Re-Engineering Writing A New Approach to Professionalism and Writing in Engineering By Morris Sparkman
Re-Engineering Writing by Morris Sparkman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
We live in a day and age where writing and professionalism is more important than ever. Whether one’s sending an email to a colleague or writing an assignment for a professor, the need for professional to be conveyed through the text of the writing is always present. But how can professionalism be conveyed through writing if someone has never been taught it? How can a person show their true professional nature without the fundamental tools to do so? The answer is very simple; they can’t. As a first year student, this lack of professionalism dealt with everyday. Whether we’re trying to communicate with a professor or just trying to get an A on an essay, our inability to adequately write and subsequently convey professionalism is shown regularly. So how do we correct this? Well, we take writing courses as part of our standard first year course load which provide us with a general idea of what’s like to write at a professional level, but professionalism is something which is diverse and the same for everyone or every major. What constitutes professionalism to someone with a creative writing major is different than what constitutes professionalism to someone with a theatre major. So how do we cope with this generic answer to a very specific problem? How do we ensure that students are prepared for a life of professionalism through writing? Well hopefully that question can be answer within the contents of this piece. Through an analysis of the pre-existing material currently available to students, and specifically engineering students, a foundation was established as to what exactly constitutes professionalism through writing. Furthermore, through analyzing common types of professional writing in the engineering field through genre theory, a better sense of why the types of writing encountered are so frequently encountered. Finally, through a one-on-one interview, primary information was gained as to how writing has been approached with respect to engineering majors and professionals and the shortcomings encountered as a result. I hope that through reading this, you’ll be able to get a better sense of what is truly needed in order to succeed here at the University of Denver. I hope that the contents of this piece truly do aid in some manner. And I hope that what I say makes sense to you. As a first year engineering student, I understand and have experienced the problems that you will or already have experienced. But that can change through what is present to you in this book. Good luck in your studies and challenge the status quo everyday for that’s how things improve.
In the field of engineering, there are many resources both for professionals and students in regards to technical writing and learning how to write effectively for the industry as a whole. While various fields within the sciences involve technical writing –often characterized by the passive thirdperson point of view and quantitative data presented—engineering in specific, has its own standards and requirements that have been instituted as uniform standards across the field. While there is a rationale behind this, it often causes those outside of the technical field to become confused and not understand the information which has been presented to them. As such, while there is a large amount of information with respect to writing in the engineering field, it all lacks one aspect; how to be professional before entering the work place.
academic acquisition of the degree, the aspects of the engineering profession, and understanding how to internalize the knowledge gained in the classroom and how to apply that in the work force. While the majority of the book deals with the individual student and how they should proceed in their academics, the section about the engineering profession itself introduces and details the process of writing in the engineering field in general. Among the guidelines given by Landis are; avoid firstperson point of view, brevity over verbosity, and stick to the form of either a lab write-up or engineering memorandum. As such, Landis never mentions how his audience should conduct themselves in a professional manner, both in academia and in the workforce. To put it bluntly, when someone reads a piece of technical writing, ninetimes-out-of-ten they don’t care about who wrote it, only what is said and how it is said. Consequently, where other types of writing in other fields, such as in the social sciences or humanities, which seek to make a connection to the audience through personal means and professionalism thus establish a rapport with the reader, technical writing doesn’t do that and on the whole, doesn’t teach people to conduct themselves in a professional manner.
To begin, an analysis of the resources currently available to students with respect to teaching and learning how to write in a technical field was done. So far as engineering majors (regardless of the specialization) are concerned, there are two relatively common resources available for review; the first by Dr. Raymond Landis, Dean Emeritus of Engineering School at California State University with degrees from MIT and UCLA and the second by Dr. Michael Alley, Associate Professor of Engineering Communication at Penn State with degrees from Texas Tech and the University of Alabama.
Likewise, in his piece Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students, Dr. Michael Alley presents several different forms of writing done by engineering and science students in general; from lab reports to product proposals. While there is a lot of information pursuant to the different formats of writing in the technical fields, they all again, have the same theme;
In Landis’s book Studying Engineering, the principles pertaining to how a student should approach this major are presented and expanded upon. Among these include; how to be successful in the 4
no first-person text, establish no personal connection with the audience, and professionalism is something that comes with time. While the general premise is the same as Landis as well as other writing sources, Alley does push for less reliance upon quantitative data—such as charts and graphs—but instead advocates for the individual to convey with word that which they wish to say in order to ensure that only essential and relevant data is presented to the intended source.
communicate this to a variety of audiences. From the research gained from the Landis and Alley pieces, it is possible to attribute this trend of not being able to convey information productively and efficiently to a range of audiences as the result of the way engineers and other science-related professionals are taught how to write. Subsequently, because of these restrictions and guidelines, professionals in technical fields can’t “relax” enough to explain their findings or activities to the general populous in a professional manner which results in more technical terms that professionals use in an effort to preserve brevity causing even more confusion. Ultimately, if engineers were able to write similarly to those with business majors or something of the like where effective communication and professionalism is vital to success, the relative “language barrier” would be done away.
