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Engineering Better Writing For Undergraduate Students

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.422.1 - 6.422.6

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Joanne Lax

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2793

“Engineering” Better Writing for Undergraduate Students

Joanne Lax Purdue University


ABET 2000 has caused American undergraduate engineering programs to look for ways to document that they are graduating engineering with effective communication skills. Yet although most engineering students take at least one English composition course, engineering professors often are dissatisfied with their students’ ability to write and speak. Given this situation, a communications specialist in an electrical and computer engineering school at a large Midwestern public research university devised a thirty-minute writing sample which is administered every semester to all students enrolled in the sophomore and senior seminars, both required large lecture courses. This paper describes how the writing topics are selected, how the student papers are rated, and how the communications specialist works individually with the students who receive low scores. The paper suggests that once this program is well-established, comparing the same students’ performances on the writing samples as sophomores and seniors will help document the students’ improvement in their written communication skills.

I. Introduction

With ABET 2000 influencing curricular decisions in American undergraduate engineering programs, engineering educators are trying to decide how to satisfy the program outcome specified in Criterion 3 (g)…”Engineering programs must demonstrate that their graduates have:…an ability to communicate effectively”1. The ability to communicate effectively is vitally important for engineers. Over fifty percent of an engineer’s time is spent writing, and that percentage increases with job seniority2; more recently, the figure has been put at anywhere from thirty percent to ninety-five percent 3. Those students who say that they chose engineering as a major so they “wouldn’t have to write” tend to be shocked when they hear the role of writing in their future careers.

Even though engineering students typically take one or more courses in English composition early in their college careers, many engineering professors still complain about the quality of written work their undergraduate students turn in. An informal in-house survey administered in the fall of 1999 to the faculty of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Purdue University revealed that professors commonly found the following problems in their students’ writing, in order of decreasing frequency: cohesion, organization, grammar, punctuation, content, vocabulary, and spelling.

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Eductaion

Lax, J. (2001, June), Engineering Better Writing For Undergraduate Students Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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