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Training Civil Engineers To Communicate Effectively

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Civil Engineering Teaching Part One

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1295.1 - 13.1295.9



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Paper Authors


Jakob Bruhl

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Jakob Bruhl is a Civil Engineering Instructor at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY and a Major in the United States Army Corps of Engineers. He earned a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and holds M.S. degrees in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri - Rolla and in Structural Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana/Champaign. He is a registered Professional Engineer in Missouri.

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Eric Crispino

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Eric Crispino is a Civil Engineering Instructor at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY and a Major in the United States Army Field Artillery. He earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from USMA and holds a M.S. in Civil Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

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

Training Civil Engineers to Communicate Effectively: Teaching Technical Communication in a Student’s First Engineering Course


ABET requires that graduates of accredited institutions have “an ability to communicate effectively.” The importance of effective communication of technical information is also addressed in the ASCE Body of Knowledge. How schools meet this outcome varies by institution but about half of the schools surveyed for this paper require a specific course on the subject. Constraints at the United States Military Academy (programs can not extend beyond four years and a very large core curriculum) make it impractical to require a technical communications course. In order to educate our graduates about this specific type of communication rather than simply have them “learn by doing” in their engineering courses, the Civil Engineering program now includes an introduction to technical writing in the first engineering course our students take. By using a number of short, focused reading assignments from a technical writing guide, several short memorandum assignments, and a complete laboratory report, students taking Fundamentals of Engineering Mechanics and Design now leave with one more fundamental – the ability to effectively communicate technical information. This paper discusses our experience of teaching technical writing in an existing introductory engineering course and includes feedback from students and instructors as well as some of our lessons learned.


One of the outcomes of ABET-accredited institutions is that graduates have “an ability to communicate effectively.”1 The ASCE Body of Knowledge expounds on this outcome stating that engineers must be capable of “interacting effectively with technical and nontechnical or lay individuals and audiences in a variety of settings.”2

The complete method schools use to prepare students to meet these outcomes varies but many include a specific course on technical communication. A survey of civil engineering curricula at 18 public and private institutions of varying size showed that only half have a specific requirement for technical communication and one offers a similar course as an elective (see Appendix A). Two of the nine schools requiring a technical communications course require two such courses, the rest require one course. Of those requiring a course, four require the course of their sophomores, three during the junior year, and two require the course in the senior year.


Deciding which courses to require is a challenge for programs – especially those that desire to maintain a four year bachelor’s program. The United States Military Academy (USMA) must keep the program to four years and given the very broad core curriculum required of all USMA graduates, the first engineering course is not taken until the second semester of their sophomore year. With only 5 semesters to fit in an ABET accredited program, our leadership must be very

Bruhl, J., & Crispino, E. (2008, June), Training Civil Engineers To Communicate Effectively Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3311

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