Ethics in Engineering: How I developed my technical writing skills

Posted in: Department of Mechanical Engineering

Author: Max Hurlestone


My first written assignment for Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath was an essay on ethics in engineering. Having studied history at A-level, I was lucky that I was already well-prepared for this kind of task. So, I was eager for a chance to write an essay and took it as an opportunity to explore the topic of ethics in engineering.

I think that for many engineering (and other STEM) students, written assignments can come as a surprise and can even be disheartening. After all, most of us will have studied purely STEM subjects at A-Level (or equivalent) and will likely not have had a chance to practice our writing skills. However, I believe this ethics in engineering assignment was incredibly worthwhile. This is because it was a chance to develop my writing skills and receive valuable feedback from tutors regarding the proper technical writing style and structure. It was also a great opportunity to explore the subject of ethics in engineering, which is an important part of becoming an engineer hoping to build a better world for everybody.

Writing about ethics in engineering

For my ethics essay I focused on gender inequality in engineering design. This focus stemmed from the argument that because engineers can control how people interact with the world, we therefore have the power to shape society. So, unless engineers design for all human beings, we risk driving our already divided society further apart. Gender inequality almost always manifests itself in design. While some design problems aren’t immediately dangerous, others can be life threatening. Research compiled by Kahane (2013) found that the fatality risk of female drivers or passengers is on average approximately 17% higher than for males, for a crash of the same severity. Therefore, vehicle safety design and testing became the case study for my investigation.

I argued that it is the engineer’s duty to catalyse change in testing regulation and come up with alternative independent solutions. This involves encouraging the understanding and discussion of car safety inequalities in the engineering workplace to speed up regulatory change as well as designing new systems to make cars safer for all.

I concluded in my essay that unless engineers understand and promote that all humans are equal, despite our differences, we risk designing systems which do not solve universal problems, and in some cases can be the difference between life and death.

Lab reports and developing technical writing skills

As well as providing an interesting insight into ethics in engineering, this essay undoubtedly prepared me for the other written tasks I would be doing on my course, the bulk of which are lab reports. Although less glamorous than practical work such as laboratory wind tunnel testing, being able to concisely convey the results of an investigation is integral to all fields of engineering. This process can be difficult, for example with each lab report there is a different challenge, whether it is MATLAB data analysis or exploring complicated engineering theory, but there is help available. The professors and PhD research students who run the laboratories, each give their own insights into how best to write a report for their laboratory. With each lab you learn new knowledge and skills that you can use to hone your report writing. I have also found that these writing skills have been applicable to job applications, where the aim is to concisely explain why you are suitable for a position.

Final writing advice

In conclusion, I believe that focusing on writing skills at the beginning of the Mechanical Engineering course at Bath is incredibly helpful. It is normal to find this difficult, especially if it is your first time trying technical writing, but with the help of professors and other students, both PhD researchers and your peers, writing assignments can go from being disheartening to satisfying. I hope that this blog post has given a useful insight into Mechanical Engineering at Bath, and all the best with your studies!


Posted in: Department of Mechanical Engineering


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