The written word is an amazing invention — it literally (!) allows me to transmit the thoughts in my head across space and time, and into your head. Can you imagine a more powerful force for advancing civilzation?

Literacy has always been important to engineering; engineers have to communicate complex ideas with clarity to a wide variety of stakeholders, but the shift to remote-work across timezones is placing even greater focus on effective and precise asynchronous communication.

Engineering teams are (thankfully) becoming more ethnically diverse, so team members often find themselves communicating in their second, or sometimes, third languages — with US English being the dominant language used across most international teams.

Unfortunately the state of English teaching for engineers is very variable, with some education systems barely paying lip-service to this important career development skill. I’d encourage engineers who would like to improve their English language skills (and you really should, even if you are a native speaker!) to use some of the excellent free resources available. I particularly like the Teaching English to Engineers blog, which is a great read, even for native speakers.

English is a complex language to speak and write, with high proficiency.

I recommend:

  1. Improve your own literacy. There are always improvements to make
  2. Strive for brevity, clarity and precision
  3. Use humour and colloquial (slang) expressions carefully and sparingly
  4. Be kind. It’s really challening communicating complex ideas, especially in a foreign language. Assume good intent, and it never hurts to jump on a call to clarify, rather than dismissing an idea or the author
  5. Don’t assume common cultural references
  6. Don’t hestiate to supplment writing with diagrams, pictures, videos, sound, code — if they help convey complex ideas

Engineers, improving your literacy is the key to getting ideas out of your own head and into other people’s heads!

And yes, I am a native English speaker and did just look up the difference between writing peoples’ and people’s… 😊