“I write to find out what I’m thinking about.”—Edward Albee

 Communication to others isn’t the only use for writing in engineering education; in fact, some of our best uses for writing are to use it as a tool to help students learn. Writing can be used to help students think deeply about course content, learn reflectively, and become metacognitive– even and especially in technical and mathematical classes.

Visit the Writing Across The Curriculum Clearinghouse to see a list of common Writing-To-Learn activities used in higher education; or email us to talk about Writing To Learn activities that can be easily included into engineering courses.

When Technical Writing Is Beautiful

In Brown Bags and Lab/Writing meetings, we’ve often discussed a shared ideal: scientific writing at its best can be clear, functional, and beautiful.

This ideal has been echoed by others in a recent cascade of papers and blog posts: Stephen Heard’s guest post on Tree of Life, as well as his paper in Ideas in Ecology and Evolution; Chris Woolston’s roundup post on Nature News; Mike White’s reaction on The Finch And Pea.

Stephen Heard’s guest post directly addresses our own interest in fostering beautiful writing, though his ideas are aimed scientific colleagues rather than students:

Finally, we could publicly recognize beauty when we see it. We could announce our admiration of beautiful writing to the authors who produce it or to colleagues who might read it.

How might we recognize and encourage value for beautiful technical writing in our engineering classes?

A bad design with a good presentation is doomed eventually. A good design with a bad presentation is doomed immediately.

-#18, The Rules of Engineering

Relevant reading: A defense of bull in student writing

William G. Perry Jr.’s 1963 essay, Examsmanship and The Liberal Arts, offers an entertaining and convincing defense of the data-light, rhetoric-heavy writing that our grading often seeks to stamp out.  Give the essay a pass on its anachronistically gendered central conceit; it’s an engaging read, and might change the way you look at grading.

(And for a meta-discussion of Perry’s use of frames of reference in the essay, you might enjoy Ed Varva’s explication.)