Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Writing Matters: Christopher Edwards, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University

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The critical thing about writing is it's the way that you actually convey

the final result of what you did to your, your peer group.

It's the way you encapsulate it and transmit it.

So in a very techie fashion it's a,

it would be kind of like having a car that has an, an engine but has no transmission.

So you can't actually get it to the wheels to make you go some place.


An engineer is a, is a person who makes things that are hard to make.

We make things for people.

In the part of engineering that I'm in we make things that use energy and

transform energy.

What people probably don't realize is just how tricky it is to accomplish energy

conversion in a way that's useful, helpful, benign,

doesn't damage the planet.

And that properly integrates itself back into the, the natural systems.


So, in the the process of what we do, if we're thinking about,

either teaching in energy systems or doing research in energy systems.

Is we go through a process where we have an idea, we analyze it,

we compute, we experiment.

And then once we have the idea in a really firm,

crisp way, mathematically expressed so that it's precise.

Then we have to communicate it to human beings.

And all the issues of writing, who's your audience?

What do they know?

What's the story line that you're gonna tell them?

How are you gonna take them through the arc of that story, now becomes critical.


Technical writing is storytelling.

You have a place where you're beginning, you have a message that you want to send,

and you're taking the reader along a path.

My advice to students, in terms of writing, is do not make a bumpy road.

That you are telling a story and

that you want to synchronize with your reader at the beginning,

flow along in a very natural light until it's time to upset them.

To jar them.

You may take them into a corner and then yank their chain a bit.

You know, pull them back, but only if it's important for the message.

If, an example might be were there's some bit of conventional wisdom.

Oh, it has to be this way.

You can't be very efficient.

There's gonna be this terrible tradeoff between how well it works and

how efficient it's gonna be.

Lead them down that path and then pull them back, but

you do it with the most compelling example that you can have.

Other than that, you want it to be a smooth sailing.

You want it to be an easy read, to, to flow in a very logical sort of way.

Because the purpose of the writing really is to convey the information and

to have it make sense to them.


Standard advice, whether it's undergraduate working on the report for

laboratory, or whether it's a PhD student working on their dissertation.

Is, get those visual elements out there, get the storyboard done first.

It will let you know whether it's complete logically, whether it flows,

whether there are disconnects.

Are things on the same level in terms of treatment or

are you finding that you're so enamored with some bit of research that you did.

That you're taking the, taking the story off into some you know,

little corner that you're gonna have to back out of.

But whether you wanna call it storyboarding or

laying out the graphic novel for the weaving of the text.

It's absolutely critical.


I've never considered myself to be finished with writing something.

You write, you revise, you revise, you revise,

you revise, and eventually you have a deadline.

Which stops you, and that's a good thing.

Because, even if you've said it, in just a wonderful way, you could be more concise.

You could use less time for the reader.

If it's technical writing, it's usually not something that they're electing,

it's something they need, right?

So, conciseness is a virtue, so, you're never done.


Sometimes you use writing as the means to,

to actually complete the distillation of the technical work.

And this is something I think most people don't realize.

You might do this experiment, have this data, see this particular result.

But you're trying to work out exactly why it is, what the the nuances are.

And so, oftentimes we'll choose communication tools,

whether it's you know, visualization in a plot.

Whether it's making a PowerPoint talk that you lead your peers through or, or

just yourself through it.

Or writing the text, trying to explain it on paper in a logical way that you can go

back and go through to see if you really have that order of arguments right,

to make sure that the idea is precise.

I think people tend to appreciate that from the maybe mathematical or

computational aspect, aspect.

But don't always appreciate that that's a way to vet your thoughts.


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