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Improving Students’ Technical Writing Skills: Abstracts in Introductory Solid Mechanics

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Communication and Literacy

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.928.1 - 26.928.23



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Paper Authors


Kai Jun Chew Stanford University Designing Education Lab

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Kai Jun (KJ) Chew is a second year Master student majoring in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Born and raised in Malaysia, KJ received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC). Though he did not have a specific concentration at his undergraduate level, he is interested in working in the field of solid mechanics and engineering education. He has been working on improving students' technical writing skills in the Designing Education Lab at Stanford University.

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Autumn Turpin Stanford University

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Autumn Turpin is a junior undergraduate studying Engineering, Product Design at Stanford University. She was born and raised in the Bay Area. She has been working with the Designing Education Lab since January '14.

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Improving Students’ Technical Writing Skills: Abstracts in Introductory Solid MechanicsTechnical writing is a fundamental skill for engineering students. It is essential for studentsaspiring to go into academia or the engineering profession. The introductory solid mechanicscourse at a private western university works to build this foundation. The final project, known asProject 2 (P2), in this university’s introductory course requires students to explore real-worldstatics problems, solve these problems using statics fundamentals, and present their findings bygiving a poster presentation and writing an abstract. P2 is intended to introduce students toapplications of statics fundamentals to topics the students are interested in studying and toencourage students develop their technical writing and professional research skills through thepresentation of their project findings. This research focuses on improving students’ abstract writingskills by analyzing the P2 abstracts using a rigorous coding process. The guiding researchquestions are: How will the changes in the P2 instructions sheet affect students’ work in terms ofclear technical writing? What could be added to or changed about the assignment to improvestudent performance? How can these ideas be implemented in future iterations of this course?A preliminary analysis was conducted with the researchers reading and commenting on the P2abstracts from Fall 2013 (F13) to investigate students’ writing patterns. Based on the outcome ofthe investigation, a list of practices, or interventions, were recommended and implemented in thesame course taught by the same instructor for Winter 2014 (W14). The interventions, which wereimplemented by modifying the P2 instructions sheet, were 1) providing additional explanations ofimportance of abstract and 2) presenting a formal structure for abstract writing. This structure,which included sections such as Introduction, Theoretical Explanations, Explanation of Free BodyDiagram (FBD), Assumptions Made, Stating & Explanation of Results and Use of Numbers andEquations, formed the basis for the coding process. In summer 2014, the abstracts from both F13and W14 were coded according to the formal structure designed to investigate and explore thepossible improvements resulted from the interventions. The abstracts were analyzed using thesame scheme – two independent coders.The results of abstracts coding showed an increased presence of major sections (outlined above)in the W14 students’ abstracts as compared to those of F13. The most marked increases are in thesections of Explanations of FBD (28.6% increase), Assumptions Made (24.3% increase), Statingand Explanations of Results (17.4% increase) and Use of Numbers and Equations (19.1% increase).The results suggested that the improvement in students’ abstract writing may be correlated withthe interventions. Improvements were also seen in W14 abstracts in terms of writing and sentencestructure. These positive results have informed the design of the next phase of this research.Interventions for Fall 14 will include a simplified version of the P2 instructions sheet andintroduction to technical writing for students throughout the quarter in the introductory solidmechanics course. This paper will detail the analysis of the students’ abstracts submitted afterfurther interventions.

Chew, K. J., & Turpin, A. (2015, June), Improving Students’ Technical Writing Skills: Abstracts in Introductory Solid Mechanics Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24265

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