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Engineering Writing for the General Public: A Classroom Approach

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Rethinking Engineering Writing

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.526.1 - 23.526.12



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Paper Authors


Elisa Warford University of Southern California

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Elisa Warford is a senior lecturer in the Engineering Writing Program at the University of Southern California, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in written and oral engineering communication. Her current research interests include the rhetoric of science and portrayals of engineering and technology in American literature. She is also a professional technical editor specializing in engineering writing for academia and industry. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Maryland.

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Engineering Writing for the General Public: A Classroom ApproachThe University of ____________________ School of Engineering requires its undergraduates totake a semester-long course, Advanced Engineering Communication, to gain writing and publicspeaking skills. One specific goal of the course is to improve students’ abilities to write for avariety of audiences, including the general public. To this end, all students in the course submitarticles to the Engineering Writing Program’s Illumin magazine, an online periodical whosepurpose is to educate the public on the ways engineering affects our everyday lives. Illumin hasa strong readership, providing students with a real audience to envision and invoke as they write.This paper provides background on Illumin magazine and presents a classroom approachdeveloped by the author for teaching about writing for the general public. The approach centerson research by Jeanne Fahnestock that argues that “transforming” technical information for thepublic often involves a shift in genre, from the forensic, in which facts are established, to theepideictic, in which the subject is praised or celebrated.After a summary of Fahnestock’s work and the ways the author introduces the research in theclassroom, the paper provides suggestions for discussion topics that the research raises.Fahnestock’s findings usually spark debate in the classroom on some of the following topics: • The persuasive nature of science writing that might seem “objective” to students or a general audience; • Ethical issues about reporting findings: strength of claim in scientific reports compared to strength of claim in writing aimed at the general public; • Ethical issues about promoting research in order to attract funding for it.The aim of this classroom approach is to enable students to better understand the rhetorical andethical implications of writing for the general public and apply them to their Illumin articles andtheir own professional writing. The paper concludes with a case study to illustrate one student’simprovement from draft to final submission.Reference[1] Fahnestock, J., “Accommodating Science: The Rhetorical Life of Scientific Facts,” WrittenCommunication, Vol. 3, 1986, pp. 275-296.

Warford, E. (2013, June), Engineering Writing for the General Public: A Classroom Approach Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19540

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