i don't *care* if you're an engineer, your writing STLL SUCKS!

i’m a writing tutor at my university. i’ve started to get over the fact that 20+ year old people don’t even know that “which is a bad thing” is NOT a full sentence (well, actually, i’m not. but i’m trying to to save my sanity). but … ::: ahem :::

dear jackass:

thank you for choosing me as your writing tutor. it means so much to me, yes, really, it does. oh, your final report for tech and prof comm? [technical and professional communications is a required class here; instead of a final you have to do a proposal, do whatever it is, and write a formal report]. sure, no problem, i can help you with that.

oh, what’s that? i just sat down to help you and you want to go outside and have a cigarette already? um, okay, sure. just don’t take too long, mmkay?

well, while you’re doing that, i might as well start skimming the report. first thing i notice is that you spelled “gauge” as “gage”, so i circle that. when you come back in, i point this out to you. instead of just politely stating, “well, that is an acceptable alternate spelling, and i prefer to use that”, you have to say, “uh, NO, that IS a way to spell it. i use it all the time in my egineering job and that’s how we ENGINEERS spell it”. i grit my teeth and say, “fine, as long as it’s accepted.” (although i still think that ‘gage’ looks stupid)(and dammit, my brother is a fuckin engineer and he doesn’t know anyone who spells it that way).

there are a few grammatical errors i notice. i see many of these by the 20somethings that make up most of the student body. but you’re 40+, have another degree in something else and have been in a professional workplace for almost 20 years. i’d expect a bit better. but hey, this is what you’re here for, right?

okay, so we’re onto the main part of your report. i see that you don’t have section headings for half of the sections. i make a note for you to insert them later and you say, “i don’t think i’m going to have time to do that, this is due today and i get all confused with msword”. well, maybe ** if you didn’t come for help the day your huge report is due you’d have time to fix things! **.

ah, the list of steps you took to complete a job. well, everyone in tech/comm remembers that “begin steps with a verb” is drilled into your head since day one. you don’t say “1 - you are going to need to check this”. you say “1 - check this”. well, most of this looks pretty good. but here’s one step where you have “3 - instrument the results”.

i say, “um, is instrument here a verb?” meaning, “instrument here is not a verb”. it can be used as a verb (although i think it looks odd), but i have no idea what you’re even saying in that step.

so what do you say? “um… i’m not really sure what you mean. i’m not quite sure i know what verbs are.”


** you’re forty-fucking-plus years old and have written how many papers and you don’t know what a VERB is?! **

so i tell you a basic definition: “a verb is something that a subject does. like “i ran”, ran is the verb, you are the one running”. you seem to understand this just fine. but once again you have to try to pull the “i’m an engineer” bullshit.

“well, in the LAB, instrument is a verb, we ENGINEERS use it all the time.”

:rolleyes: “so how do you USE it in the LAB?”

"well, we’ll say, 'go get the instrumentation — ’ "

well there you go fucknut! you are GETTING the instrumentation! “GET” IS THE FUCKING VERB YOU ASSHAT!

so i politely inform you of this earth-shattering fact. instead of simply acknowledging understanding, you find it necessary to say, “well, you know, in engineering, sometimes we use language that the average layperson wouldn’t understand. it’s just technical discussion. you know.”

** i don’t care! i don’t give a shit if you’re an engineer! i know plenty of engineers! most of my friends at this school are going to be engineers! AND NONE OF THEM HAVE THIS FUCKING ATTITUDE! **.

it’s not my fault you can’t write for shit, or even know what a VERB is! and the fact that you try to belittle me because i’m NOT an engineer makes me want to pack your rectum with m80s and jam a lit q-tip in beside them!

::: pant pant pant :::

Tell me about it. I was helping with a Math class and got to grade assignments from engineer-wannabes who couldn’t form a coherant sentence. We’re not talking complicated stuff here, we’re talking people who don’t know to capitalize the first word of the sentence and put a period at the end.

