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 16:53:25 -0500


bounce-techwr-l-106467 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com wrote on 03/24/2004 04:31:17 PM:
> I have to disagree with you, Eric. A week or two of being
> taught how to write decent sentences would help most students,
> not just engineers.

True. But it isn't the place of a general course to spend anymore than "in
passing" coverage of grammar. If at the university level, the students
grammar isn't up to snuff, well they should fail the technical writing
course and take remedial English composition first. Grammar should be
covered as to how it applies to various real-life useful scenarios. NEVER
should any grammar exercise or concentration on grammar rules have class
time devoted to it.

10 weeks of hell for a writing course?!? What was your degree in? Disagree
with me all you want, but my studies were in engineering. There are
already plenty of other courses in the engineering curriculum that are
pure hell to go through and many are running concurrently. If my tech
writing course in University had pandered to the bad writers and put me
through hell for writing I'd immediately make the calculation of what
failing the course would do to my chances of graduating and what the
effect on my GPA would be or if it was possible to get the minimum pass
grade with as little effort and class time as possible.

The experience of engineering classes is one that many outside the field
mock but they have little comprehension of the stress and required level
of commitment. I started in classes that were close to a hundred students.
By the end of the first year, half had failed out. By the end of four
years it was significantly less than half that graduated, many of the
classes in my stream were down to less than 25 students. Of a group of
five friends, I'm the only one that graduated with an engineering degree
in the same discipline, and one other graduated years later in another
engineering discipline, the rest went on to other things ...

An engineer that can write well but can't grasp fluid dynamics,
thermodynamics, linear analysis, FEA, or design principles may get by in
the future as a moderately-technical technical writer but is WORTHLESS as
an engineer. Most engineering students are trying for engineering jobs,
not a fall back position as a writer.

And you know what? One thing engineering students excel at is following
instructions. The style guide for the final paper took little time to go
through, we spent far more time on what depth of detail was expected. And
here's a shocker for you, the papers were graded by grad students and
weighted VERY heavily to the technical. Any engineering student that can't
figure out why grammar is being marked as wrong by either talking to the
teacher directly, the teacher's aide, looking it up in suggested
references, or taking the required remedial course deserves to fail the
class. I mean, they don't go over basic mathematics as they throw complex
calculus and Laplace transforms at you, why should you be taught basic
grammar as you're taught the more advanced concepts of technical writing
and communication?

Eric L. Dunn
Senior Technical Writer

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References:
RE: teaching technical writing to engineers: From: Jones, Donna

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