Writing like an Engineer: A Rhetorical Education

Writing like an Engineer: A Rhetorical Education

Writing like an Engineer: A Rhetorical Education

Writing like an Engineer: A Rhetorical Education


Comprised of a study spanning over five years, this text looks at four engineering co-op students as they write at work. Since the contributors have a foot in both worlds -- work and school -- the book should appeal to people who are interested in how students learn to write as well as people who are interested in what writing at work is like. Primarily concerned with whether engineers see their writing as rhetorical or persuasive, the study attempts to describe the students' changing understanding of what it is they do when they write.

Two features of engineering practice that have particular impact on the extent to which engineers recognize persuasion are identified:

• a reverence for data, and

• the hierarchical structure of the organizations in which engineering is most commonly done.
Both of these features discourage an open recognition of persuasion. Finally, the study shows that the four co-op students learned most of what they knew about writing at work by engaging in situated practice in the workplace, rather than by attending formal classes.


Charles Bazerman, Series Editor
University of California, Santa Barbara

Writing Like an Engineer: A Rhetorical Education, as the initial title in the Rhetoric, Knowledge, and Society series, opens up much of the terrain we hope to explore in the ensuing volumes in this series. The founding of the series recognizes the substantial body of recent work on the rhetorical production of knowledge, particularly in academic settings and with a particular focus on the sciences. The Rhetoric, Knowledge, and Society series, while providing a venue for the increasingly sophisticated monographic work in the rhetorics of science, inquiry, and the professions, also hopes to encourage investigations into the rhetorically dynamic intersection of disciplinary knowledge with the complexity of society outside the academy.

Writing Like an Engineer presents a longitudinal study of four engineering students' perceptions of their writing as they move through their undergraduate education and, bridged by work study, into industrial careers. It is a study of how professional ideology teaches developing engineers to deny the rhetorical nature of their work at the same time as professional practice and experience teach those same developing engineers to write strategically. Engineering's arhetorical objectivity, students are told and believe, rests on data; at the same time practical experience teaches students that data are produced, selected, and presented strategically within situational contexts. Data are what convince, apparently objectively, but an engineer's job is to produce in each situation the data that convince.

The students' awareness of audience grows through familiarity with the genres within which engineers write, and through close contact with real audiences in work situations. The closer students get to the actual transactions of the workplace, the more the rhetorical necessities and complexities become apparent and compelling.

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