Why don’t engineers write?

Why don’t engineers write?

As you may have noticed, we have a new addition to our writing staff at Engineer Blogs.  Miss MSE joined us as a guest contributor.

What you might not have noticed is, with Miss MSE’s arrival and Paul Clarke’s departure, Engineer Blogs’ active writing staff is now 2/3 women.

I’m a bit surprised by that given the usual ratio of men to women in engineering. I have a few theories why, aside from the obvious one that the male writers keep leaving.  However, one underlying issue that is likely related is that engineers just don’t seem to like to write.

This one puzzles me.  Is it because engineering is a male-dominated field, and young boys are given the message early in life that they are bad writers?  Does this make them not want to try?  Or is it that they really ARE bad writers and realize the effort is futile?

I came across a wonderful essay entitled When Engineers Write.  Reading through the list, I recognized coworkers and colleagues alike.  There are also many a journal article I’ve read with one or more characteristics from the list.

And students.  Oh yes…the students.

My contemplation of this subject began when I had students come to talk to me about lab reports for our class earlier this week.  As part of the academic skills class I am teaching, I am covering how to keep a lab notebook and how to write a lab report.  One student’s lab report consisted of sections of bulleted outlines.  Another was terse: there was one sentence for each section with almost no detail.  (And they very seldom staple anything.)

Of course, I immediately became frustrated, but this is exactly why I am teaching this skill.  I learned after teaching my first circuits lab that most engineering students really have no clue how to write a proper lab report.

I see this lack of interest in writing lab reports to be a part of a larger trend that engineers just don’t like to write in general.  I’ve had many students tell me over the years that they don’t need to know how to write as they aren’t English majors.  They don’t like to write reports, but as they get out in the world, they also don’t like to write blogs.  I know engineers read a lot, or places like EEWeb, EDN, and EEtimes (among many others) wouldn’t exist.  I’m just not sure where they get their writers.

Looking at blogs specifically, science blogs have a huge variety of topics and writers, but you don’t see that with engineering despite the larger numbers.  Even the IEEE Spectrum only has about six blogs.

I do realize that lack of engineering blogs may be due to some reason other than the fact that engineers don’t like to write.  On the other hand, the medium is one that involves a significant amount of writing, and I can’t help but wonder if that is a contributing factor.

What do you think?  Why aren’t there more engineering blogs?  And why do you think a lot of engineers don’t like to write?


Before entering engineering I wanted to research the “student experience” in engineering. I googled all sorts of terms looking for engineering student blogs & found a handful. I was flabbergasted! With so many students, why are none of them blogging? Coming from law school where EVERYONE seems to blog, I was amazed. Eventually I came to the same conclusions as you have reached. It’s sad, really. Student blogs could be such a great resource for other students.

To me, one major component of blogging is the sense of community. Women engineers may be more likely to blog than their male counterparts because they have to look outside their immediate circle of interaction to find that sort of community. On the other hand, I agree that many (especially young) engineers are under the impression that they don’t need to be able to write particularly well, and don’t enjoy writing very much.

I also think blogging can be seen as impractical, which may lead some engineers to shy away from it. In law school, like Katie mentioned above, there are lots of bloggers. However, being able to develop a clear argument is viewed as a fundamental skill, so blogging could be seen as practice. Blogging is just another form of talking shop,but I don’t know that most engineers see it that way.

You bring up a very interesting point. There was an article published a few years back in the Harvard Business Review that female investing stars outperformed their male colleagues after a job change. What they found was the women had had to develop networks outside of their own companies and comfort zones in order to be successful. The men tended to have built in networks. So when they switched jobs the women could be equally as successful as they were before whereas the men had to adjust to losing the safe and easy network they had enjoyed at their last workplace.

Similarly, there are studies done of the science blogosphere that show that women will tend to link with other women, regardless of field, while men will tend to link only to others in their same field.

Personally I think engineer are missing the point with blogs – It’s a tool for engagement which is one of the good things about EB in that people post replies. Often people think a blog is a fixed view and should only be read, however it’s a point to start a discussion. So some engineers do not see this and so do not bother.

I also think that considering the number of engineer there are, only a small percentage are actually online and using social media for engineering. There is sometimes a lack of interest in engineering form some once they are NOT at work and don’t look at blogs and other web sites. I know a number of engineers who are great engineers but have a very narrow vision when it comes to looking at sites like this – maybe the growth of element14, DesignSpark, EE Web etc will bring more of them in.

Despite running away from EB, it was so I could actually spend more time on blogs and product review, so I think my word count output is now higher! I enjoy blogging and voicing my view, sharing with others and learning from them to. Without the cross section of engineers from EE to ME, Computing to Material Science all contributing we are missing great knowledge and experience – something that we have just not had before and I believe will grow in time. We are just some of the early pioneers searching this new technology and engineering universe – If we build it, they will come!

I think that there are more engineers on forums for various hobbyist communities than blogging—a question and answer on a forum is a shorter, less formal format, and gives people a chance to share their expertise with less effort.

There must be some engineers contributing to wikipedia also, as the engineering articles are generally fairly good. This has a very high value to the community—much higher than a blog post of the same info.

Of course, I’m convinced that engineers actually do more writing than most English majors once they leave college. It really is to an engineering student’s advantage to learn to write well before they enter the “real world”.

This is a really good question. As an engineer with my own blog, http://engineerchic.me , I must say that I struggles to get my site off the ground.

