Communication Skills

A Ranting Hub for Improving Communication Skills


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Mastering the Art of Technical Communication

Engineering professionals have been talking about the importance of soft skills for years, and in the past decade, universities and technical schools have recognized their responsibility in meeting the need to provide education in technical communications.

For experienced professionals, there is no dearth of courses available, both online and on-site. Yet the call for even better skills (in writing for example) continues, and programs are continually being revamped and improved.

“Much work that contains a great deal of technical value gets ignored because the people who did the work failed to communicate properly,” according to Alan P. Rossiter, president of an engineering consulting and training firm Rossiter & Associates, in his book Professional Excellence: Beyond Technical Competence, published by John Wiley & Sons.

Effective Communication

Zachery Koppelmann, coordinator of the Purdue School of Mechanical Engineering Writing Enhancement Program, which addresses concerns of the faculty, alumni, and corporate partners, says “Writing is the foundation of efficient, effective communication between engineers and non-engineers.” The program evaluates undergraduate ME writing, identifies weaknesses, and develops instructional resources to directly address those weaknesses.

“Engineers work with complex processes and extremely detailed data,” says Koppelmann. “Being a great engineer is more than being able to individually understand the processes and data; it is also being able to explain the processes and data in a manner that allows audiences to understand their importance,” he adds.

That means being able to communicate well with both other engineers and those with non-technical backgrounds.

“Many engineering students we work with are brilliant at design and the execution of their designs, but they are often poorly prepared to explain their work to folks outside of their project,” explains Koppelmann. “The most brilliant design can only be used if engineers can effectively explain the design, clearly connect the design to other designs or concepts and directly demonstrate the benefits of the design. Raw data is not self-evident.”

Providing Feedback

Soon after the program started, it was learned that the feedback to ME undergraduates from their instructors was inconsistent. To address this, the program now has specific feedback guidelines and is providing special training for dedicated raters. After this implementation, there has been marked improvement in undergraduate ME writing, says Koppelmann.

Benefits are being realized in more ways than in just the communication process. “We have found that the more engineers are required to explain their designs and processes, the better the designs and processes become,” Koppelmann says. “We believe that this is a result of engineers having to think more carefully about what they are doing, and why they are doing it, so they can effectively and efficiently write about their work,” he adds.

In his book, Rossiter concurs: “Writing is an integral part of a project and should be done as a project progresses and not at the conclusion of the project. Develop an outline and a structure for the report early in the work and draft parts of the report as a project progresses. … The result is not just a better report but a better, more complete, piece of technical work too.”

Nancy Giges is an independent writer.

https://www.asme.org/career-education/articles/business-writing/mastering-the-art-of-technical-communication


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An Interesting Article: How Engineers Can Improve Technical Writing

 

September 2012

 

Even though engineers are technical people, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are good technical writers.

“Technical writing involves two key competencies,” indicates Atul Mathur, a professional engineer and technical copywriter in Singapore. “The first is the ability to understand technical language; the second is being able to express that knowledge in a clear, concise, and coherent manner.”

Dan Jones, a professor of English at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, who offers technical writing workshops to engineering groups, doesn’t believe technical writing “or any kind of writing for that matter, comes naturally to anyone,” he says. “Some people are better writers than others, but their skills are typically acquired over a long period of time with much practice and hard work.”

Even so, engineers do have some advantages when it comes to technical communication. They are detail-oriented, bright, demanding, and not intimidated by levels of technicality. “They want to know how and why something works, but like students in other college majors, they face similar challenges in communicating this technical knowledge clearly and effectively,” says Jones.

Modular Writing

Since the Great Recession, every business is trying to do more with less. For engineers, this means training budgets have been slashed and they have to produce an increasing number of written documents themselves.

“These include trip reports, proposals, status reports, meeting minutes, reports documenting site visits, and lab experiments,” states Gary Blake, director of the Communication Workshop in Great Neck, NY, and author of The Elements of Technical Writing. “In my 25 years of teaching seminars in technical writing, I have met very few engineers who are comfortable with using simple language, organizing documents for the readers’ benefit, keeping sentences and paragraphs short, and getting to the point.”

One method of dealing with the increased volume of reporting is “modular writing.” Many companies are moving away from individually authored technical documents to team-authored modules of information.

“These modules—each reduced typically to single topics—are then reused in a wide variety of company documents,” says Jones. “One technique is Darwin Information Typing Architecture, or DITA. This modular writing, once successfully implemented, can save a company thousands of dollars in documentation costs.”

Sometimes engineers try to circumvent technical writing by misusing PowerPoint and other presentation software, overloading technical presentations with data instead of explaining what it means in clear and concise language.

“I just worked with a group of 30 engineers to help them make more effective technical presentations,” says Jones. “PowerPoint as a medium is designed for simplicity with, ideally, the individual slides serving as prompts for the speaker, not as handouts for the audience. But many technical professionals crowd far too much information on almost every slide. And, in many cases, various company protocols or practices require them to provide all of this information in this manner.”

Simplicity in Complexity

Engineers often find it difficult to communicate their technical knowledge to audiences that have less technical backgrounds. For example, engineers must write reports and convey the essential technical details for managers—often a tough challenge because many managers don’t understand the technology.