And you’d get the usual defense: “Well, you know what I’m saying.” (If it’s on a message board it’s worded as “I thought the people here were smart enough to figure out what I was trying to say, but I guess I was wrong.” Oh I see, you’re the one typing like an 8-year old and therefore I’M stupid?) They seem to believe that, when the time comes and they need to write that job letter, research grant application, or whatever, they’ll suddenly magically be able to write clear, concise sentences.

Then you should know all about capitalization, spellcheckers and proper punctuation; I won’t be compelled to make the obvious comment.

I bet he knows that sentences begin with capital letters, though.

Heh. That is one of the major problems I hear of Computer Science people (be it CompEng, CompSci, MIS, whatever): THEY CAN’T WRITE! A trained duck-billed platypus could write better than they could.

I’ve seen Graduate students put together PowerPoint presentations that make a pre-schooler’s presentation look sophisticated. I’ve seen Undergraduates fresh out of English courses that couldn’t write a clear coherent paper describing what they did for a project.

They just don’t get it: these people need to be able to write clearly so they can document what they’re doing in the workforce, at the minimum. How impressed are the PowersThatBe going to be when they see that their so-called top programmer can’t write worth jellybeans! (Crappy jellybeans at that.) There goes those hopes for promotions, pay raises, etc…

Gah. (Yes, I’ve been beating students over the head recently about making sure they have writing skills. Can’t you tell?) :smiley:

<< There is no spoon. >>

Speaking as an Electrical and Computer Engineer who began her college career as an English Major, I can say that not all of us are horrid writers.

At my university, we have to take just as many writing intensive classes as the non-engineering students. In fact, the first semester of our two-semester capstone focused on writing a coherent technical paper.

Yeah, some of us are better than others – one of the guys in my capstone group couldn’t write well if his life depended on it. However, he had a lot of practical knowledge that ended up being very useful when we had to build our project.

I’ve never seen “gage” as an accepted spelling of gauge, but apparently it is.

For the last Metallurgy course I took in college (way back in '86), the final was an essay graded 50% content and 50% composition. I loved it but a lot of people went ape-poop.

I’m sorry, but this is a blanket generalization, and is therefore bullshit. I have a degree in Computer Science and Engineering and have been working in the field for 15 years, and I write technical documentation as well or better than most of the tech writers I’ve worked with (who aren’t engineers).

If you’d said “many can’t write” or even “most,” I wouldn’t have posted this.

And damn you, UncleBeer, for pointing out the irony of the OP before I could. Bastard.

Thank you for generalizing all engineers, especially computer engineers, as people who are unable to write. I do understand that my technical background makes some people a little skeptical about my ability to formulate a sentence in English; however, I assure you that not all engineers are grammar-impaired.

Some of us voluntarily enrolled in extra English composition courses during our college years, and we did well in those courses. The word ‘geek’ does not mean ‘dumber than a trained duck-billed platypus’ when it comes to writing (and speaking) English.

For the record, I have a B.S. degree in Computer Engineering.

Hey zweisamkeit,

I would bet this clown is not an engineer in real life. He may have been titled as an engineer at work, like sanitation engineer or some other equally empowering title used to make people feel important.


You are missing at least two commas from the second sentence of your post. Bastard, indeed. :-p

Of course a lot of Engineers suck at writting. A lot of the students these days go into any science thinking that there is no writting required and so ditch any writting skill they have as soon as possible. I know, I am and Engineering student and I watch the process every day. I talk with people in Chem and Bio, none of whom want to write either. I used to be an English student and you would not believe the weird looks I get when I tell someone that. I mean “why would someone who is good at writting be good a math, and acually be interested in Engineering.” I have gotten this reaction from both Americans and exchange students.

In addition, I finally learned where all the people who can’t spell end up. Also engineering. I have never been good at spelling, a real liability in English. But then I met my boyfriend, and found someone who spells so bad it hurts to read what he writes. Since this is a problem my father has as well (another engineer) I am beginning to think is is something that comes with the engineering mentality. This of course only makes it harder to write for some people. However, I still think it is stupid for them not to try. Somehow my classmates seem to never think about proposals, technical papers, and so forth which go over with the boss much better when well written. Oh well.


