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Strategies to Improve Engineers’ Writing of Executive Summaries

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Writers, Experts, and the Workforce in Civil Engineering

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Cara N. Morton P.E Washington State University

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Cara is professional engineer and has three years of structural engineering design experience from the design of marine structures in the Gulf of Mexico to the design of shear walls in seven story concrete buildings governed by seismic loads in Seattle, WA. She currently serves as Clinical Professor at Washington State University teaching the Integrated Civil Engineering Design class where a broad knowledge base from stormwater management to traffic engineering is required. Regarding engineering education, she is most interested in the school to work transition (junior standing through P.E status) as well as engaging middle school children in programs such as Future City to encourage STEM careers.

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Anna Karin Roo Washington State University Orcid 16x16

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Anna Karin Roo is a PhD candidate in the College of Education at Washington State University. Her research interests are related to science literacy for learners of English. She has published work in TESOL Journal and other journals.

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A teaching collaboration project between a Senior Design course instructor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and a doctoral candidate in the College of Education to develop writing activities to improve the writing of executive summaries. Conducting a genre analysis of civil engineering executive summaries has led to better student writing pleasing the CEE Department’s advisory board members who assessed these executive summaries at the end of each semester over a two year period two with incremental interventions.

The intervention began with identifying what should be in an engineering executive summary and defining executive summaries. Resulting in limited descriptions in technical communication textbooks within the context of civil engineering as opposed to executive summary writing for general business purposes (Markel, 2016). Classroom activities for the students included an editing exercise of sentences from student writing, instruction on the purpose of and the typical audience of the executive summary emphasizing the primary audience is not necessarily a fellow engineer. After the students wrote an executive summary for their project they were grouped with students of different expertise to peer-edit the summaries. These activities helped students become aware of jargon used for the details of the project and identify big picture perspectives, which were often left out by the student engineers such as location, purpose and broader context of the project, cost and time to completion. The first semester of the intervention there was praise from the advisory board on the improved writing of the students. This presentation will identify the key genre moves required to write a successful executive summary.

Following the design from Winsor (1996) as she identified what engineering students learn about writing in their course work and internships, and Parkinson, McKay & Demechleer (2017) identifying in how they identified how trainee carpenters adjusted to workplace language during the trainees’ transition to the workplace, this particular study compared executive summaries via genre analysis following Biber, Connor and Upton’s (2007) bottom up approach to discourse analysis. Their seven step approach is followed to identify the features students were having difficulty achieving. The summaries from the two semesters prior to the intervention were compared to the executive summaries written after the first and second semester’s interventions. Additionally, the advisory board’s feedback has helped identify elements of what exactly should be in an executive summary. Dovetailing technical writing theory and analysis and feedback from professional practicing engineers, the requirements of this occluded genre have been identified. This helps students write executive summaries for final projects in such a manner as will benefit them for their future engineering careers.

Morton, C. N., & Roo, A. K. (2019, June), Strategies to Improve Engineers’ Writing of Executive Summaries Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--31916

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