LONG, Sum: Engineering writing (fwd)
Mary Howe <howe -at- KUHUB -dot- CC -dot- UKANS -dot- EDU>
Wed, 20 Sep 1995 10:40:29 -0500
The following appeared on the Linguist List and I thought It might
interest some of you.
I'm just forwarding this, so please, no flames if you find this too boring
and academic. That's the community the Linguist List is aimed at.
Child Language Program Phone (913) 864-4789
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Date: Tue, 19 Sep 1995 17:10:36 -0500
From: The Linguist List <linguist -at- tam2000 -dot- tamu -dot- edu>
To: Multiple recipients of list LINGUIST <LINGUIST -at- tamvm1 -dot- tamu -dot- edu>
Subject: 6.1268, Sum: Engineering writing
Date: Sun, 17 Sep 1995 17:44:11 EDT
From: nartemev -at- ccs -dot- carleton -dot- ca (Natalia Artemeva)
Subject: Engineering Writing -- Summary
Quite a while ago, I posted a querry on Teaching Engineering Writing in
Academia. I have received a number of very helpful responses. I am sorry it
took me such a long time to complete my research. However, now it is close to
its final stage. Here I present a short summary and a bibliography, along with
my thanks to everybody who helped me to complete this study.
Teaching Engineering Writing in Academia: Applications of Social
Constructionist Genre Theory.
The problem of teaching professional/technical writing skills to students in
academia has been extensively discussed for more than two decades (Andrews,
1975; Bazerman, 1988; Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995; Cooper & Holzman, 1989;
Dorman & Pruett, 1985; Ede & Lunsford, 1992; Garvey, 1979; Herrington, 1985;
Paradis, Dobrin, & Miller, 1989; Swales, 1990; Winsor, 1989, 1990a, 1990b,
1994, in press). Numerous manuals on technical and engineering writing (for
example, Mavrow, 1994; Markel, 1994; Michaelson, 1990; O'Connor & Woodford,
1976; Tichy, 1988) give advice to novice writers about how to construct
sentences and organize reports in the most effective ways. However, the
existing approach to technical communication courses often fails to provide
future engineers with the skills necessary for successful performance in
actual, unpredictable situations of professional communications which require
highly sophisticated linguistic and rhetorical competence (Mitchell, 1986).
In spite of the fact that engineers understand that the ability to
write is vital to their profession, many technical communication courses in
academia do not teach students to write realistic engineering texts addressed
to a workplace audience. Technical writing is still considered simply as a tool
to transmit an objective reality and not as a rhetorical endeavor. This view
continues to dominate the field of technical writing, though the understanding
of professional engineering writing courses as solely "skills" courses is no
longer adequate to the modern conception of knowledge and rhetoric (Miller,
Engineering writing instructors attempt to prepare students for the
writing tasks they will be likely to complete in their future professional
careers by simulating context, process, and the audience of professional
readers (Meyer, 1994). However, research findings (Sloat, 1994) suggest that
explicit efforts to simulate a professional engineering writing environment
within the university context are generally unsuccessful. Therefore, there is a
clear need for a new approach to the teaching of technical and, specifically,
engineering writing in academic contexts.
Modern social constructionist genre theory based on the work of Bakhtin
(1986) enables instructors and researchers to approach the problem of teaching
technical, specifically, engineering, writing in academia from a new
perspective. It shows that understanding the genres of written communication in
one's field is essential to professional success (Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995).
The ability to write appropriately within a certain discourse community
presumes the authors' sensitivity to the needs of the future audience
(Michaelson, 1990) and a deep understanding of the social context of the genre.
Engineering students need to be aware of the communicative constraints
in the discourse community they will be entering. They will also need to learn
that genres represent 'typified rhetorical responses to recurrent contexts'
(Miller, 1984; Par & Smart, 1994) and that the textual regularities which
characterize genre are secondary to "the action that is being performed through
the texts, in response to recurring socio-cultural contexts" (Freedman, Smart,
& Adam, 1993). However, as Berkenkotter and Huckin (1995) suggest, "genre
knowledge is...best conceptualized as a form of situated cognition embedded in
disciplinary activities" (p. 3). To be effective, teachers themselves must be
members of the relevant discourse community who share common knowledge with its
other members and understand complex rhetorical roles of discourse features
It is vital to consider such notions as guided participation (GP)
(Rogoff, 1990) and legitimate peripheral participation (LPP) (Lave & Wenger,
1991) and their implications for a technical/engineering writing classroom.
Writing is profoundly dependent upon the contexts wherein it occurs in
terms of its purpose, its future readers, the writing conventions to be
followed, etc.. Hence, these features, as they occur within the workplace,
ideally need to be recreated in the university classroom in order for students
to participate fully in a workplace writing experience (Sloat, 1994).
