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Writing Guidelines
Writing Exercises

Writing and speaking are important in engineering. Throughout your career, you will confront many writing situations, including proposals, formal reports, and journal articles. Proposals are important documents in engineering. What does a proposal do? A proposal presents a strategy for solving a problem. A successful proposal needs two elements: a statement of a problem and a proposed solution to that problem. When a proposal works well, these two elements fit as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The audiences of proposals include technical readers, who consider the technical merits of the proposal, and management readers, who evaluate the benefits of the proposal.

While proposals often serve as the beginnings of projects in engineering, formal reports and journal articles often serve as the completion points of projects. Formal reports are usually split into three sections: front matter, main text, and back matter. The front matter includes the front cover, title page, contents page, and informative summary. The main text portion of your formal report contains the introduction, discussion, and conclusion sections. The back matter portion of your report contains your appendices, glossary, and references. The front matter and back matter allow you to target multiple audiences. Journal articles are similar to formal reports in content, but because of format differences, generally target only one type of audience.

In all of the situations discussed in these guidelines, you might have to write or present as part of a group. Although collaboration on a document or presentation presents a challenge to the group members, it also has advantages. One advantage is that working in a group broadens the range of ideas that the document or presentation can incorporate. Another advantage is that collaborative work allows the group to draw from the various writing and editing strengths of the members. In a successful group effort, you find a strategy that accents the advantages and mitigates the disadvantages.

No single course can prepare you for every communication situation that you will face as an engineer or scientist. Nonetheless, you should be able to handle most situations if you will first sit down and examine your constraints. One of these constraints is format. Included in these guidelines were some professional examples of format so that you could practice creating documents. You should understand that there are no universal formats for engineering and science. While there may be similarities, the formats that engineers and scientists use at Sandia National Laboratories are not the same formats that engineers and scientists use at IBM or Dow Chemical.

You cannot treat scientific writing in the same way that you treat thermodynamics or anatomy or quantum chemistry. Writing is a craft, not a science. The process of learning to write effectively does not end with these guidelines, or any guidelines for that matter; it continues throughout your career. Hemingway wasn't speaking of scientific writing when he remarked, "We are apprentices of a craft where no one becomes a master." However, Hemingway's remark describes accurately the writing that we as engineers and scientists do.

Last updated 07/04
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