While both Landis and Alley advocate for similar guidelines and practices when writing in the fields of engineering and science, they both gear their arguments and advice to those still in school and learning how to write in their major field of study. However, though the information is presented differently, there are resources on technical writing for professionals who have been out of school for years which advocate for the same general principles found in the writings of Landis and Alley while simultaneously ignoring professionalism in the work place. An example of this can be found in an article from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) written by Mark Crawford.
In addition to the information regarding the practice of technical writing, writing by engineers for engineers can be found in such organizations as; ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers), AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics), and NSPE (National Society of Professional Engineers) which demonstrate how much the style of technical writing is engrained into the profession regardless of the rhetorical situation (articles for the abovementioned organizations deal a lot with interesting subjects, however, they are written similarly to memos typically written by engineers).
According to Crawford—whose article centers on interviews with engineers in the profession as well as those who teach technical course to professionals— “Engineers often find it difficult to communicate their technical knowledge to audiences that have less technical backgrounds. For example, engineers must write reports and convey essential technical details for managers—often a tough challenge because many managers don’t understand the technology.” As such, Crawford goes on to say that while it is important to understand for engineers to understand the information they’re presenting, they also need to know how to
With so much information regarding technical writing not only how it should be approached but also examples of it in both academic and professional settings, it’s hard to image that anything new in this realm can come to be. However, that is not the case. 5
All that technical writing needs is a breath of life in it in order to cross the boundary between everyday language and that of the technical fields. This ‘renaissance’ in the field can come through the introduction of more professionalism in the classroom and work force.
gap between professionals and amateurs. The point of this piece is to do just that. Through the promotion of professional, it is my goal to encourage that “leap” across the gap which divides the theory from the actual; the fiction from the reality. While people have had their say in regards to the formality of which this type of writing entails, I will have mine in regards to the professionalism of the whole individual, not just the writing. The research is done, and the information has been found. Why not make it so everyone can understand it? Why not make it where everyone can use it? These are the things which those in the technical field must seek to do with their work for they work not for themselves or the advancement of their careers solely, but rather for the advancement of human knowledge and the increases awareness which comes with the advancement of knowledge. A more educated populous will lead to changes and improvements which will help not only the layman but also those in the technical field themselves. This can all be done through one simple task, a task which until now has had the same format. That task is writing.
By incorporating more effective terms and usage of common knowledge, engineers can begin to help convey the information they know to the general public. This can be something as simple as saying that electricity will pass from one part of the machine to another in order to turn it on, instead of detailing the path which it flow through the various electrical component such as resistors, capacitors, and inductors. By doing this, brevity is maintained while allowing for the audience to get the general idea for what is going on. Furthermore, with the addition of more relaxed syntax—the incorporation of ‘I’ or ‘we’—a more personal connection between the engineer and audience can be made which will result in a better understanding between the two and the information which connects them. Furthermore, by doing the abovementioned, a true level of professionalism can be attained. While engineering students and technical-related students in general, are preparing to join the work force and be on the edge of new technology, their writing must also update in order to fit with the changing times. In a day when anyone can look up what the Sun is made out of and how it affects life on Earth, new discoveries and processes must be explained in such a way that doesn’t require a bachelorette of science degree to understand. This can only be done through using terms and phrase which are common place and by seeking to convey the general form of the information found or used in order to maintain brevity while simultaneously helping to bridge the 6
Introduction: Our common misconception with regards to genre is what it means. All too often, the layman—myself included—think of mystery, horror, or science fiction. We think of the ‘types’ of a genre, in this case, a book. Should this not be the immediate thought, the second is that genre is a medium of expression such as a movie, book, play, or the like. However, in reality, genre is both of these. Genre is the type of medium in which someone chooses to express their thoughts or ideas while simultaneously adhering to a specific tone or idea. This third definition of genre is more commonly known as Genre Theory and is found everywhere, including the field of engineering. By analyzing the five fundamental genres found in both academic and professional settings (syllabi, class assignments, lab reports, resumes, and presentations) through the lens of their structural features, the rhetorical situations which warrant their construction, and intended social response, a general idea for the five abovementioned genres of writing in which engineers come into contact with throughout their careers can be analyzed and further dissected in order to get a better understanding of writing in the engineering profession.
