Expression involves the decisions writers make about the way they want to sound, which is influenced by the words they choose, the length of their sentences, and other style choices. As an engineer who will write in many different professional contexts, you should begin by carefully considering the rhetorical situation of the documents you plan to write: Who is your audience? What is their relationship to you? How much do they know about the subject? What will they do with the information you give them? These are only a few of the questions you should ask about your reader and the context of the message. To understand more fully the importance of understanding your audience, please see the article "Audience Awareness" from the University Writing Center. While the contexts in which you are writing may vary, you will want to express yourself precisely, concisely, and appropriately in tone in every situation. The following are guidelines that will help you understand how to navigate style options so that you use the fewest words to achieve the highest impact [1]:

  1. Use the shorter, more familiar word or phrase. For example use "end" for "terminate" or "help" for "assist" or "because" for "went on to say." (However, you should never compromise precision for brevity, so if a longer word or phrase is more precise, use it. Most of the time, though, the shorter word or phrase works.)
  2. Use "first-degree" words. These are words the reader can see. The idea is to replace the abstract with the concrete, which will be more precise. For example, instead of using the more generic term "publication," choose a more precise, familiar term, such as "The spring 2011 Chemical Engineering magazine." Or, instead of saying "the upcoming event," say, "WinterWonderSlam 2011."
  3. State your point in positive terms (not negative). For example, instead of saying, "It is not the case that we won't go if it rains," say, "We will go, even if it rains."
  4. Use explicit transitions: "Therefore," "however," "in conclusion," "consequently," etc.
  5. Use more verbs. Eliminate nouns and noun phrases, prepositional phrases (which require nouns), and "be" verbs ("am," "is," "are," etc.). Replace these with strong verbs. The result will be fewer words and high-impact statements. For example, "It was our discovery," say "we discovered." Instead of saying "It is our hope that" say "we hope."
  6. Prefer active voice. (Say, "John loves Mary," not "Mary is loved by John.") Since we usually use active voice when we speak (it's clear and direct), we should write the way we speak, i.e., clearly and directly. However, passive voice is preferred (note that passive has been used in this sentence) to soften criticism or to emphasize the results over emphasizing the actor. For example--
    • "The filters should be cleaned regularly to reduce debris in the tank." (Not, "You should clean the filters regularly. . . .") Note the emphasis is on the action not the actor.
    • "The position was awarded to someone with extensive experience in bio-fuels," not "You didn't get the job."

Remember that the more you know about your subject and the rhetorical context, the easier it will be to explain the topic clearly to someone else. Clear and concise writing takes time. Plan to write multiple drafts, receive peer reviews, and revise accordingly.

[1] Some of these guidelines were taken from the following source:

Williams, J.M. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. New York: Longman, 2002, 7th edition.