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Using Linguistic Analysis Tools to Characterize Engineering Design Project Documentation

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Assessment of Student Learning 2

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1325.1 - 23.1325.13



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Paper Authors


Micah Lande Arizona State University

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Micah Lande is an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering in the College of Technology and Innovation at Arizona State University. He teaches human-centered design innovation and researches how engineers learn and apply a design process to their work

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James Nelson Arizona State University

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James Nelson is an undergraduate student in the Department of Engineering in the College of Technology and Innovation at Arizona State University.

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Using Linguistic Analysis Tools to Characterize Innovation in Engineering Design Project Documentation When creating novel and creative artifacts, experiences, and services, engineers mustcome up with novel and creative new means to describe their creations through inventive anddescription use of language. This paper describes a procedure of linguistic analysis performed onstudent engineering design project documentation as a useful tool to collect information andcharacterize innovation. This study is based on previous studies that connect language usage, such as the numberof unique noun phrases used in student engineering design reports, to a positive correlation fortheir final grade for the associated course. This research study advances a research question ofhow one might be able to use language to document and illustrate the range of incremental andbreakthrough innovation in such projects. For a set of engineering design projects in a graduate-level, project-based learning,mechanical engineering core course with industry sponsored projects, student reports werecollected at the end of each term of the 3 quarter long course. Each report was between 150 and300 pages describing the team’s design development and specifications of their implementationactivities. With a language analysis concordance software (AntConc), the final, end-of-yearculminating reports were digested, parsed, and analyzed. This automated software toolgenerated quantitative data about word frequency and noun phrase combinations. These lists ofwords were then used to highlight the occurrence of both popular technical terms and wordsunique to the application domain of each project in context to create qualitative characterizations.A procedure was iteratively developed to examine the frequency and distribution of glossaryterms explicitly called out in the reports by its authors. And by comparing first, to anestablished, standard reference corpus of American English, and then, to another established,standard reference corpus constructed from a repository of technical documents, unique nounphrases within each set were identified. Procedures for analyzing an engineering design reportwere developed and tested using an initial set of four projects. Our initial findings show distinguishable trends for each document analyzed, which couldbe used to mark its linguistic attributes. This is with respect to both word choices unique to thetechnical or application focus of the project (“haptic armband,: for example), to differencesamong projects for how shared terms like “user” and “prototype” appear (in rising or fallingnumbers over time). This may indeed reflect the nature of the innovative work product, buildingon a typology of project type (future, design, engineering, manufacturing) and ambiguityorientation (specific to general). Further research using linguistic tools to analyze engineering design projectdocumentation could be a useful way of scoping the project itself and could provide insight intothe engineering design process, the range of educational opportunities for student learners in theclassroom, and implications for the documentation process itself. Further research could alsoextend to other written aspects of the project such as program code comments, or could be usedto make a qualitative comparison of documentation over successive iterations of the course.

Lande, M., & Nelson, J. (2013, June), Using Linguistic Analysis Tools to Characterize Engineering Design Project Documentation Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22710

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