Re: Teaching technical writing to engineers?

Subject: Re: Teaching technical writing to engineers?
From: eric -dot- dunn -at- ca -dot- transport -dot- bombardier -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 2004 10:31:27 -0500


> 5. Include a real-world exercise. I recommend documenting
> a VCR, since> (by the evidence) succeeding at this task
> escapes most real-world technical writers. As an exercise,
> it includes both hardware and software, and offers an
> opportunity to discuss the use of visuals. You can also
> stretch out this exercise over the course of a full term,
> with each component of the exercise tied to the current
> week's lesson.

Two very important things come to mind:

To be really useful, examples MUST be real-life. Engineering students are
already overloaded with theory and hypothetical learning. If the writing
isn't immediately important to them they will VERY quickly forget what
they are taught or ignore it all together. Indeed much of my engineering
educational experience consisted of identifying which information need
only be retained for the assignment, till the next quiz, till the
mid-term, or till the final. So the writing has to made important to tasks
at hand and given a long-term view to be retained and taken seriously.

Secondly, examples MUST be cover a mix of specialties that reflects the
make up of the class. Under no circumstances focus on software
documentation. The mechanical engineers will hate you for it. Equally
true, the computer and electrical engineering types will have a very low
tolerance for pneumatic and hydraulic systems.

Every generation of engineers has their favourite gadgets and toys. When I
was studying, it was the plethora of HP programmable calculators. These
gadgets are often badly documented and understood fully by only a few
students. makes for great general interest applicable examples for
required documentation.

Eric L. Dunn
Senior Technical Writer

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References:
Teaching technical writing to engineers?: From: Geoff Hart

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