Genre Theory: To begin, an explanation of Genre Theory is in order. According to Kerry Dirk, a writing professor at Virginia Tech, “…when something new happens that requires a response, someone must create that first response. Then when that situation happens again, another person uses the first response as a basis for the second…resulting in the creation of a new genre” (Dirk, 252). So, what is meant by this definition? For the purpose of this writing, it can be said that genres are the reactionary answer to a social problem or situation. As such, their significance does not lie in the content of the piece or the words used but rather, how the piece is used in response to a situation. Dirk also states that, “Learning about genres and how they function is more important than mastering one particular genre; it is this knowledge that helps us to recognize and to determine appropriate responses to different situations—that is, knowing what particular genre is called for in a Particular situation” (Dirk, 259). An example of this is a eulogy. From time in memoriam, a person chosen by the deceased prior to death has given the ‘keynote address’ of the funeral. While the tone and nature of this speech has remained unchanged in its history, it is the direct reactionary response from the writing world to the situation of speaking at a funeral. As such, eulogies are in their own right, a genre. By understanding Genre Theory, writing and research in the field of engineering is more likely to be understood and appreciated. While it is true that in the field of technical writing— and in specific, fields involving engineering—it is impersonal and all too often too technical, this simply was the response that people prior had to similar situations in the past that have stuck. As 7
such, by understanding the situations which the writings are in response to will further help the reader to not only appreciate the information being presented, but also to understand the information.
Syllabus: One of the most simple and direct pieces of writing that engineers come in contact with along their career are course syllabi. Most often, these are the first things that students receive upon starting a new class and as such, they are the first genre in which students come in contact with. While for the most part syllabi are straight forward, when analyzed further, they are intricate pieces of writing. When assessed from a structural point of view, engineering syllabi are traditionally very similar. However, it is up to the individual professor as to what exactly goes into their respective syllabus. For the most part, syllabi are between one and three pages long with the first page detailing the course name; professor and TAs’ contact information; location of the classroom and lab room; required materials; and overview of the course. An example of this typical ‘first page structure’ can be found in the following syllabus for a traditional engineering course:
From “Mechatronics II” syllabus by Dr. KD Kim, University of Denver While the first pages of syllabi are commonly very similar to the example provided, subsequent pages tend to show the differences in expectations and overall class structure from the individual professor while simultaneously including content in the following categories: Class Expectations: This section is usually a brief paragraph explaining classroom behavior, attendance policy, and overall ‘demands’ of the teacher in the studentteacher relationship. 8
Goals: Also known as ‘objectives’ this section usually lists out what students will be able to do by the end of the course or the why students take the course. An example can be found in the syllabus by DU Prof. Kimon Valavanis for the course, Mechatronics I:
Grading Policy: This section is traditionally a breakdown of each section of the class which receives a grade and how much that section makes up the final grade. While the majority of engineering syllabi have this section, the majority, if not every single class, has a different grading policy which places emphasis on various aspects of the class deemed important by the professor.
From “Engineering Connections” syllabus by Prof. Gordon and Prof. DeLyser
DU Disability Statement: This section is usually verbatim from the University of Denver. Here, the statement which makes help available to those deemed disabled is provided. DU Honor Code: Also known as the ‘Integrality Policy’, this section dictates the policy of dealing with cheating in classes and official action that will be taken against the student by the professor and university.
Moving on from the structural components, when assessed from the angle of the rhetorical situation, the development and creation of a syllabus is very straightforward; students need to know what to expect from a course they are taking while teachers need to inform students about how the course will be taught and what will be covered. As such, the only practical solution, other than taking the course before hand, is a document which satisfies this situation and is mutually understood regardless of the time period. By providing a syllabus, a professor or teacher intends for the student to read and abide by the stipulations made. Consequently, by writing this piece to satisfy the rhetorical situation, it is intended that—should the student so choose—the student and teacher will enter into a mutual understanding based upon the contents found in the syllabus.
