‘For engineers and scientists’: how many audiences is that?

Anthony Haynes writes: ‘For engineers and scientists’ (or vice versa) is a phrase I encounter often. Most obviously in the case of sub-titles of books. I’m always suspicious of it.

Sure, the two constituencies overlap. And, even when they remain distinct — in project teams where, for example, there’s someone thinking ‘I’m the engineer’ and someone else thinking ‘I’m the scientist’ — they may have common concerns — the completion of an interdisciplinary project, say.

Engineers and physicists; engineers and biologists, engineers and medics; engineers and material scientists, for example — such alliances are common.

Yet, for all that, there remains a sense of distinct tribes. The tribes may have similarities; the relationships between the tribes may be peaceable; yet they remain distinct. A bit like Angles and Saxons, perhaps.

So why the frequency of the phrase ‘for engineers and scientists’? Well, I think the archetypal story goes something like this:

COMMISSIONING EDITOR: An author has sent us what looks like a strong proposal for a book on engineering [say, on how to write engineering bids].

PUBLISHING DIRECTOR: Is the engineering market big enough?

COMMISSIONING EDITOR: The total population of engineers is huge.

PUBLISHING DIRECTOR: Yes, but I mean those engineers who buy professional books. On that sort of topic. That our marketing might reach…

COMMISSIONING EDITOR: Yeah, I get your point. Seems a shame though. Thinks. Tell you what, while I was reading the proposal I thought, ‘A lot of this applies to scientists too’…

PUBLISHING DIRECTOR: Now you’re talking. Great idea! The combined market would certainly be big enough. Have a talk with the author.

And here a problem arises. One possibility is that the author writes more or less the book she had in mind, though perhaps with cosmetic changes, and then the publishers slap ‘For engineers and scientists’ on the front and hope that the scientists don’t notice that nine out of ten examples come from engineering rather than science.

Or the publishers asks the author to make the text less specific, with the result that it ends up lacking bite. Or they bring in a scientist as co-author, with the result that the book grows to an unwieldy and uneconomic length and contains plenty of material that, in turn, puts off both audiences.

I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s difficult. ‘For engineers and scientists’ usually translates as ‘far from optimised for either party’.

 

 

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