Asee peer logo

Report-smithing: Developing Effective Written Communication Skills

Download Paper |


2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Student Learning and Teamwork

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1120.1 - 25.1120.10



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Jenifer M. Shannon Pennsylvania State University, Berks

visit author page

Jenifer M. Shannon is a lecturer of engineering at the Pennsylvania State University, Berks, in Reading, Penn. She earned a B.S.E.E. from the Pennsylvania State University and a M.S.E.E. from Villanova University. She practiced engineering at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a Reactor Engineer inspecting electrical systems at U.S. nuclear power plants. She worked in research and development of aircraft power systems at the Naval Air Warfare Center. She also worked at the General Electric Company, Astrospace Division, designing antenna satellite payloads prior to joining academia.

visit author page


Rungun Nathan Pennsylvania State University, Berks Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Rungun Nathan is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Engineering at Penn State, Berks, from the fall of 2007. He got his B.S. from University of Mysore, D.I.I.Sc. from Indian Institute of Science, M.S. from Louisiana State University, and Ph.D. from Drexel University. He has worked in the area of electronic packaging in C-DOT (India) and then as a Scientific Assistant in the robotics laboratory at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India. He worked as a postdoc at University of Pennsylvania in the area of haptics and virtual reality. His research interests are in the areas of unmanned vehicles particularly flapping flight, mechatronics, robotics, MEMS, virtual reality and haptics, and teaching with technology. He has active research in the area of lift in porous medium with Dr. Qianhong Wu (Villanova University) and in the area of non-linear control with Dr. Sergey Nersesov (Villanova University). He is an active member of ASEE and ASME and a reviewer for several ASME, IEEE, and ASEE, FIE conferences and journals.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Report-Smithing: Developing Effective Written Communication SkillsEffective communication is one of the key attributes future engineers need to be competitive inthe global market according to the National Academy of Engineers1. Yet feedback from industryemployers often indicates the communication skills of recent engineering graduates to beunsatisfactory 2. This paper describes a strategy to improve student written communication skillsand more importantly to improve student engagement with the subject matter through thedevelopment of more thoughtful and peer reviewed writing using critical thinking skills.In a typical engineering technology program, a large proportion of the curriculum is centered onlaboratory work with the intent of exposing students to extensive hands-on experiences. As ameans of assessment of these experiences, course instructors will often require submission ofdetailed laboratory reports. The perfect opportunity to begin the practice of effective writtencommunication is in a first semester laboratory setting. This paper discusses the techniques usedin a first semester engineering technology course to target student acquisition of effectivecommunication through the writing of laboratory reports.This course used a new, innovative method of teaching report writing. Rather than assigning afull laboratory report each week following the completion of a laboratory exercise, specializedwriting assignments were given pertaining to individual sections of a formal report that istypically required in the university. Assignments were of a smaller, more focused andmanageable scale for the student. Each assignment was carefully constructed and incorporatedattributes of a writing-across-the-curriculum program. Each assignment included a writingsample that demonstrated the key tactics for the development of a particular report section.Peer reviews and revision opportunities allowed for continuous improvement of the writingprocess. Peer reviews in addition to instructor comments, provided student feedback from avariety of readers. These reviews also encouraged students to observe and learn from eachother’s creative approaches to the assignments. Week by week students were able to graduallybuild skills and improve their self-confidence in their technical writing abilities. The course wasstructured to promote writing as a process. By the eighth assignment, all individual componentsof the formal report were covered. The culmination of the previous assignments was the“Putting it all Together Assignment”. At this point, the student should have all the toolsnecessary for writing a professional, well formulated laboratory report. The student has beenencouraged to think about how they will organize their written report during calculations ofexpected results, while performing the laboratory exercise, and throughout the recording of keymeasurements. By stimulating this formulation process and encouraging critical thinking, thestudents not only produce a well-structured written document, but gain a deeper understanding ofthe purpose of the laboratory exercise and how it relates to the course subject matter.Student surveys and comparison of quality of writing to previous years will provide the initialdata to measure the effectiveness of the approach. The student reports in subsequent years willprovide a measure of long term effectiveness of the approach. In addition, the paper will providedetails of the steps taken in improving effective written communications so as to enable otherinstructors to adopt the techniques used.References1. NAE (National Academy of Engineering). 2005. Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.2. J. Donnell, B. Aller, M. Alley, and A. Kedrowicz. 2011. Why Industry Says That Engineering Graduates Have Poor Communication Skills: What the Literature Says. 2011 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. AC 2011-1503. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: American Society of Engineering Education.

Shannon, J. M., & Nathan, R. (2012, June), Report-smithing: Developing Effective Written Communication Skills Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21877

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2012 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015