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Real-World Example Writing Prompts

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This set of OWL resources aims to help engineering instructors and TAs create and assess a variety of short, low-overhead writing exercises for use in engineering courses. The primary focus here is on “writing to learn” assignments, which leverage writing to improve students’ conceptual understanding of technical concepts.

Writing exercises can be used in engineering courses to promote the deeper learning of technical material and build students’ writing skills. Writing in engineering courses gives students practice in articulating engineering concepts to different audiences and in engaging with technical communication genres. However, engineering instructors and TAs often struggle to incorporate writing into engineering classes due to a variety of challenges, including class size and the amount of time it takes to grade writing assignments. Additionally, the teaching of writing is an entire discipline of study with its own theories and practices that may not be accessible to engineering educators.

Description: Real-world writing prompts ask students to provide real-world examples of course- or concept-related material. Instructors or TAs may ask students to go out and observe something on campus or in the community, and then write about that example for homework or in class.

When useful: These questions are great for linking course content to the world outside the classroom, allowing students to engage with course content in a personal, often creative way.

Audience considerations: Instructors and TAs could ask students to envision this assignment as an example or explanation that might appear in a textbook, with their fellow classmates and other engineering students as their audience.

Assignment length: Can range from several paragraphs to several pages

Connection to “writing to learn”: By composing these explanations, students better understand how the material they learned in the course connects to real-world situations. Students will then be more successful in applying this material in contexts outside of the classroom.


  • Fluid mechanics: Provide and explain examples of fluid flows in your everyday life that can be considered (a) steady; (b) unsteady; (c) uniform; (d) non-uniform. Provide a picture for one of them.
  • Statics: Provide two examples of both trusses and frames that you encounter on campus. Include a picture of each and explain how you could tell their classification.
  • Thermodynamics: Identify and describe different ways your body utilizes thermodynamics principles to keep cool in hot temperatures?
  • Circuits: Give one real-world example of a series circuit and one example of a parallel circuit.