Class Assignments: Once students understand the expectations of the class and have elected to abide by those expectations, the real work begins. More often than not, teachers reinforce the concepts taught in 9
lecture through class assignments. In engineering this means both a book component in addition to a hands-on component. Consequently, while there is a general form, most assignment sheets are contingent upon the preferences of the individual teacher and therefore are harder to classify in terms of structure. On the other hand, while there are differences with respect to structure, all class assignments fill both the same rhetorical situation and intended social response. When it comes to structural features, class assignments almost never resemble another assignment exactly from another class. This is true for engineering. While the content may be similar, expectations with regards to the assignments (as dictated by each professor’s syllabus) are very different. What may pass as an A in one engineering course may not be an A in another course. As such, it’s hard to say anything more on the topic of common structural features other than some sort of question will be asked by the teacher that will dictate a response from the student consistent with the concepts taught in lecture to be turned in for evaluation. That having been said, unlike structural features, the rhetorical situation which dictates the creation of a class assignment is universal to all classrooms. That is, in order to reinforce and provide additional information to students after lecture, the instructor needs to create something which each student can work on at their own pace which utilizes the concepts taught. Furthermore, this item needs to be created in such a way that will make it clear as to the expectations of the instructor even when the he or she is not present; i.e. class assignments. Similarly to rhetorical situation, the intended social response of the professor or teacher is almost universal. That is to say that each instructor intends for the student to receive the class assignment, understand the assignment, and do that which is required of them.
Lab Reports: As students begin to bridge the gap between conceptual classroom assignments to hands on professional assignments, the genre used is the laboratory report. By using this document, a systematic method of testing, record, and analyzing data is created which allows for continuity and consistency both in the classroom as well as in the work force. To begin, the structural features of a traditional lab report in engineering courses have five main components: an introduction, procedure, data/calculation, results, and conclusion. These components all combine to create an immediately recognizable document where information can be found quickly. As such, the following are detailed explanations of each for the five components:
Introduction: Here, an introduction to the experiment being conducted is given. In this brief section, the author gives enough background for someone skimming the report to know what the report is about. In other science fields, this is known abstract. Procedure: In the ‘Procedures’ section of any engineering lab repot gives step-bystep details about what was done and how it was done. Many reports include diagrams of apparatuses used in the experiment. Data/Calculation: In this section, all the data and calculations done throughout the lab are collected and organized in tandem with their corresponding step as
outlined in the procedure. This is arguably one of the most important sections in the lab report because it shows the tangible data that has been collected. Results: Located in the ‘Results’ is typically a summary of the data collected and how it corresponded to the question being tested in the first place. Conclusion: Finally, the conclusion synthesizes the information and data collected in the lab, conjectures an answer to the question posed at the beginning of the lab, and then explains who this information can be used, either in follow up labs, or in real world applications.
Moving forward, unlike the rhetorical situations for the previous genres analyzed the rhetorical situation for a lab report is slightly different. That is to say, that where a class assignment and a syllabus are reactionary responses to a situation, lab reports are almost ‘proactionary’ in the sense that they seek to provide an answer to a question sometimes before that question needs an answer. In this way, lab reports are unique to engineering and science related fields in general. In addition to a unique rhetorical situation, lab reports in the engineering field have unique intended social responses. Instead of making a person do something in direct relation to the genre such as a eulogy seeks to make people feel better about the passing of the deceased, lab reports encourage people to use the information and data found as a resource for their own means and research. As a result, lab reports—as seen in engineering—are distinctly different from other lab reports as well as comparable writing from other fields.
Resumes: When transitioning from the world of academics to the professional world, the first piece of writing that engineering students do that is not seen by a teacher or professor is a resume. Like most resumes, those for engineering majors are very ordered and predictable in regards to general structure and content. As such, while this provides a relatively simple creation process, the challenge comes in trying to stand out on a piece of paper that is relatively identical to fifty other people. Following the structure of almost all other resumes, those for engineering majors are organized in a fashion consistent with the standard. Among the standard components that are included in resumes are; objective, education, experience, skills, and special projects; traditionally in that order. To be more detailed, the following is true for each of these components.
Objective: In this section, an individual’s goal for this job is stated. This is the first thing that a potential employer sees and as such needs to be concise and accurate. An example of this can be seen in the following:
Free resume sample from www.resume-help.org Education: Education is extremely important in any field and particularly, in engineering. This is the section where all the money you spent on school comes into play. It is important to be truthful about the degrees earned since an employer 11
can contact the issuing university at any time to validate. If there was an “error” in regards to your education, odds are, you’ve lost the job. Experience: In the ‘Experience’ section an individual lists all the experience they’ve gained either in school or since finishing school. This section is significant because it helps to show the professionalism that a candidate has. Skills: This is where an individual starts to show that they’re different from the crowd. For example, while all engineers are pretty dexterous with a calculator, if you can write new programs that increase the speed at which your calculator functions or what it can do, then you have a leg up on the competition. Special Projects: Finally in this section and individual can truly gloat. This is where all the special projects, or just interepsting projects, can be listed. The more ‘important’ the better as this will further separate you from the crowd. A good projects section can mean the difference between getting the job and losing it.
