Technical Communications in Mechanical Engineering


Engineering work is critically dependent upon communication skills. Engineers must be able to report their ideas and designs clearly and succinctly to their coworkers, supervisors, and customers. The format of engineering communications can vary widely, from summaries of calculations, to short technical memos, to complete written reports, to oral presentations, to drawings describing data or machinery. The undergraduate curricula of the MechE Department include instruction in all of these formats.


This web page provides guidelines for technical communication for students in the Mechanical Engineering Department. Five general types of communications are considered:


  1. Problem Sets.The calculations that you turn in for your homework sets form the backbone of your education in technical communication. By learning and practicing certain basic guidelines, you will develop the ability to convey your work clearly and convincingly to others.
  2. Written Reports. You will be asked to write formal reports on your work in many of your engineering classes. These reports will vary in content and format, but they include milestone and design reports in your project classes, lab reports in your experimental classes, and term project or research reports in other subjects.
  3. Oral Reports. You will make oral reports in several of your classes.Often, you will do this in conjunction with visual media (such as a PowerPoint presentation or poster).
  4. Lab and Design Notebooks. Written records of experiments and design development form important reminders for subsequent work.They also serve to protect your rights as an inventor or discoverer of new information.You will keep a formal lab or design notebook in several of your classes.
  5. Graphical Presentation of Technical Material. You will learn the techniques of graphing data, measurements, and equations:how to choose coordinates, labels, and symbols that make your work clear. You will also learn to make engineering drawings of components or systems that include proper perspective and dimensioning.


Departmental subjects that involve extensive education in communication include: 2.671, taken in the sophomore or junior year; 2.009 and 2.019, taken in the senior year; and 2.672, taken in the senior year.


The MechE faculty regard the development of good communication skills as an essential learning outcome of our undergraduate programs. More importantly, our alumni universally report that good communication skills are absolutely essential to their work, no matter what the field of endeavor.


Problem Sets

These documents describe basic guidelines for formatting problem sets. Please note in particular the need to be legible and the fact that giving numbers without showing their units is the same as giving a wrong answer. Also note that homework should not be turned in on scrap paper from the Athena printers.


The Preparation of Engineering Problem Sets


Sample Problem and General Advice for Homework



Written Reports

Mya Poe, Effective Written Communication: Storyboarding a Technical Report


Nicole Kelley, Sentence Structure of Technical Writing


David Gordon Wilson, Wilsonís guide for the preparation of theses, reports, articles, and papers


Barbara Hughey, 2.671 Report Guidelines


Wai K. Cheng, Guide to Writing 2.672 Analytical Reports


Leslie C. Perelman, James Paradis, and Edward Barrett, Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing


AIP Style Manual, 4th ed.



Oral Reports

Leslie C. Perelman, Effective Oral Presentations


Atissa Banuazizi, Creating Your BE.109 Presentation


Michael Alley, Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides


James C. Garland, Advice to Beginning Physics Speakers



Lab Notebooks and Design Notebooks

Lab and design notebooks are required in 2.671, 2.017J, 2.007, and 2.009.


Ian W. Hunter and Barbara Hughey, Instructions for using your lab notebook



Graphical and Visual Presentation of Data

Graphical presentation of data is taught in 2.671 and 2.672. Mechanical drawing and CAD/CAM skills are taught in 2.007, 2.008, and 2.009.


Gareth H. McKinley, Some Helpful Hints in Preparing Scientific-Quality Plots for Reports by Hand or by Using Excel


The Design Handbook includes an introduction to engineering drawing and downloadable graph paper.


An interactive version of the Design Handbook engineering drawing tutorial is available from OCW in the EDICS package.



General Style Manuals

A collection of on-line style manuals is given on these MIT Libraries web pages: