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Writing Centre Resource Guide


Engineering Writing

Early in engineering programs, students often dismiss the value of effective communication practices. Valuing technical knowledge and skill development, students can sometimes forget that engineering takes place within business organizations and universities. Engineers work with other engineers, as well as many other professionals. In fact, communicating effectively with others is a critical part of any engineer’s work. Coming up with an important innovation, a technical plan, or a repair solution will mean little if the engineer cannot convince other engineers and business professionals (as well as lawyers, environmentalists, and the public) that the work is financially justifiable and necessary. So engineers write. The information on this page is meant to assist you in your technical writing endeavours.

Writing Engineering Papers

The essential aims of an Engineering paper:

  • To identify an unsolved problem, and provide context for an issue
  • To provide the reader with a thesis statement or hypothesis
  • To provide appropriate evidence (i.e. academic texts and journal articles, depending on the assignment) supporting the thesis statement or hypothesis
  • To accurately paraphrase and cite the materials being used
  • To use the appropriate referencing style (usually identified in the assignment)
  • If required, to use or develop tables and figures, and to describe these clearly in the text and by using appropriate titles
  • To tell a clear ‘story’ – inform the reader clearly of the issue(s) and address them in a logical way

Common problems:

  • The paper fails to approach the problem analytically.
  • There is insufficient evidence to support an argument, often because the authors have failed to gather enough ‘good’ evidence (i.e. they have relied on one author or on poor quality resources to formulate their argument).
  • The thesis is missing, or is not very persuasive.
  • In a literature review, the paper provides a good summary of the resources but is vague in its conclusions.
  • The authors have failed to properly cite their sources, or have plagiarized (intentionally or unintentionally).
  • Acronyms are not defined in the text on first mention.
  • Tables and Figures are not referenced correctly, or at all, in the text.
  • Labels for Tables and Figures do not follow proper conventions.

Easy solutions:

  • Follow the template provided by the instructor, if applicable. Check for any information in the course notes on presenting Tables and Figures.
  • Plan out your document before you begin: use brainstorming techniques.
  • Plan out each paragraph using bullet points: start with a topic sentence, then present evidence such as facts, quotations or equations, then finish with your discussion (i.e. compare and contrast findings, discuss costs and benefits, or set out limitations of the proposed approach). Plan a new paragraph whenever you start on a new topic, or when it is appropriate to take a break (tip: read your paragraph out loud to determine when a pause is needed. See OWL’s tips on paragraphs, here:
  • Examine your thesis carefully and keep it in mind as you write. See this helpful page on writing clear thesis statements:
  • Think about structure. Is your argument presented clearly and in a logical order? Decide what works best: chronological, thematic, cause vs. effect….
  • Take the time to review your writing. Read it out loud, and ask a friend to read it for you. Remember, you can make an appointment at the Writing Centre to discuss your paper during the planning stage, while you are writing, or when you have a final draft.

Lab Reports

Lab reports are a vital part of student and professional practice. The attached example is meant to illustrate the principal parts of an engineering lab report, providing you with guidelines to follow as you write and revise your own work.

Useful Links

Quick Checklist

Finished your report? Not sure everything's as it should be? Use this checklist, developed by Holly Algra for Dr. Krkosek's Engineering 2203 class, to review your work:


Writing well-defined, straightforward memos is essential when collaborating with people of different disciplines. Use these guidelines to ensure your memos are complete, accurate, purposeful and relevant to your audience.

Work Term Reports

The Faculty of Engineering offers students co-op work terms. The academic component of the work terms is a work term report. Departmental guidelines and other resources for writing work term reports are available to current co-op students via Brightspace. Additional information can be obtained by making an appointment with a co-op counselor.

Writing as a Professional Skill

This article noting the importance of learning how to communicate clearly to enhance employability appears in a 2012 newsletter from The Association of Professional Engineers of Nova Scotia (APENS) :