Free resume via www.workbloom.com The rhetorical situation for a resume is pretty straightforward; an employer has a vacancy and needs to fill it, and an individual creates a document which serves as a brief insight into their accomplishments and what they can bring to the table. Furthermore, it is the first impression that a potential employee makes, and such is the first hurdle in the process of getting hired. Through the standard form of a resume, the intended social response is not a broad as with other forms of writing. Rather, it is meant to be between one person and possibly a hiring team. As such, it is intended that the resume will serve in gaining an interview and then subsequently, a job offer.
Presentations: The last significant genre which is encountered by engineering majors once they make that transition from student to professional are presentations. While the general format of an engineering presentation is similar to those in other fields, the significant difference is the fact that a combination of scientific data as well as real world application must be presented in a way which is not only thorough, but short enough in order to keep the audience’s attention. 12
Furthermore, because the data being presented can be rather complex for a non-technical person to understand (who are the large major of people who listen to engineering presentations regularly) the content needs to be thinned out and translated into a language that everyone knows. On the whole, the format of the presentation is relatively simple. There is an abstract, title, introduction, need, solution, testing. Now, given the setting of the presentation—either business or scientific—the presentation may also include cost-profit analysis or method and results respectively. As such, this is contingent upon the rhetorical situation of the presentation. There are two basic rhetorical situations in which an engineering major and subsequently, professional, will have to work in; business or scientific. Consequently, presentations need to be tailored to fit the situation better. For example, with a more business centered presentation, the cost of the product and return value need to be discussed while with a more scientific presentation, procedures and results need to be included. Regardless of which situation and engineer finds themselves in, they basically need to create something where they can quickly explain what it is that they need to and be able to effectively convey and essentially convince their audience of the validity of their work. Finally, the intended social response is for the data to be received by the audience, understood, and accepted whether it is a business centered presentation or technical presentation.
Conclusion While there are many genres in the field of engineering both academically and professionally, the five above are the most fundamental to the industry. As such, it was found that while these are the main types of writing done, the majority of them are not taught to students pursuing engineering degrees. Furthermore, without adequate skills in regards to identifying the appropriate genre to use and how to effectively use it, engineers often find themselves at a disadvantage. When this happens, information can’t get from those who know it to those who need to know it, products aren’t created that can be successful, and students don’t know what to expect from a class. So, while what is being said is important, how you say is also important.
Up until now the information provided has all been from other sources. It has been from what others have experienced and have come into contact with over the course of their own experiences. While this in of itself is useful, there are few substitutes for getting straight to the source. That’s why I’ve conducted the following interview that issues can be found at the source from real people who’ve dealt with them. For this chapter, I interviewed Janice Smith, a TA in the mechanical engineering department pursuing her M.S. in mechanical engineering. From her interview, I was able to understand what forms of writing—and the subsequent problems inherent to each one—that she’s come into contact with over the course of her academic career and moving forward, that she wished she had been taught. Additionally, information was presented which can be used to propose change in the current method of teaching writing to engineers as a whole. Upon starting the interview, I asked Janice that had she known that there was going to be a lot of writing in engineering, if she would have changed her major. Her response was one that I didn’t find all too out of the ordinary. She told me that engineering was a lot of things. That it was math and science intensive in addition to writing intensive. However, where the former fail (math and science) the latter was useful in “picking up the slack”. As such, Janice proved that writing is just something that has to be done, has to be learned, and has to be there when other forms of communication fail. Moving deeper into the interview, I began to ask Janice about the various types of writing that she had encountered over the course of her academic career and who the
traditional audience was for her writing. To this, she gave me two examples of the type of writing that she most commonly comes in contact with. The first example that she gave was the types of writing that she had dealt with on a regular basis and had been exposed to for many years. Among these included standard memo reports, executive summaries, and project presentation. The second example of writing that she had been exposed were the lab reports which she graded each week as part of her TA duties. She followed up by stating that with respect to the former, the audience is traditionally professors, but as she has experienced, a lot more writing is done for employers and fellow researchers. With respect to the latter, Janice said that she is the audience that the pieces are written for. Working on the transition that Janice had unintentionally created with her previous response, I followed up my preceding question what one similar. I asked her what the differences, if any, were between the writing that she has encountered in the professional world and those of the academic realm. Surprisingly, Janice responded by saying that since engineering was a ‘career major’ (meaning that the skills and knowledge gained in school transfer extremely well to the professional world), the majority of the writing that she has done in school is extremely similar to the types of writing that she has encountered in the professional world. As an example, Janice said that the average lab report that students do in engineering labs every week is not all too different than those which professionals use all the time. Needless to say, I was very surprised at this response because all too often, things that we are taught and do in school have no real-world use. 14
types of writing? After pausing for a while, Janice responded with a simple truth; “regardless of whatever you’re doing, do it well. Learn to convey information quickly and efficiently and remember who you’re writing for...it [engineering] may seem like a lot of work, but stick with it.” With this, I thanked Janice for her time and responses to my questions.