By considering engineering students as novices entering a new
professional discourse community and implicitly acquiring new genres of
professional writing, instructors may find new effective ways of teaching genre
by introducing their students into situations of professional activities (for
example, those that can be provided by co-op programs or internships) and not
into an artificially simulated environment.
An important aspect of engineering/scientific writing in modern society
is its collaborative nature (Barabas, 1990; Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995; Dorman
& Pruett, 1985; Ede & Lunsford, 1992; Latour & Woolgar, 1979; Winsor, 1994, in
press). In this context the concept of the zone of proximal development can be
extensively used in professional writing programs. Technical or engineering
writing courses taught by a professional instructor who is a member of the
discourse community the novices are entering can give the best results and
produce engineers who understand that "writing is a professional necessity"
(Dorman & Pruett, 1985, p. 658) and who are able to communicate in this
professional discourse community.
According to Tichy (1988) and Sloat (1994), the purpose of workplace
writing does not normally consist of demonstrating mastery of a particular
document format for a boss or other reader. The purpose of writing is to satisf
the participants' needs within the writing context and to perform a particular
social action. To do so a writer selects appropriate textual conventions which
themselves are only tools and not the goal of writing. In the engineering
writing classroom, however, format and style usually take priority over content
Nowadays, engineering programs are overloaded with required courses and
there is not enough space for writing courses. However, writing assignments
integrated into an engineering course -- as in a course that involves
collaborative students' work within an engineering firm (see Winsor, 1994, in
press) -- allow the learning to occur in a contextualized situation. Social
constructionist genre theory provides theoretical ground for the following
conclusion: "The writing done in an academic context must, as the writing done
in its professional counterpart, be motivated by a genuine need to write about
communal ideas in order to share information with other members" (Sloat, 1994,
Further research needs to be conducted in order to better understand
complex engineering workplace situations that create exigencies for the constan
changes in the professional discourse. The better our understanding of the
processes within the engineering professional world, the more successfully we
can apply the tools provided by social constructionist genre theory and modern
theories of situated learning to the teaching of engineering writing courses --
ideally, in internship and co-op programs.
Adam, C. L. G. (1994). Exploring the exigencies of institutional reading
practices: A comparison of reader responses in two settings. Unpublished
master's thesis, Carleton University, Ottawa.
AINSI Z39.18-1987, American National Standard for Information Sciences -
Scientific and Technical reports - Organization, Preparation, and Production.
New York: American National Standard Institute.
Anderson, P. V. (1991). Technical writing: A reader-centered approach. Miami
Andrews, D. C. (1975). Teaching writing in the engineering classroom.
Engineering Education, 66 (2), 169-174.
Artemeva, N., & Fox, J. (March 16, 1995). Past, present, future: An overview of
engineering communication courses in academia and WTS interventions in first-
year engineering. This Week at Carleton, 16 (10), p. 5.
Bakhtin, M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays by M. M. Bakhtin.
(C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Trans.; M. Holquist, Ed.). Austin: University
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Essays (pp. 60- 102). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Barabas, C. (1990). Technical Writing in a Corporate Culture : A study of the
nature of information. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Bazerman, C. (1988). Shaping written knowledge: The genre and activity of the
experimental article in science. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Bazerman, C. (1994). Constructing experience. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern
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cognitive order of technoscience. Unpublished manuscript.
Berkenkotter, C. (1981). Understanding a writer's awareness of audience.
College Composition and Communication, 32, 38-399.
Berkenkotter, C. and Huckin, T. N. (1995). Genre knowledge in disciplinary
communication: Cognition/Culture/ Power. Hillsdale, NJ. : Lawrence Erlbaum
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Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Heinemann.
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engineers can teach writing. Engineering Education, 75 (7), 656-658.
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Flower, L., & Hayes, J. (1981). A cognitive process theory of writing. College
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Freedman, A. (n. d.). Manuscript in progress.
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I'm deeply grateful to
Department of Linguistics
Rochester, MI 48309-4401
Horning -at- argo -dot- acs -dot- oakland -dot- edu
ROBAKER -at- delphi -dot- com
Kate Remlinger karemlin -at- mtu -dot- edu
Department of Humanities
Michigan Technological University
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, MI 49931
Andreas Schramm | University of Minnesota | (612) 624-5041
Linguistics | 320 16th Ave S.E. | schr0005 -at- gold -dot- tc -dot- umn -dot- edu
| Minneapolis, MN 55455
and others who helped me with my research.
Dep. of Linguistics & Applied Language Studies
nartemev -at- ccs -dot- carleton -dot- ca
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