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Technical Writing In An Undergraduate Design Course

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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

5.605.1 - 5.605.9



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John W. Nicklow

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

Session 2525

Technical Writing in an Undergraduate Design Course

John W. Nicklow Southern Illinois University Carbondale


This paper provides an overview and assessment of a technical writing assignment for a course in Hydraulic Engineering Design. The writing exercise was dually intended to promote further interest in the field of hydraulic engineering and improve students’ abilities to create a technical commentary for a broader, but not necessarily technical, audience. Students selected topics early in the semester and were asked to prepare a preliminary draft of their papers. An anonymous peer review was used to provide valuable feedback before the instructor evaluated final drafts. Based on a student questionnaire and evaluation of papers by the instructor, the specified objectives were successfully met. It is recommended that similar types of assignments be incorporated into the engineering curricula on a wider scale in order to promote student interests in specific engineering fields, while concurrently having a positive impact on communication skills.

I. Introduction

Engineers have long been criticized for their apparent lack of communication skills. A difficulty for the practicing engineer often lies in presenting technical concepts to a broader audience or clientele, in an understandable manner. Although writing is a key component to effective communication, the typical undergraduate engineering student receives little practice and training beyond their first-year English composition courses. Once the student begins his or her program of study in engineering, the few writing assignments undertaken focus heavily on technical content and can be filled with mathematical expressions that are unfamiliar to non-engineers.

In an effort to provide additional writing training, the author has recently incorporated a technical writing assignment into Hydraulic Engineering Design at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC). This is a required undergraduate three-credit hour course for civil engineering majors that demonstrates design and analysis concepts for pipe networks, hydraulic machinery, and hydraulic structures. Students enrolled in the course are typically at the junior or senior level. The goals of the assignment are to raise students’ writing skills to a higher level, while concurrently advancing their personal interests in hydraulic engineering. The purpose of this paper is to present an overview of the technical writing assignment, assess its effectiveness, and provide suggestions for incorporating writing into engineering curricula on a wider scale.

Nicklow, J. W. (2000, June), Technical Writing In An Undergraduate Design Course Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8765

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