Asee peer logo

Students Writing for Professional Practice: A Model for Collaboration Among Faculty, Practitioners, and Writing Specialists

Download Paper |


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 Across the Divisions I: Communication in Engineering Disciplines

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Civil Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1432.1 - 26.1432.19



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Susan Conrad Portland State University

visit author page

Susan Conrad, Ph.D., is a Professor of Applied Linguistics and head of the Civil Engineering Writing Project. She has written numerous articles and books about English grammar, discourse, and corpus linguistics.

visit author page


William A. Kitch California State Polytechnic University, Pomona Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Dr. Kitch is a Professor of Civil Engineering at Cal Poly Pomona. Before starting his academic career he spent 24 years as a practicing engineer in both the public and private sector. He is a registered professional engineer in both Colorado and California.

visit author page

author page

Timothy James Pfeiffer P.E. Foundation Engineering, Inc.


Tori Rhoulac Smith Howard University

visit author page

Dr. Tori Rhoulac Smith is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the College of Engineering, Architecture, and Computer Sciences at Howard University in Washington, DC. In this role, she works to continuously improve the undergraduate student experience and oversees recruitment, admission and orientation, retention, advising, career development, and academic support programs. Dr. Rhoulac Smith earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in civil engineering from North Carolina State University and a B.S. degree in civil engineering from Howard University.

visit author page

author page

John V. Tocco J.D. Lawrence Technological University

Download Paper |


Students Writing for Professional Practice: A Model for Collaboration among Faculty, Practitioners and Writing Specialists(Proposed for the Engineering Communication across Divisions thematic initiative)This paper describes a project that addresses a persistent problem in engineering education: thediscrepancy between the writing skills of program graduates and the demands of writing in theworkplace. For decades, engineering practitioners have emphasized the importance ofcommunication in their jobs, but surveys of employers and alumni continue to find lowsatisfaction with the writing preparation students receive (e.g. Berthouex, 1996; Donnell, Aller,Alley, and Kedrowicz, 2011). As Donnell, Aller, Alley, and Kedrowicz (2011) have argued, amuch-needed step in improving instruction is to identify characteristics of effective engineeringcommunication in specific settings.Funded by the National Science Foundation, this project has analyzed effective writing in civilengineering workplaces, compared it to undergraduate student writing in civil engineeringcourses, and applied the research findings to the development of teaching materials. Thematerials are being piloted at four universities, and subsequent changes in student writing areassessed with multiple measures. The project focuses on civil engineering, but the approach canserve as a model for any field. This paper covers four aspects of the project:1) An overview of the approach: Particularly important is the collaboration in the project.Engineering practitioners, engineering faculty, and applied linguists (who specialize in writing)collaborate so that the teaching materials integrate writing skills with engineering content andprofessional engineering practices. Language is viewed from a functional perspective; that is,vocabulary, grammar, and organization are analyzed for their impact on meaning andcommunication, not as purely “stylistic” concerns.2) Results from the analysis of writing: The analysis covered multiple genres of writing, usingover 400 practitioner documents from 70 firms and agencies and 400 student papers from fiveuniversities. Quantitative and qualitative linguistic analyses investigated differences inorganization, grammar, and vocabulary. Interviews of practitioners and students providedcontext for the writing. The results have been reported elsewhere; in this paper, we review a fewfindings that correspond to teaching materials used as examples in the next section.3) Examples of new teaching materials: The materials consist of short, free-standing units to usein existing engineering courses. “Genre-based units” cover the typical purpose, audience,organization, and format of specific document types (e.g. field observation memos, letters oftransmittal. proposals). “Language units” explain effective language choices (e.g. sentencestructure, vocabulary choices, active vs passive voice). “Grammar/mechanics units” address 10common student errors. Each unit includes examples and explanations of effective andineffective writing from civil engineering, comments from practitioner interviews, techniques forrevising, and practice activities. Short webcasts introduce the main ideas of each unit.4) Findings about the effectiveness of the materials: The materials are being piloted at fouruniversities with differing student populations. Changes in student writing are assessed by threemeasures: analysis of the targeted language features, holistic evaluation of student writingeffectiveness by faculty and practitioners, and surveys of students’ perceptions of their learning.Results have been positive, including improvements in discrete features, such as vocabulary andsentence structure, and larger global issues, such as organization. We also discuss factors thatappear to affect the amount of change.ReferencesBerthouex, P. (1996). Honing the writing skills of engineers. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 122(3), 107-110.Donnell, J., Aller, B., Alley, M., & Kedrowicz, A. (2011). Why industry says that engineering graduates have poor communication skills: What the literature says. Proceedings of the 2011 American Society for Engineering Education Conference and Exposition. Retrieved from

Conrad, S., & Kitch, W. A., & Pfeiffer, T. J., & Rhoulac Smith, T., & Tocco, J. V. (2015, June), Students Writing for Professional Practice: A Model for Collaboration Among Faculty, Practitioners, and Writing Specialists Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24769

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: © 2015 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