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Audiences for technical communication

  • 1.  Audiences for technical communication

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-08-2019 12:25
    New engineering graduates are supposed to be able to "communicate effectively with a variety of audiences". Would members of the group please share examples of different audiences that an engineer in the first five or so years of her career might communicate with? I would like to use these as "seed ideas" for assignments.


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    Valerie Young
    Department Chair
    Ohio University
    Athens OH
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  • 2.  RE: Audiences for technical communication

    LOCAL SECTION CHAIR
    Posted 01-08-2019 14:51
    Valerie -

    I am about 2.5 years into my full time career now​, and have to communicate already with a variety of audiences! I am happy to share some of those with you:

    • Operations: it is important to be able to communicate with operations what changes are being made, what to expect from those changes, and how it is going to impact daily routine.  I have found that being open to questions, input, and feedback is very important when communicating a change to the operating area that you want to really stick.
    • Direct line management: many times it has been requested to provide check-step reviews with management on projects that are high prioity or very visible in the company.  This is usually a more technical presentation in nature since there are generally a bunch of engineers in the room!
    • Business partners: I am most closely aligned with our manufacturing area, and sometimes act as a liaison to folks on the business side about the results of lab experiments that we want to take to plant trials, and the results of any plant trials that have been run already.  It is important to have everyone on the same page so that conversations with customers are well informed.
    • Customers: depending on your role, it is likely that you will work with QA to deal with customer complaints.  This can be formal presentations, phone calls, or e-mails. I have done a little of this.

    Something that has helped me when going into any of these situations is taking a step back and thinking about what it is that I want them to hear or understand from the conversation.  Also, it is good to think about what you (the presenter/speaker) are trying to get out of the conversation (i.e. do you need their buy-in, is there a decision that you are needing them to make, etc).

    I think it is great to get students thinking about how different audiences are often in need of a different set of information in the same topic.  I hope that you can create some effective and interesting homework assignments, and even generate some good classroom discussion about how to talk to people across organizations that have different priorities based on their job roles.

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    Teni Butler
    Chemical Engineer
    Eastman Chemical Company
    Kingsport TN
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  • 3.  RE: Audiences for technical communication

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-09-2019 07:10
    ​Early in my career I was communicating with the production manager, plant manager, and quarterly with the SR. product vice presidents.   Being involved with the MOC process I also had to communicate with the operators, solicit feedback from them, and communicate with my co-workers in the meeting why we needed to make the change and how we were going to make the change.
    I was involved in many capital projects as well as maintenance projects so I had to be able to effectively communicate with the contractor's, maintenance manager, as well as the craftspeople, and purchasing.

    Overall I think the most important thing is to be able to connect with the operators, gain their trust and solicit their input, they will have a huge influence on your success.

    dan

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    Dan Kennedy
    Sr Global Process Engineer
    Kraton Corporation
    Rincon GA
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  • 4.  RE: Audiences for technical communication

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-09-2019 16:16
    Thank you for the responses so far!

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    Valerie Young
    Department Chair
    Ohio University
    Athens OH
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  • 5.  RE: Audiences for technical communication

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-10-2019 12:46
    Valerie,


    My experience is very similar to Dan.  The spectrum of counter parties for important communication is 360 degrees.  I suggest it key for new engineers (and most everyone) to understand the audience and tailor the message(s) to meet their needs.  It is always better to have a relationship with the other people before you reach a critical situation, so development of positive interactions is building a foundation for future communications.

    Technical communications need to be varied from slightly technical to deeply scientific depending the audience and the questions.  Avoid acronyms which can be all too common or at least explain them upon first use.  Additionally when communicating, avoid the engineer's pitfall of explaining how to build a watch when the question was, "What time is it?"

    Good luck!

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    Cheers,
    Gary Koehler
    Houston TX
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  • 6.  RE: Audiences for technical communication

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-10-2019 00:24
    A chemical engineer assigned to the environmental team at the plant might need to communicate to people who work at a state, federal, or local environmental agency.  They may need to communicate with operators and shift supervisors as well as process engineers to understand operating data needed to prepare environmental reports.  The reports they prepare might involve data and explaining what happened to cause an anomaly in compliance.  They may need to communicate with operations managers and plant managers to get final approval of the report before submitting it to the environmental agency.  And then they may need to communicate by phone, in emails, and in person to environmental agency personnel to answer their questions.

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    Marise Textor PE
    Senior Manager Regulatory Affairs
    Andeavor
    El Paso TX
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  • 7.  RE: Audiences for technical communication

    Posted 01-10-2019 10:08
    Hi Valerie,

    This is a great question.  I run an engineering services team, so we regularly communicate with clients, prospects, partners, vendors, and internally.  Rather than focus on details and breakdown of the audiences, let me focus on one aspect of communication... understanding the audience.