Moving forward, my second to last question for Janice was what she wished she had been taught in her undergrad which would have made writing in graduate school and the professional realm easier. To this, Janice stated that she would have liked to have been taught how to give and make better presentations. Given the amount that she has had to do them, at times, she has felt lacking in her abilities to create effect presentations, especially when working with peers who have different undergrad background that her. This response all surprised me. Previously, I had been under the impression that presentations were relatively minimal forms of writing compared to other ones such as lab reports. But given this response, it seemed otherwise.
On the whole, while there are many good things which Janice saw throughout her education, there was still room to improve. From the lack being taught writing styles inherent to the major (such as presentations) to the limitation found in regards to audience; there’s things to fix. Additionally, from this interview, it was possible to being thinking about what freshmen can do to help institute the change that is needed in order to help student succeed academically as well as professionally.
My final question for Janice was a simple one; what advice would you give freshmen starting on their own path in engineering about writing and the different
The field of engineering is a broad and encompassing discipline, both academically and professionally. There are many types of writing genres which many in the field come in contact with regularly and many which individuals don’t. And while there are resources available to help professionals to enhance and improve their writing, there are relatively few for students. As such, from both primary and secondary research, a trend has emerged with respect to writing which can be said to be a systematic failure on the part of engineering educational institutions across the country; a lack of professionalism. Therefore, in an effort to correct this error, I propose the creation and implantation of an engineering writing course centered on professionalism and writing. This deficit can be seen across the entire engineering discipline regardless of specialization. These shortcomings include the fact that there are no direct engineering writing courses provided, the only type of ‘science’ writing that students do is always in the form of a lab report, and the very basic fact that the whole process of engineering from the creation of the product to its presentation is never taught. As such, these errors can be quickly corrected through the immediate process of teaching an engineering professionalism course. Through the creation of an engineering professionalism course, students in the engineering field would be taught what it takes to be successful in the workforce besides simply being able to do the math. Students would be able to learn what exactly it takes to write quality lab reports in addition to other forms of writing seen in engineering including; memo reports, executive summaries, and quality product presentations. Furthermore, the class would teach students how the entire process of creating a new product—whether for industry or for research—from start to finish is done. I believe that through this one all encompassing class, it would be very possible to help students be proactive with respect to writing in the work force rather than reactive once they’ve arrived. Of course, like most times, there is dissent when hearing about this proposal. In essence, those who would say that this idea of an engineering professionalism class wouldn’t work would sight the following arguments: students already have enough courses to worry about, more teachers would have to be hired to accommodate the creation of this class thus raising tuition, and the idea that students should worry about being students first rather than professionals. With all these points, the argument fails to recognize one crucial fact; the stakeholders involved each have a different idea of what needs to be satisfied in order to consider the issue complete as well as the fact that each stakeholder involved in this situation has a different level of involvement in the issue. Because of the fact that they are the ones doing all the work, students can be said to be the overwhelming majority of the total stakeholders in this issue. Following them, those who teach the courses have the second highest level at stake in this situation. Finally, after students and educators, parents and administrators make but the final group of stakeholders in this situation. With this in mind, let’s invalidate the counterarguments. To the first argument, which says that students already have enough courses to take; I say, when was the last time you got to take a class which would help almost guarantee employment? 16
Now of course since the majority of people who would present this argument are students, and since they are the greatest shareholder in this particular issue, what they have to say is important. However, this professionalism class would be a three credit course which engineering students would take for one quarter which would stratify one of the writing requirements (either WRIT 1122 or 1133). Furthermore, as the demand for engineering majors increase moving forward, it will become necessary to further stand out from the crowd when apply for employment following graduation, as such, by having experience being a professional, employers are more likely to be drawn to you as a possible fit for their company. As such, by participating in a professionalism and writing course, a student would be able to gain useful knowledge as well as satisfy a university requirement. To the second argument, which says that more teachers would have to be hired to accommodate for another class and thus, tuition would have to go up; cross-over course are already offered and they kill two birds with one stone. The people who would argue this point would most likely be university administration and parents. As such, while they’re concerns are noted, in the grander scheme of things, they are affected the least among the stakeholders by this proposal and therefore only have a limited amount of sway. By having a writing teacher teach the class with a co-teacher from the engineering department, staff requirements wouldn’t change at all and since anyone could take this course (though engineering students would get first