ENC 3246

Welcome to Professional Communication for Engineers!

Why should engineers learn to write? 

"Engineers don't need to know how to write. Why are you making us do this?"

I often hear such comments when I present my mechanical engineering students with writing assignments. I must confess that I shared these beliefs when I was myself an engineering student and a young engineer. However, having spent more than two-thirds of my professional life in industrial research, I am well educated in the realities of the engineering world. Technological skill, I tell my students, is only a part of what an engineer needs to succeed.

In my twenty-five years in the field, I spent at least 50 percent of my time writing and communicating. I wrote internal memoranda, program proposals, letters, and technical reports and papers. In addition, I was called on to organize and present technical material to program managers and directors to obtain project funding.

Ron Smelser, 2001, "How to Build Better Engineers"

ENC 3246 is designed to help students master a variety of communication strategies and genres of writing relevant to engineering, including everyday acts of communication, such as email, memos, letters, technical descriptions, and instructions. The course culminates with an academic research report and professional proposal.

Our approach is discipline-specific -- essentially, every discipline and each profession has a developed a set of communication protocols for its members. To be accepted by the community as a credible practitioner, you need to learn and use these protocols. Fortunately, most tasks have been conventionalized; that is, a template has evolved to meet the needs of the writer and reader. This is the "rhetorical situation" or "discourse community" (my preferred term) and we will be working within the discourse community of professional engineers. Some conventions are common across workplaces (memos, email, letters) while others are particular to the sciences and engineering (research reports, status reports).

Fig. 2 The rhetorical situation of the researcher-writer


ENC 3246

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