    One important question, which we regularly need to assess, relates to the technical knowledge of the other party in the communication.  Highly technical people often want to have highly technical conversations and detailed answers to questions.  Our higher education institutions are great at technical training. However, not everyone is highly technical and, even if they are, at times a bigger-picture approach is need.  What do all these details mean?

    For my team, we try to cultivate the ability to communicate clearly to both technical and non-technical audiences, and to be able to gauge the other and adjust communication style as needed.  This is hard.  It requires the ability to know both the details and the big picture, and to communicate each with varying emphases.  I find that if we try to first understand the audience's purpose and interest, then we can start to see the "why" and "what" of the communication.  Speaking to the audience (either an individual or group) in a way that addresses their concerns is very important.


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    Peter Blaser
    Vice President of Engineering Services
    CPFD Software
    Albuquerque NM
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  • 8.  RE: Audiences for technical communication

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-11-2019 14:22

    This is an excellent topic to discuss.  When Prof. Richard Grieger at the University of Wisconsin-Madison took over the laboratory for the Transport Phenomena Course in the mid-1970s in which I was one of four instructors, he instituted having the students give oral reports and proposed purchasing video equipment.  I graduated before those changes were implemented.  My career in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) research had numerous occasions of technical communication, both formal and informal.

    FORMAL COMMUNICATION: Once a week, each group working on a different aspect of EOR would have a morning or afternoon "staff" meeting with the group supervisor and present current results and future plans.  Every six weeks we would have a 6 weeks group progress meeting.  After that, selected individuals would make a presentation at the research sub-division staff meeting which consisted of all of the different groups involved in EOR research.  And finally, we had a divisional staff meeting with all of the sub-divisions involved in the various aspects of production research such as conventional water-flooding, drilling and completions, corrosion control, biological control and natural gas plant research.

    INFORMAL COMMUNICATION: This would be the one on one communication between engineers when working on a problem.  In addition, there is also an engineer instructing operators and technologists.  And, technical communication is required between engineers and vendors.



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    T. David Griffith, Ph.D.
    Blessing (Bay City), TX
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  • 9.  RE: Audiences for technical communication

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-11-2019 17:55
    Here is one I have fun with, when I have the time to, in government service: (re)writing forms. The ones from "high up" for Statewide use are usually well laid out and comprehensible. The more locally produced ones are frequently bad. A second set of eyes and multiple drafts is as essential to them as a senior report or report to senior management.

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    Keith McIver EIT
    NYS DOH
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  • 10.  RE: Audiences for technical communication

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-27-2019 10:27

    ​Valerie,
    Most of the audiences I am familiar with are in the plant setting, so I'll offer some comments relative to that.
    *Verbal communications with Operations Leaders, Supervisors, and Operators.  They will be interested in a brief summary of what you are doing, how it will affect their operation, what is the objective, and what they need to do to support you.  Be concise, get to the point, and simplify the technical details.  Convey that you are part of their team and are interested in helping them and will be willing to spend time getting to know them.
    *Verbal communications with your peers, mentor, and supervisor.  Be open, warm, friendly, and convey you are not competing with them, you are part of their team and are willing to learn from their experience.
    *Verbal communication with Plant Management.  This can happen in meeting settings or in the hallway, or out in the plant.  They will be interested in what you are working on, so practice your "Elevator Speech" for the project(s) you are working on which concisely summarizes the objective of your project, schedule, costs, and expected results.
    *Written communications (reports)  The time for the lengthy written report has come and gone for most situations.  The technical report will be a on or two page WORD document summarizing the test, or trial, or project.  Introduction, objective, summary, conclusions, and recommendation are all however still relevant components.
    *Written communications (email and text).  For communication with your Supervisor, Plant personnel, Vendors, Contractors, this will probably be the preferred method of communication.  This format is definitely a potential mine field for new engineers.  Resist the temptation to take shortcuts.  Be professional, use correct grammar and punctuation, use an easy to read format, use a professional tone and signature.




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    John Buchanan PE
    Director, Engineering
    Pixelle Specialty Solutions
    Chillicothe OH
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  • 11.  RE: Audiences for technical communication

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-28-2019 10:38
    Thank you for the ideas.

    It is interesting to me how often the need for informal verbal communication skills was brought up, with other engineers and with operators, technicians, or vendors. Our first year class includes a project in which students must build a separator for assorted small objects.  Students are encouraged to seek help from our laboratory technician, and often they are not sure how to approach him, or they struggle to explain what they are trying to do and what help they need.  This thread reminds me how important experiences like this are to our students' full education as engineers.

    Val

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    Valerie Young
    Department Chair
    Ohio University
    Athens OH
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  • 12.  RE: Audiences for technical communication

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-28-2019 15:20
    I remember being totally uncertain with our then-technician. I knew he wasn't a professor, but he was more formal than a student... Hard times!

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    Keith McIver EIT
    NYS DOH
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