Teaching Technical Writing Using the Engineering Method

Norman Ramsey

Many students at American universities have trouble with technical writing. To help students over this trouble, we often use inefficient methods. These methods, like other aspects of graduate education, sometimes remind me of medieval apprenticeships. For example, I have known smart, capable teachers who were reduced to ``teaching a student to write'' by taking that student's first paper and rewriting it from start to finish. This booklet describes better methods.

Instead of spending most of my ``student time'' working on writing—teaching the same material to seniors, graduate students, and postdocs—I now teach writing to a group that meets weekly. Teaching a group uses my time more effectively, and working in a group shows students that they are not alone in their difficulties. The problems they have are problems that everyone has, and they see these problems even in published papers. But we do not emphasize problems; instead we emphasize useful principles and practices that students can learn to apply to their own manuscripts.

What both approaches have in common is that even a beginning student can apply a simple test to see whether he or she is applying a given principle or following a given practice. This focus on testable ideas seems to work especially well for engineering students.

If this kind of approach appeals to you, you can explore materials that I have prepared for both instructors and students.

Instructor's edition (revised August 2016)

The instructor's edition is available as US Letter PDF.

Student's edition (revised August 2016)

The student's edition is available as US Letter PDF.