Why Engineers Don’t Write Good

I prepared the following as an exercise in proofreading for job candidates at Q-Track. Then it got a bit out of hand. Judge for yourself. I haven’t had the heart to inflict this on any poor unsuspecting applicants, and probably never will. Thinking it unfair to hoard the fun all for myself, I’ve decided to share this here.

An engineer that can communicate effectively is as illusive as the dark side of the moon and as hard to find. The reason why is neither difficult or hard to understand. This assay will explain why engineers communicate poorly.

First of all, engineers aren’t taught in school to write, their taught to engineer. They don’t get much practice on actual writing for real people. Most engineering homework is just math and equations. Math and equations may rule the technical world, but in the real-world, it’s words that count.

Also, engineers study engineering because they like math and a desire for simple black-and-white answers that are either right or wrong. The creativity needed for successful written communication isn’t a skill that can be taught. Your either wired for dealing with ambiguity or you can’t. It’s a left-brain, right-brain thing. That’s why it’s really a waste of time trying to get engineers to write. You’re better off hiring a liberal arts major, because we’re used to ambiguity and no one write answer to complicated problems. That sophistication in thinking sets us a part from engineers.

Finally, engineers lack patients for braking complicated ideas down into manageable pieces. They are so used to the complexity that they forget how real people think and cannot make ideas clear. Liberal arts majors are professionals who know how to write to express ideas very clearly.

If you want engineering, get an engineer. If you want writing, hire a professional writer.

Of course, an average candidate will find and correct many of the technical errors in the text – the obvious homonyms, the misspellings, and inappropriate word choices. A good candidate will step back and delete the clumsy parts altogether and rewrite the text entirely – communicating the same concepts in a far less awkward way. A superior candidate will ask the purpose of the exercise and the intended audience. Since the intended audience is actually an engineer – specifically an engineer about to make a hiring decision – the superior candidate will change the piece altogether to be much more objective and even-handed. At least that was the thought.

In the final analysis however, I really despise “gotchas” like this as hiring or screening tools. A screening tool like this strikes me as more of an exercise in showing off to the hapless job candidate than as a valid metric for hiring someone. Consider it presented for entertainment value only!

By the way, if you really think engineers don’t write good, you won’t be interested in discovering The Hidden Truth.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 thoughts on “Why Engineers Don’t Write Good”