choice) to satisfy a writing requirement, writing courses across the board would maintain current class sizes. Additionally, if tuition were an issue involved in creating this class, the annual increases that are already in place should be able to satisfy the increase demand for funds. Finally, to the third argument, which says that students should be students first and professionals second; I’d say that you’re very mislead. More than likely, the people who would argue this point would be professors who see school more as a place for academics than as a place to develop skills for the work place. To these people, I’d say that for the overwhelming majority of students, the work place is the last step in the educational process and as such, they should gain not only knowledge with respect to their field, but also to be prepared professionally for what the field will demand. Therefore, through this class, students would be able to gain an extra leg-up against the competition and therefore would become more likely to find employment immediately after graduation if not before. Moreover, students would find the incentive to be active participants in this proposed course because of its real world value; the skill learned in the classroom could directly translate to the work force. While the proposed changes are changes only in the sense that classes have to shuffle around, they will ultimately help students in the engineering field be more productive in the classroom and in the field. It helps give students that taste of what life is like after graduation while simultaneously teaching them vital writing skills. So how can cause this change to happen? Well, you the students can. Your education in college isn’t dictated by an all powerful board of education, but rather by you. You can influence what kind of classes are provided at the University through opening up lines of communication between yourself, your peers, your parents, and your teachers. Through this, you can begin to initial the change that is so desperately needed. So why not increase your likely hood of being hired in some kind of engineering capacity before graduation (the rate of job placement at DU now is 97% before graduation)? Ultimately, the time that is invested in learning how to write and how to write efficiently and effectively now will only reward you that much more later. 17
Writing in the engineering field can be often times complex and confusing; albeit, relatively procedural. There are so many different forms of writing that span both written genres as well as non-written genres and many of these aren’t formally taught to engineering students. As a result, graduates—and specifically, DU graduates—are ‘behind the ball’ with respect to writing and professionalism and therefore have to catch up to their peers in the work force. But while this is the current situation, times change and with change come new opportunities to improve that which needs to be improved upon for the sake of students and professionals in the future. Over the course of this work, I’ve presented data for the tools that already exist for engineering majors and how the current system still fails to meet the demands of the work force. And though while there are many good things here at DU in the form of aiding students’ writing such as regular lab reports and pseudo-product presentations, there is still more that can be done to correct the inefficiencies that continue to persist. Furthermore, I found that this isn’t an issue unique to the University of Denver, but plagues students studying engineering in schools across the nation. While we can do only that which we have the means to do, we can still set a course which will serve as a model for all engineering schools; the creation of an engineering professionalism writing course that will help students perfect their writing skills and overall professionalism which will result in an easier transition from the world of the academics to the professional world. While I may have written this piece, you have the ability to begin to influence change here at DU. By initiating dialogs between students and facility; facility and administration you have the ability to get a writing course that will help you not only succeed at the University of Denver, but in the work force as well. A writing course that will serve as a place to teach how to take the work one does in the lab to the general populous in the most efficient and professional way. By encouraging your peers to say what is on their mind, they can lend a hand in pushing for real lasting change that will serve as a testament to their determination to succeed collectively and on a personal level. By discussing the idea with your parents, they too can help in pushing for the creation of a course that will benefit all engineering students. But this can only be done through the actions of someone like you; someone who cares about what they get out of their time at the University of Denver. What I’ve presented to you; suggested to you, I hope inspires you to challenge the status quo. Whether it be by directing your efforts towards the creation of an engineering-based writing and professionalism course or something else such as requesting different laboratory reports be done in different genres. Whatever it is, it should encourage and prompt people to think about what really is needed for an engineer to be successful in the field besides just knowing the science and math. Together with your friends and family, you will find success in all that you put your mind to and all that you wish to do and should this be something that fits both of those requirements, I believe that you will be able to help to create a better experience for engineering students at the University of Denver and be more successful in the life after this. Good luck in your studies and challenge the status quo everyday for that’s how things improve.
This is an example of the traditional class assignment that first year engineering student come in contact with. For this course, the assignment was clearly defined and graded based on the requirements of teacher.
Seen above is an example of a studentâ€™s submitted class assignment with feedback from the teaching assistant who graded the assignment. 20
This is an example of the requirements needed in writing an engineering memo report. Though these arenâ€™t traditionally encountered all too frequently, first year students are exposed to them at least once.
