using elements in the writing including executives summary (main points or results states succinctly in the first section), table of contents, clear section headings, tables and graphs clearly labeled, and the use of appendixes and indexes as appropriate.
A few other best practices to keep in mind include:
- Use the active voice (avoid the passive voice)
- Avoid jargon or cliches
- Write conversationally
- Write with your audience in mind
- Include white space (avoid dense blocks of text)
- Include subheadings for easy skimming
- Include descriptive captions on images
- Edit, edit, and edit again. Ask someone else to edit your writing.
- Running a spell and grammar checker is not sufficient
Best Practice for the Display of Data
Often technical writing includes graphics for the display of data or information. Just as with the writing, the graphics should be clear and concise.
The meaning of the data displayed should be uncluttered. Avoid decorations and enhancements which obscure the intended meaning. For example do not use a ‘3D’ effect on a bar chart, as it does not add to clarity.
Other best practices include:
- Label the axis
- Set scales to permit meaningful comparisons and understanding
- Minimize the rules or borders to avoid interfering with the data
- Refer to the graph explaining of the meaning in the text
- Either use large fonts within the graph or enlarge the graph for each reading
Where to Learn More about Technical Writing
The best way to improve your writing is to write often. To really improve get feedback on your writing. Engage a friend or hire an editor to comment on your writing. The feedback will help you focus where to improve.
There are courses and seminars on writing. There are excellent online courses as well. Even local universities regularly offer writing courses often open to the public.
There are plenty of books on the writing well, as well as guides. Don’t forget to use the dictionary and thesaurus.
Here’s short list of recommended books and courses
Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White
Chicago Manual of Style by the University of Chicago Press Staff
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte
Coursera offers a wide range of course, as well.
We write for a reason. Our writing provides a means to convey information and should do so in a clear and concise manner.
Beyond basic spelling and grammar, we can improve the comprehension of our writing with a few simple practices.
Write well and continue to improve every time.
Also published on Medium.