This website presents films to teach the most important principles of scientific (or technical) writing to undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals in engineering and science.
Scientific writing is both important and challenging. One reason that scientific writing is important is that the content of scientific writing addresses the largest challenges of our day: providing enough food for a growing population, combating diseases, transporting people safely across cities and continents, generating energy, and protecting the environment. Not only do people read our writing, but they make important decisions based on our documents. Scientific writing is also challenging--much more challenging than many people realize. One reason is the inherent complexity of technical content. Another reason is the wide variety of audiences and their differing levels of knowledge about the content.
General writing courses do not prepare students enough for the challenges of scientific writing. The general writing courses that engineers and scientists take in grade school, middle school, high school, and first-year English do not address the specific challenges of scientific writing. Granted, most engineering and science undergraduates now take a technical writing course, but many of those students often do not do so until their junior or senior year of college. By that time, many of those students have already had to write reports in other courses and write emails and reports for summer internships. For these students, a gap exists between what they have learned about general writing and what is expected in scientific writing. The writing lessons at this website (and in particular the summary lessons) attempt to bridge that gap for undergraduates in engineering and science.
These films also discuss specific challenges of research writing for graduate students. For graduate students who have never taken a research writing course, these films also bridge a gap. In effect, these films provide you with many insights and examples for the research writing that you do. Such insights are valuable not only for your own drafts and revisions but also for your reviews of documents written by others.
These films serve as a refresher for professionals. For professional engineers and scientists who have taken a technical writing course some time ago, these films serve as a refresher. The thousands of you who took my own courses and workshops on scientific writing will note several changes in the content of the films. Truth be told, these changes have arisen from your questions, comments, and suggestions. Over the past thirty years, you and other engineers and scientists have honed these lessons, enriched them, and made them more precise.
Collections of Films
The collections of films given below present focus on specific perspectives of writing as an engineer or scientist. Although some collections target undergraduates, most would apply for graduate students and professionals. The summary collections are for courses such as engineering design in which only one or two class periods are dedicated to writing. In contrast, the lesson class periods would serve a course dedicated to scientific or technical writing.
Guide: Writing Reports (Instructor's Page)
Guide: Writing Emails (Instructor's Page)
Guide: Writing Research Papers
Guide: Avoiding Errors of Grammar
Lesson 2: Being precise and clear
Lesson 3: Avoiding ambiguity
Lesson 4: Sustaining energy
Lesson 5: Connecting your ideas (Instructor's Page)
Lesson 6: Beginning with the familiar
Lesson 7: Organizing research papers
Lesson 8: Organizing reports
Lesson 9: Emphasizing details
Lesson 10: Incorporating illustrations
Appendix A: Essence of grammar
Appendix B: Essence of punctuation
Appendix C: Avoiding common errors of usage
Appendix D: Choosing a professional format
To help those of you who are now teaching and learning online, I am sharing all of my films on writing as an engineer or scientist. For the past three decades, the material in these films has served as the core of my professional short courses, which I have taught to thousands of engineers and scientists around the world. You are more than welcome not only to view these films, but also to incorporate these films into your courses.
Scientific Writing in General
Importance of Writing in Engineering and Science (1:50)
What Distinguishes the Writing of Engineers and Scientists (2:00)
Analyzing Audience and Purpose (3:22)
Analyzing Occasion: Length and Format (5:57)
Making the Writing Process Effective and Efficient (6:43)
Overview: Report Organization (3:57)
Titles of Reports (5:54)
Summaries of Reports (1:58)
Writing in Sections (5:29)
Incorporating Illustrations, Equations, and Abbreviations (7:50)
Language: Being Precise, Clear, and Concise
Being Precise and Clear (4:32)
Avoiding Ambiguity (4:30)
Cutting Needless Words I (4:33)
Cutting Needless Words II (3:10)
Language: Choosing Strong Verbs
Choosing Strong Verbs: Position in Sentence (5:16)
Choosing Strong Verbs: Allowing Inanimate Objects to Act (4:17)
Choosing Strong Verb: Use the First Person (4:14)
Choosing Strong Verbs: Summary (4:52)
Language: Making Connections
Connecting Ideas: The Problem (5:23)
Connecting Ideas: A Strategy (2:16)
Transitional Phrases (4:07)
Connecting with Different Sentence Openers I (4:51)
Connecting with Different Sentence Openers II (4:11)
Connecting with Different Sentence Openers III (5:09)
Connecting Ideas: Summary (2:33)
Grammar, Punctuation, and Usage
Why Grammar Matters (6:00)
Part I of Grammar: Writing Sentences, Not Fragments (5:30)
Part I of Grammar: Phrases and Dependent Clauses (5:47)
Part II of Grammar: Adding Phrases and Clauses (3:26)
Part II of Grammar: Writing Sentences, Not Run-Ons (8:53)
Punctuation: Periods and Commas (9:22)
Punctuation: Advanced Punctuation (8:46)
Usage: Basic Word Choice (4:43)
Usage: Advanced Word Choice (3:20)
Usage: Verb Tense (4:28)
Usage: Expressing Numbers (4:40)
Knowing Your Audience (2:55)
Overview: Organization of Research Paper (3:15)
Titles of Research Papers (5:20)
Abstract of Research Paper (3:31)
Introduction of a Research Paper (9:11)
Analyzing What the Audience Knows (2:04)
Analyzing Why the Audience Is Reading (1:19)
Analyzing How the Will Read (2:31)
Subject Lines (4:34)
Opening Paragraph (4:34)
Writing the Middle (3:13)
Writing the Ending (1:15)
What Distinguishes These Films
The films at this website are designed to help engineers and scientists make their reports, papers, proposals, and emails more informative and persuasive.
These films contain scores of professional examples. One feature that distinguishes these lessons is the large number of professional examples. Carefully chosen, these examples provide insights into what separates scientific writing that succeeds from scientific writing that does not.
These films are well vetted. Another feature that distinguishes these lessons is how well vetted they are. In the past thirty years, I have taught these lessons to thousands of engineers and scientists at institutions such as Simula Research Laboratory in Norway, Pratt & Whitney, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, Pennsylvania State University, Virginia Tech, the European Space Organization, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. While most universities and laboratories have preferred a focus on research writing, most companies have preferred a focus on project writing. These online lessons accommodate both preferences.
These films provide support for writing courses. The purpose of these online lessons is not to replace current courses on scientific or technical writing. On the contrary, the purpose is to strengthen such courses. In fact, instructors of those course are encouraged to assign specific lessons from this site to supplement their own instruction. Doing so allows these instructors to focus more class periods on critiquing the writing of their students and cover advanced topics such as strategies for a particular type of document.
Please feel free to provide comments, questions, and suggestions for the films, text, and quizzes of this website. To help us understand your feedback, please let us know whether you are a student or faculty member (or other professional).