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Professional Writing Seminar For Engineering Students: A Pilot Project And Evaluation

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.503.1 - 5.503.11

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Paper Authors

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Rebecca A. Pinkus

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Craig A. Simmons

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

Session 3561

Professional Writing Seminar for Engineering Students: A Pilot Project and Evaluation Rebecca Pinkus, Craig Simmons University of Toronto

1. Background and Introduction

The ABET EC 2000 goals and the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board both identify the ability to communicate effectively as an essential skill required of graduates of engineering programs. Apparently, a large number of engineering students agree. In response to numerous student requests for additional writing courses, we have designed a pilot program for a non-credit writing seminar that we hope may be used as a foundation for a mandatory (or at least credited) course for senior-level undergraduates.

While many American universities have at least two writing requirements in their engineering curricula, such as freshman composition and technical writing, Canadian universities typically require only one technical writing course, often given in the first year of the engineering curriculum1. The Canadian engineering curriculum tends to be based on the more traditional, technical-based style of teaching. This is partly due to the traditional emphasis on science and engineering in this field, and partly due to the fact that few English Departments in Canadian universities include Rhetoric and Composition in their curriculum.2 As a result, writing is not widely recognized as a discipline, so few courses are available. Canadian universities such as the University of Toronto (U of T), tend to graduate highly skilled technical students who may not be as well prepared for written and oral communication in the professional world as some of their American counterparts. In light of this issue, we explored one option for providing additional writing instruction in a technology-heavy curriculum.

In an attempt to help improve the writing skills in the Faculty of Engineering, the University of Toronto’s Language Across the Curriculum (LAC) program provides the Engineering Writing Centre (EWC) and numerous short workshops aimed at targeting specific concerns. (E.g., lab report workshops, oral presentation skills, etc.). These workshops are often what one might call “triage” or SWAT team style: they aim at immediate “fixes” for student writing, but do not provide students with much in the way of learning to help themselves. While the one-to-one conferences offer more possibility of changing writing behavior, we typically see only 15-20% of students in the EWC. As an alternative to the one-on-one writing centre work, and to the one or two-session workshops, we proposed a several-week intensive writing seminar aimed specifically at the needs of 3rd and 4th year engineering students. Our seminar was inspired by a short Science Writing course offered at U of T the previous spring, but we designed our seminar to meet the specific needs of engineering students.

2. Seminar design and objectives

Pinkus, R. A., & Simmons, C. A. (2000, June), Professional Writing Seminar For Engineering Students: A Pilot Project And Evaluation Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri.

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