If offered an opportunity to write about the application of geospatial technology in civil engineering, I suggest you jump in with both feet because there is so much to gain, starting with obtaining knowledge of critical details about your topic. You may also have the chance to conduct interviews with subject matter experts to hear first-hand about an inventor's or a manufacturer's passion and experience (positive and negative) as he or she progressed from idea to product development. You also gain exposure to a specific audience and can use your professional point of view to add knowledge and understanding to a subject your readers care about – how engineers use geospatial technology to do their jobs better.
Whether writing for your company newsletter or for a professional magazine, make sure you thoroughly understand the writing assignment, not just the general topic and how many words it must contain, but details such as who will be reading your article and whether photos or illustrations should be included. What format and writing style are needed? Will your final article be in the form of a question-and-answer interview, a view from behind the scenes, or an editorial in which you offer your thoughts and ideas?
Use your professional point of view to add knowledge and understanding to a subject your readers care about.
Regardless, developing good writing skills takes practice, just like any other life skill. Give yourself plenty of time to write your first draft, then ask a colleague or a professional editor to review your draft. Don't be shy about asking for constructive advice. Carefully review comments and, if you agree with the suggestions, incorporate them into your final rewrite.
Janet Jackson, GISP, is president of INTERSECT (www.intersectgis.com), a GIS consulting firm. She travels the country talking about the importance of intersecting GIS with other professions to create effective solutions for clients. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Civil engineers have been routinely using geospatial technologies for decades. Now they should write short case studies explaining exactly why and how they do so. Besides benefiting other engineers with less geospatial experience, this will also help geospatial developers and practitioners better understand their requirements and perspective.
If you are used to writing only for your peers, you may think that you can accurately explain complex engineering challenges only in lengthy technical reports. However, trade journals routinely publish articles aimed at a broader audience that includes project managers, sales representatives, and business executives. I have been writing about satellite navigation, GIS, surveying, and remote sensing for a dozen years and know enough about the subject to ask engineers good questions and then summarize and clarify their answers. As an engineer, you can ask yourself those questions – answer them, too!
Say that you conducted a watershed analysis to assess the water resources. How did you select your geographic extent? What were the sources of your field data? What were your modeling assumptions? Suppose you imported into a GIS the point cloud data from an aerial LiDAR survey. What point density did you use? What did you use for ground truth? Did you use imagery to colorize the LiDAR points? Say you installed survey-grade GNSS receivers on a suspension bridge to monitor deformation. How far apart did you space them? How often does your system average the receiver positions? With what latency does it provide the data?
Here are three simple guidelines for a successful writing assignment:
- Visualize your audience. For example, imagine that you are writing a proposal to the transportation commissioner of a small rural county.
- Translate jargon into more common terms.
- Summarize your project requirements, how you used geospatial technologies to meet them, and the key challenges you encountered.
Matteo Luccio is president of Pale Blue Dot LLC (www.palebluedotllc.com), which specializes in researching and writing articles, white papers, and case studies on geospatial technologies. He has been writing about satellite navigation, GIS, surveying, and remote sensing for 12 years. He can be contacted at email@example.com.