Here is an example of the type of projects that are done in first year engineering courses. This particular project served as a pseudo-product presentation and was responsible for showing engineering students the overall process of creating a product for industry. 22
Pseudo-product presentation continued
Pseudo-product presentation continued
Interview Transcript 1. Engineering is a writing intensive major, had you known this before pursuing this as a major, would you have changed? Janice: Engineering is a lot of things. It’s a lot of math, it’s a lot of science, it’s a lot of writing. But I’m a proponent of the idea that nothing worth having doesn’t come without some struggles. For me, writing is the least of my worries in regards to engineering, however, I have found that where equations and pictures fall, writing is there to pick up the slack and help convey the information. 2. Over the course of your academic career thus far, what types of writing have you been exposed to in regards to engineering? Janice: I’ve been exposed to many different forms of writing. If it’s more for my own enjoyment, I read mostly articles that I find interesting. If it’s more for ‘work’, then often times I’m grading lab reports or doing them myself. But I have seen and worked with the standard memo report, executive summary, project presentations and things like that. 3. Do you have a favorite type of writing that you use or work with? Janice: I think that if I had to choose, I’d say that memo reports are my favorite. They’re basically summaries of lab reports and are structured in such a way that I can quickly find the information I need without having to read the entire report. Also, since they’re only about a page, they’re easier to write also since you don’t have to worry about all the little details. 4. Typically, who is the audience for which the majority of your writing is written for? Janice: Because I’m still in school, the majority of my writing is for teachers or my peers. That being the case, I’d say that my audience is typically one who has some kind of background in the field or in science in general. Also, I’d have to say that, now that I’m in graduate school, my writing is becoming geared towards more of an industrial audience in addition to publishing. 5. As you make the transition into the professional world, what types of writing do you see as being the most prevalent and how do they—if they do—differ from the writing that you’ve experienced in school? Janice: Well, I’d have to say that because engineering is a career major, most of the writing that I’ve had to do has real world applications. The average lab report for example is the same format that professionals use. Likewise, when I’ve had to do things like memo reports—though not that often—they are identical to those I’ve encountered from the professional world. I guess I’d have to say that I see articles and briefs most often in the professional work force and such, these differ from school because these aren’t being written simply for a class or professor; they’re being written for the average person who may not know what exactly a capacitor is or things of that nature which we just assume people know. 6. Given this information, what would you have preferred to have been taught in your undergraduate degree, or even now, as it pertains to engineering writings? I think that most important thing that we weren’t taught that I wish I had been was how to give a good presentation. A lot of the time that I’ve worked on group projects or something were the results were presented to the class or professor, a presentation had to be done. While I think everyone knows what should be in the presentation, not everyone knows how it should be presented. So, a lot of times then and now, I’ll be doing my 25
thing, and at the end when I think that I did a good job, no one knows that I was saying for fifteen minutes. 7. So to sum it up, what advice would you give freshmen starting on their own path in engineering about writing and the different types of writing. Well, I’d just say that regardless of whatever writing you’re assigned, do it well. Learn to convey information quickly and efficiently and remember who you’re writing for. A paper—regardless of style—for a professor is going to look different than a paper for a peer, which is going to look different from a paper to someone outside of the technical community. It may seem like a lot of work to do, believe me I know, but stick with it. Writing is a skill that you’ll need to know regardless of field and being better at it will make all the difference.
Works Cited Alley, Michael. Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students. 2013. http://www.writing.engr.psu.edu/. 2 April 2014. Crawford, Mark. "How Engineers Can Improve Technical Writing." 15 November 2013. ASME. Article. 2 April 2014. Giges, Nancy. Mastering the Art of Technical Communication. September 2012. https://www.asme.org/career-education/articles/business-writing/mastering-the-art-of-technicalcommunication. 4 April 2014. "How to be a Professional in the 21st Century." 5th January 2001. American Society of Civil Engineers. 2014. Johson, Gregg. "Professionalism in Engineering." ASCE (2009 ): 9-15. Text. Kim, Dr. KD. "Class Schedule." Denver, 30 March 2014. Document. Landis, Raymond B. Studying Engineering. Los Angeles: Discovery Press, 2007. Book. Patel, Maria. Writing in Engineering. Washington, D.C., 23rd July 2012. Online Text. Valavalinis, Dr. Kimon. "2014 Mechatronics I Syllabus." Denver, 15th January 2014. Document. Walter, K. "Using genre theory to teach students engineering lab report writing: a collaborative approach." IEEE (1999): 6-8. Article.
Published on May 31, 2014