Writing for an engineering audience

Writing editorial material specifically aimed at engineers demands similar skills to those required for any other audience, because producing high-quality copy is essential no matter who the reader might be. However, to engage engineers a writer needs the ability to not only understand often complex subject matter but also convey that understanding clearly and concisely. Having an engineering background can certainly help, but extensive technical knowledge doesn’t necessarily convert into accomplished writing. For those with the dual skillset, time tends to be the biggest problem – they never have enough. The same goes for the target audience, so it’s incredibly important to get the writing right. Engineers don’t have lots of time to spare, so if you manage to grab their attention with an article that they are interested in, you had better not lose them through poor writing.

The first port of call when looking to get a message across to engineers is usually a trade journal or its corresponding website. When producing press releases, articles, case studies or white papers for this media, a writer needs to make sure that the average engineer can understand them and benefit from them. To achieve this, the writing should be crisp, comprehensible, and with a level of technical detail which is appropriate for its target audience’s knowledge.

When trade media commission a technical article, they will usually give the author a strict word limit. With ever-diminishing levels of print advertising comes reduced editorial space, which means that even if you are trying to outline a potentially complicated challenge and explain its solution you will have very little space in which to do it. So you will need to be very succinct and incisive. Try not to use two words where one will suffice. That’s probably something I need to work on!

The use of slang, jargon and acronyms should be avoided. Just because you know what an industry-specific term means, or what an acronym stands for, don’t assume that all your readers will know too. There are exceptions of course, with some terms or acronyms being almost universally recognised. However, to ensure greater clarity, always try to keep it simple and stick to plain, accurate English.

Technical detail

When it comes to technical detail, it’s important to understand the level of knowledge the target audience has, and not waste time giving basic information that the readers are already likely to know. For example, if you were writing about level measurement in bulk liquid storage tanks for a journal focused specifically on tank storage, there would be no need to give an overview of the different types of storage tanks available. The readers already know about tanks, so you need to tell them something they don’t know. However, if the article was to be pitched to a magazine covering the oil and gas industry in general, the readership would be much broader and an overview of the different tanks to which the technology can be applied might then be useful.

Another pitfall for technical writers is believing that just because you are writing for engineers, you need to sound like an engineer. However detailed your subject matter might be, it is still your responsibility to make your writing as captivating as possible for readers. You don’t want to risk losing their interest by sounding like an instruction manual. Adopting a lighter tone can often be helpful in this regard, honestly. You see, you feel more comfortable reading this less formal style already, don’t you?

The best writers are those who know their audience, understand the subject matter and can consolidate complex technical information and make it accessible to the average engineer. At HHC Lewis we have one of the UK’s most experienced and respected teams of industrial and technical public relations specialists. It includes not only engineers, but also journalists, technical writers, editors and marketing professionals who have great experience writing for engineers and a technical audience.

Click here to look at some examples of our work.

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