I started blogging in my final year of study and this was looked upon by classmates as humerous, pointless and silly (well the blog was previously bright pink (engineer-chic.blogspot.com), so that may have contributed to it. (My boyfreind, a mechanical engineer grad student still sees it as silly)

Over time it grew and became popular as my style changed and became more marketable. This was a surprise to me as I was always a good writer at school. Blogging is different to regular essay-writing. You need to be bold, and sell an image by the topics, phrasing and buzzwords you use. You need to sell yourself and not just the content you’re writing.Then you need to do a lot of leg work marketing it on FB/ twitter and other blogs (as I am doing right now).

This wider field of marketing isn’t something that comes naturally to engineers. We’re just not as comfortable selling ourselves and falsely think our ideas should sell themselves.


Blogging requires a lot more than just good writing or even good content – on the other hand, the marketing experience you pick up as a blogger is GOLD!

Oh yeah, and btw, last week my boyfriend emailed me a great article as inspiration for my blog – I considered it a major win 😉

Quote: “There are also many a journal article I’ve read with one or more characteristics from the list.”

I think “are” should be “is”. Or you could say, “I’ve read many journal articles … ”

PS: I’m an engineer;-)

I shall simply refer you to the article on “singular they” in wikipedia, where it is stated, “Strunk and White have been proven wrong on this point by logical analysis of quantification in natural language (like Pinker following Lewis and others above) — distributive expressions are neither exclusively singular nor exclusively plural, they are typically indeterminate in number.”

It does…but I have cognitive dissonance if I think about changing it to “many journal articles”, which means the same thing and is plural. The ‘many a’ construction simply doesn’t feel like it should be singular to me…and despite strunk and white’s assertion, it doesn’t have to be.

It kind of reminds me of the half full/half empty glass joke: the engineer sees a glass which is twice as big as it needs to be.
The engineer in me sees a sentence which is unnecessarily long AND then ‘clunky’ on top… no offence meant, but I would have written:
“I’ve also read many journal articles with one or more characteristics from the list.”
Alas, I am not a particularly good writer (I wanted to start that sentence with “but”, for example ;)!), so perhaps this is not even good English…

Nevertheless, I appreciate the article – by the way, perhaps it isn’t so much that engineers don’t like to write (I enjoy it very much, even if I’m not particularly good at it), rather, we choose to spend time doing other things – see Flying Flux’s sign off from May this year.
Actually, I’d love to have enough time to maintain a blog, even a website (I started one a long time ago:
It was great fun ‘building’ it, but after the initial burst, I just couldn’t keep up the effort as well as look after my seven-head family and perform well at my job), but I just always seem to have other more important things to do.
Every now and again I ‘treat’ myself to the time to read a few blogs, perhaps even type a few lines, but that’s as far as the ‘time-budget’ seems to stretch these days…

When I was just an embryo engineer in university, I was struck by the attitudes of many of my fellow students. Get a job, buy a house, maybe a boat, get married, blah. I was, and continue to be, an outlier. I take an interest in fashion, music (not the new stuff and not just rock).

If I may use the term (and being wary of over-generalizing) a lot of engineers come from the blue collar world or their parents are technical types. You rarely hear of engineers with last names like Carnegie, Mellon, Hemingway, Styron.

Writing and reading anything more sophisticated than simple emails or the latest Sword and Sorcery potboiler is hard work. I think engineers are not comfortable with ambivalence and uncertainty. They don’t have great social skills. I think that many of them are anti-intellectual.

Finally, people in engineering tend to be very goal oriented. Anything that doesn’t contribute to the project’s end is superfluous … especially reports or anything faintly resembling a user’s manual. Once the project’s over, move on to the next challenge.

Granted, I’ve met many people who aren’t engineers who feel the same way about writing. So maybe, in the end, engineers are just average folks who just happen to build things.

We have a theory that allot of engineers will not blog because allot of the time they will have various issues they want to find results to but while doing this they do not want to let people know they have issues within the industry.

For example an engineer who has a performance issue with a heat exchanger is not likely to discuss it on a blog as it could become a major issue for them, it would highly depend on the type of engineering industry they work in.

As a young boy, I am given the message in life that I am a bad writer. This makes me not even want to try and I am really IS A bad writer and realize the effort is sort of futile.

Great post, enjoyed reading it and you have a point about finding good engineers who actually like to write about their experiences.

I have been writing for about 6months now. Check my blog out at http://www.buildingmadesimple.blogspot.com

I write about business ownership, engineering, motivation and running.

Good luck with this blog page and let me know if I can help.

I’m an engineering student and I run a blog. It is not an “engineering” blog, per say, (I started it before being in engineering school and when I’m not in school, it’s harder to blog on what’s going on in engineering school), but it isn’t completely absent from my blog. I just love writing in general, and I have my entire life. Math and science do not come naturally to me like writing does, but that’s exactly why I chose to pursue it.

I’m an engineer that has been working in the field for over 6 years now.What I observed during this 6 years is that male engineers don’t like to write even at work.I’ve seen women engineers that liked to write and they were quite happy about it.Sorry ladies ,but we like to have fun by finding solutions to all kind of technical problems.
PS.Male engineers are not humans ,they try to find explanation for all things.Every thing must have a logical explanation ,even when it comes to human behavior.I am like that 🙁 -to much technical knowledge destroyed my heart.

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