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How Engineering Students Learn To Write: Third Year Findings From The Engineering Writing Initiative

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Writing and Communication II: Practical Perspectives on Teaching and Assessment

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.810.1 - 12.810.12



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Paper Authors

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Luke Niiler

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David Beams

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

How Engineering Students Learn to Write: Third-Year Findings of the UT-Tyler Engineering Writing Initiative


The Departments of Electrical Engineering and English of the University of Texas at Tyler are in the third year of the Engineering Writing Initiative (EWI), a four-year longitudinal study investigating how engineering students learn to write, how they apply these skills in their studies, and how instructional practice can be reconfigured to better develop these skills. The questions which form the charter of EWI are:

• What are engineering students’ attitudes, practices and skills with regard to writing, and how do those attitudes, practices and skills develop over time? • Does writing in engineering courses help students become more involved with those courses and understand and apply the ideas of those courses? • How can we incorporate we learn about students’ attitudes, practices and skills in order to improve our instructional practice with regard to writing?

EWI employs multiple data-gathering methods (semi-annual writing prompts, individual interviews with students, written surveys of students, and student writing samples gathered in portfolios). It employs several assessment strategies (quantitative analyses of student writing samples, quantitative analyses of written surveys, and qualitative analyses of interview transcripts).


The EWI began in 2004 with the our shared sense of frustration over the quality of student writing skills in engineering coursework. Unprofessional language, poor grammar and spelling, badly-formatted tables, figures, and graphs, and data reported without any sense of context: these and many other problems were endemic in the UT-Tyler engineering program. We attempted to address these concerns with the publication of a style guide,1 yet the changes brought about by that tool were cosmetic, at best. The first year of this project gave us a clearer view of why this might be so: first-year students clearly did not understand writing as relevant to their work as engineers. This understanding was shown to have been augmented somewhat in the second year of the EWI, when we found that the sophomore-level students surveyed had become increasingly aware of writing not only as a means of transcribing data but also as an integral factor in learning course material. In their presentation to this meeting in 2006, we underscored Norback’s belief that because these students are becoming members of “discourse communities,” or groups of researchers and practitioners sharing a common language of expertise, they should be provided “ample opportunities for ‘situated learning’ within ‘high functional contexts.’”2 This paper is the third in a series of four planned EWI reports, and will describe these students’ further development and maturation as writers, with a particular emphasis on how findings may affect instructional practice with regard to writing.

Niiler, L., & Beams, D. (2007, June), How Engineering Students Learn To Write: Third Year Findings From The Engineering Writing Initiative Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1801

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