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The Definite Article in Engineering

The Definite Article in Engineering

The Definite Article in Engineering

I continue to lurk, sort of, on an Editor's page in Facebook.

Quote (Christa Sola Bedwin)

An engineer client of mine sent me the following query.

>"I keep seeing this in reports and it drives me nuts: overuse of the word >“the”. This sentence contains 20 words, 25% of which are “the”:
>The initial construction of the drainpipe, starting from the bottom of the >slope, was completed prior to the site visit.
>This sentence can easily be rewritten to avoid overuse, but is there some >sort of simple guidance that can be given to people that write like that?"

My general thought is "this isn't a problem, and stop worrying about it." I do, on the other hand, find it a problem when engineers get all "efficient" and remove all the "thes"! What do you think? I could use some other opinions to share with him. (I already told him my view point, and he didn't write back, so I assume he didn't like it.smile

Any thoughts?


RE: The Definite Article in Engineering

I have grown to despise overly wordy prose in technical topics. Overuse of neutral words like "the" would not make me think less of the writer, but I certainly notice it.

Ever since reading a book*** at the recommendation of another post here, I've started trimming down my communications as much as possible without removing substance. Now I find my larger challenge is not coming off snippy or short with people; I've gotten some feedback from friendly coworkers wondering if I was irritated in some replies. That's mainly in emails.

In more formal reports and submittals, though, I have trimmed down superfluous language. I've done my best to eliminate weasel words. I like the writing much better. It forces me to commit to statements, and when lacking confidence to commit to them, has made me go back and research it until I was confident enough to commit.

"Construction progressed upward from the slope base and was completed prior to our site visit."

Simple rewording reduces repetition of "the" and reduced word count from 20 to 14, as well as creating a more "personal" statement by stating "our" site visit, instead of "the" site visit. It at least makes it more specific about which site visit is referenced. "The" site visit could be any site visit, though I'm obviously looking at one sentence out of context. Making the statements as bland as can be may seem more "technical" and "professional" to some, but I disagree. Being specific can often increase the potency of a statement. I find the act of removing specificity requires more words than being specific, often times.

***That book was: Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighters Guide

NX8.0, Solidworks 2014, AutoCAD, Enovia V5

RE: The Definite Article in Engineering

Interesting point of grammar.
Checked my Strunk & White, no useful information.
Did more checking, I found these guidelines:
  • If there is only one: The Pope lives in Rome, The moon is bright.
  • If there is only one of those things in that place.
  • If the thing was already mentioned: A woman fell...; The woman was dead.
  • More here from this link (assume it is valid for "American English"): http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-...

Blue Technik LLC
Virtuoso Robotics Engineering

RE: The Definite Article in Engineering


I know that when I proof read stuff I write, I remove adjectives. This is not the same thing as articles. I think Ms. Bedwin was referring to this...

The point gets across but it lacks elegance, and grammatical correctness. I pointed out on Facebook that much of this stuff used to be printed out by hand on a drafting board. This encourages brevity for many reasons.


RE: The Definite Article in Engineering

Well, there's a difference between drawing notes [which should be stated as requirements not instructions most of the the time - hence passive voice etc. at least to ASME Y14.5M] where as technical reports are a different beast.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm? (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: The Definite Article in Engineering


I wandered from the topic a bit, but the general point poorly made was that excessive use of 'filler' words, including articles, happens when one isn't writing sincerely. I believe the result is also a report that's hard to read. I find that when I read reports written in such a way, that I will read 4-6 sentences and stop and say "Wait... what did I just read?"

NX8.0, Solidworks 2014, AutoCAD, Enovia V5

RE: The Definite Article in Engineering

"The initial construction of the drain pipe, starting from the bottom of the slope, was completed prior to the site visit."

how many "the" can you get rid of ? number 2, 3, and 4 seem pretty required; number 5 looks required but maybe not; number 1 could be deleted, I guess.

I'd question other words ... what was "initial" about the construction ? first stage ? or something temporary (like scaffolding) ?
is it necessary to qualify "construction" with the phrase "starting from the bottom of the slope" ?
the construction completed before the visit started at the bottom of the slope but went where ?

maybe "The first stage of construction of the drain pipe was completed prior to the site visit" ?

is "prior to" a better word than "before" ?

or "Construction of the drain pipe, starting from the bottom of the slope, was started before the site visit."

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: The Definite Article in Engineering

That sounds like one of my sentences, so I won't try to improve it.

RE: The Definite Article in Engineering

"The initial construction of the drainpipe, starting from the bottom of the slope, was completed prior to the site visit."

If this was in a report, then it reads fine to me - I don't believe in brevity if it leads to "clumsy" unnatural language like:

"Initial construction of drainpipe, starting from bottom of slope, was completed prior to site visit."

As others have said, notes on a drawing can omit definite and indefinite articles etc, but reports should read "fluently", so that your brain doesn't jar as you try to work your way through the sentence.


RE: The Definite Article in Engineering



The Help for this program was created in Windows Help format, which depends on a feature that isn't included in this version of Windows.

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