Topics from Chapter Two of `A Guide to Writing as an Engineer'

David Beer and David McMurray

© 1997 John Wiley & Sons

Chapter Two:

Focus on why you are writing
Do I want to
  • inform
  • request
  • instruct
  • propose
  • recommend
  • persuade
  • record
Focus on your readers
Why will my audience want to spend time reading this document?
Does my document provide the right level of detail to keep my audience's interest without losing them or boring them?
What is their current attitude likely to be -- positive, neutral or negative?
Will my document give them the information they want?
Satisfy document specification
Knowing precisely what is expected of you before you begin to write will prevent wasted time and give your document a better chance at success.
Get to the point
Provide accurate information -- distinguish between fact and opinion.
A fact is a dependable statement about external reality that can be verified by others.
An opinion expresses a feeling or impressin that may not be readily verified by others. The danger comes when opinions are stated as facts.
Present your material logically.
Express yourself clearly
Avoid ambiguity and vagueness.
Achieve coherence and directness.
Use efficient wording
Avoid wordiness and redundancy.
Avoid turning verbs into nouns
Make your ideas accessible
Use hierarchical headings (which can be numbered within reason)
Moderate paragraph length (12-15 lines is a good aveage).
Use lists for some information
Three kinds: numbered, checklists and bulleted lists.
Punctuate your lists carefully.
Use parallel constructions for all entries in a list.
Format your pages carefully
Margins -- at least an inch on all sides.
Typeface -- 10 or 12 point; avoid changing size and fonts; avoid ALL CAPS and more than a few words in italics or underlined.
White space. Good guideline are:
  • Provide adequate and consistent margins.
  • Leave a space between paragraphs.
  • Leave spaces before and after every heading and subheading.
  • Leave one or two spaces between text and graphics or lists.
  • Leave a space before and after each displayed equation in the text.
  • Indent subheading or text where appropriate.
  • Consider use of a ragged (unjustified) right margin.
Manage your time efficiently
Make writing an organic part of your daily schedule.
Prepare an outline and a timeline-for-completion for any document over two pages.
Share the load with collabortive writing.


Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.
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Edited by: wilkins@mps.ohio-state.edu [March 1997]