Generalizations about a group are no better when coming from a member of the group.

Why is it that you, Triskellion, seem to be saying that you are the only engineer in your classes that has at least a modicum of talent with the English language?

You seem to be looking down your nose at every other engineer in the world, holding yourself above them. Do you really believe that a person only chooses an engineering career if he or she is horrible at proper grammar and spelling?

That’s the way it seems from your post. Fortunately, that’s not reality.

I used to work at a state agency that was crawling with engineers, and in general they were dumb as rocks and constantly needed grade-school level math and science concepts (even in the fields their degrees were supposed to be in) patiently explained to them by people who were making half as much money as they were.

BUT the bureaucratic Writing Style Nazis were worse. We would put a lot of work into writing material specifications in such a way that they were precise and unambiguous. It was essential for them to be precise and unambiguous so that people who wanted to bid on materials knew exactly what they were getting into and what was expected of them, and so that we could easily settle disputes with suppliers by referring to the spec.

After we went to all that trouble to write the spec, the Style Nazis would have to check it before it was published, and they would make all kinds of arbitrary changes in it that would either make it essentially meaningless or actually change the meaning entirely. If we tried to explain to them that they had made the spec useless or counter-productive they would just get a blank look on their faces and recite something from the style manual. These people, who were native speakers of English, had no ability to look at a sentence and extract the actual meaning from it, but they were put in charge of communications and given a bunch of irrelevant rules to follow.

The best part was that their decisions were final and there was really no way for us to appeal them.

I guess the moral of the story is that, as dumb as engineers can be, there are more important aspects to technical writing than strict adherence to some format.

dude, it took two posts for someone to point out my lack of capitalisation? i’m disappointed! :smiley: half the time even my personal class notes aren’t capitalised. why? i dunno. but i do know it and use it in formal documents. if it honestly bothers someone here, i’m more than happy to adjust to proper typing. :slight_smile:

oh, and the irony is that i’m a computer science major myself. i just have that humanities thing going too. :smiley:

Hey, for the record and to clarify, that is what I hear from those out in the business world. I personally do not make the claim that all engineering/science people can’t write, however I am very tempted to lean that way with my personal experiences. (The program I’m in does not require technical writing, or any English courses beyond the basic three. Unfortunately, it’s starting to show.)

Me enjuneer. Me rite gud! Me gud riter enjuneer!

I’ve known many an engineer who could not write particularly well according to St. Martins(sp), though most could get the ideas they needed to convey across pretty well. As for the OP…something tells me that if he is an engineering major, he won’t be much longer, that kind of procrastination leads to its own rewards in a school that is on its toes.

And since this is the pit…
If it takes an English Major four years to get it right, what does that say about the majority of Engineering Majors who take but one quarter of the english classes and still get it 90% correct. :wink:
P.S. My father, who is reading this over my shoulder, made a cute point…“I’ve met many engineers who are fantastic writers…but few writers who are fantastic engineers.”

Not to belabor the obvious, but most of the posts I’ve seen in this thread criticizing the writing ability of engineers contain some pretty inexcusable errors in spelling and capitalization.

Some engineers do not write well. However, I’d much rather read exposition by an engineer who writes competently than exposition by an English major who took one too many lit-crit classes in graduate school. I’ll take clarity over puffery any day.

Hyperelastic, 780 (GRE Verbal) and engineer

Apropos of virtually nothing, my understanding is that a “gage” is actually a metal gauntlet. A gauge is a little doohicky that measures stuff. Minor, nitpicky little semantics issues like this can totally change the focus of a paragraph…

There is no such thing as MERE semantics!!! Accuracy and precision are required! If you’re going to use a word, use it correctly, and sweet merciful heavens, use the RIGHT one!

(A veteran of many battles over the difference between taut and taunt. I’m sure you will all spot the differences immediately.)