How to write more clearly, think more clearly, and learn complex material

Writing for Engineers by Heinrich Hartmann

Quotes from article on technical writing by Heinrich Hartmann:

If you don’t have a clear message in your head, your are not ready to start writing a narrative yet. You have other things to do first: Research the topic and find your message.

It should be clear what you want to tell the readers before writing. Writing is not a note taking discipline burdening readers with content going off in all directions. Writing is done when you know message, like a chef knowing which dish to prepare.

The realization that you don’t have the complete message in your head, will often only become apparent while writing. This surfaces as inability to find a good punch-line or to express yourself clearly.

Learn thoroughly before writing or at least realize when writing shows lack of knowledge and learn more.

Know your audience.

Who are they? What language do they use? What do you want to tell them?

Conversely, if you don’t have the context in your brain right now, you have two options (1) don’t write or (2) start loading the context into your brain.

Context is the knowledge that you mold into a text, e.g. the clay for the sculptor. To acquire context research a topic or discuss with people.

For documents that are more than a page long you must take a top-down approach and start with an outline. An outline is a list of sections together with rough notes, often in the form of bullet points.

The outline (and story line) is the backbone of any larger text. Create the headings of a document that is aligned with the message you want to convey.

Headings, highlights, lists, figures and summaries improve “skim-ability” and make the text accessible and readable.

Circulate drafts of the text to the selected audience. (Don’t forget to thank your reviewers in an “Acknowledgements” section.)

Feedback beneficial in many aspects of life.


Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!

— William Strunk, English Teacher at Cornell