“The greatest issue is the inability to see simplicity in complexity,” says Mathur. “How can they strip away the complexity of a process or system and present it in a way that others can understand, with minimum effort? After all, technical writing is not just about language skills—it’s also about how we think.”

There is no substitute for training—one-on-one, webinar, seminar, or having instant access to a subject expert or mentor. A webinar has the advantage of being inexpensive and convenient. “A team or department of engineers take a 90-minute online class that reviews writing samples, gives writing exercises, answers questions, and offers future access to an instructor,” says Blake.

Technical communication is essential for career advancement for all technical professionals.

“Mastering the content of a discipline is, of course, important, but this subject expertise becomes much more valuable and marketable if you know how to communicate your subject expertise to a variety of audiences in numerous kinds of technical documents and technical presentations,” says Jones.

Mark Crawford is an independent writer.


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Some Useful Links

GENERAL COMMUNICATION
1. Effective Communication Skills http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FljoEitkIeM
2. How to communicate effectively http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqZQdr_hY7U
3. How to Improve English Communication Skills – 6 Secret Tips

NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION
4. Communication Skills Training: body language secrets http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gaj3Xl9vasc
5. Nonverbal Communication Skills http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CL2npjSXMc
6. Nonverbal Communication – Tip #51

7. Communication Basics – Body Language

8. Power of Non Verbal Communications (You are the message)

9. Nonverbal Communication, Body Language Expert Jan Hargrave

10. History Channel Secrets of body language 720p http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dW9ztSUGY_Q
11. Advanced Body Language and Nonverbal Communication Skills Training

12. Body Language Can Undermine Your Message—Expert Mark Bowden

13. The Power of Body Language – Obama Romney http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_h_-X9hnYps

PRESENTATION SKILLS
14. How to Start a Speech http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w82a1FT5o88
15. Killer Presentation Skills http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whTwjG4ZIJg
16. Dealing with a Hostile Audience http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8oWX1Q1dbiE
17. Presentation Opening Lines http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXqUWHgBrCE
18. How To Begin Your Presentation With A Strong Start http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztbTCIXvWr4
19. How to Start a Presentation Using an Attention Grabbing Question http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndrIvSw1xTc
20. Best presentation opening http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3vifO4dI1E
21. Become a Master Presenter! What do Master Presenters Do Differently? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIGT6benUww
22. 5 Tips For Delivering A Great Presentation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9E8yaFCX0Y
23. Top 10 Presentation Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUpI6ROwRAE
24. Make a Presentation Like Steve Jobs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHX-xnP_G5s
25. What to do with your hands when you’re presenting! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooOQQOQdhH8

26. How To Open Your Presentation Like A Professional In 6 Steps

27. HOW DO I START MY PRESENTATION http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XFexzhDHxQ
28. Five Basic Public Speaking Tips http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AykYRO5d_lI
29. How to start a presentation with a quote http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1R-VCC1UnU
30. Sample Presentation: When you don’t know an answer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwAwldXDanw
31. How to avoid boring statistics in presentations

32. Overcoming Nerves When Giving a Presentation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbDipVRt5aE
33. How To End Your Presentation In A Memorable Way http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGZXNW3aDOw
34. Overcome Fear of Public Speaking http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNtXE_auuRw
35. Learn To Speak: Public Speaking Training, Attitude Is Everything

36. Get Their Attention Every Time You Speak

37. Speaking Tips – Stop Worrying and Start Presenting!

38. The importance of Body Language in Presentations

39. Working With Your Audience and Handling Q&A

40. Effective Presentation Skills: Using Vocal Energy

41. Don’t read from your PowerPoint slides

42. Bill Gates Speech at Harvard

43. 5 Key Presentation Skills – Inspired from Steve Jobs

44. Presentation Skills – Learn from the Best

45. Presenting & Public Speaking Tips – How to improve skills & confidence

46. How to add video to a PowerPoint presentation

47. The Most Effective Use Of PowerPoint

48. Creating effective slides: Design, Construction, and Use in Science

49. How to Give an Awesome (PowerPoint) Presentation

50. PowerPoint 2007- How to insert a YouTube Video into PowerPoint.mp4

51. Make animations in Powerpoint 2007

52. PowerPoint 2010 – Adding Animations

53. PowerPoint 2007- How to insert a YouTube Video into PowerPoint.mp4

54. English Communication Skill part 1-1


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Self Learning Materials

Communication Skills

Engineers use communication skills to explain an idea, process, or technical design. They use written, oral, computers, graphics, and other engineering tools to communicate to other engineers and management.

Written communication includes technical writing of journal, texts, and other informational material. It includes specific, to-the-point details about a topic of mastery by the author. Other engineers use these texts for continued research and development because the knowledge gained by one engineer has been communicated to others.

Oral Communication includes the delivery of presentations, explaining a design or design process and many other details that improve meeting coordination and team development.

Graphical communication utilizes the visual senses and allows for the engineer to explain an idea without using detailed written reports and oral communication. Graphics is an extensive discipline that encompasses a large range of topics from rough preliminary sketches to detailed computer AutoCAD pictorials. Graphical and visual communication is crucial to all stages of the design process.

Self-Learning

Will be uploaded soon