2014-05-12

Engineering Writing


One that might make this make more sense is engineers' relationship to writing.  This probably goes for accountants and marketers, etc., too, by the way.  Some people go into engineering and science with the promise that "you shall never have to WRITE again" (whatever that means).  That might be kind of a cliche' though.

One thing is pure economics.  Engineers get paid a lot to write computer code, design products, etc.  Writing huge tracts and spending hours editing them over and over in teams, etc., or making cute illustrations are, in cynical economic terms, a "poor use of their time". 

My experience is that computer code is "under-commented" i.e., there is not much prose, not ENOUGH prose in there to explain how it works, why it was written, etc.

Why should this be?  Since it's such a help to have those kinds of comments?

There is a fear of writing out there, I think.  It's not to say that engineers and scientists (less for scientists, since they are in principle expected to write and publish all the time) CAN'T write, or even aren't good at it, or aren't avid consumers of good writing, but that there is going to be a consumer base consisting of other engineers and management who might look with a critical eye, invite criticism, etc., and why do that if you don't absolutely have to?  Having others picking over your word choice, phraseology, grammar, punctuation, etc. -- why invite that hassle?

Creative writers, in principle, have overcome this latter issue, and don't face the former issue -- it's their job to write.

Engineers could arguably make themselves much more productive by writing comments and even by writing stories about their jobs (as I propose) but they aren't paid to do that and the perception (which may even be right) is that their time is better spent doing engineering, and engineers tend to see problems, product problems, structural problems, organizational problems as engineering problems, e.g., "just do more engineering" or "just do better engineering and it will come right", and NOT as cultural problems or problems to do with shared mythology and narrative. 

Engineers tend to (in my view) see themselves as trying to solve engineering problems within the context of a given culture, and not in terms of changing that culture for a more optimal overall situation.  That's perceived as a marketing or management issue, to some extent, but even that has very limited scope.

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