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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.


Writing tips for students

Summary:

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.

Prewriting Exercises

Asking questions: Ask your students to consider the following questions before they begin writing:

  • Who is the audience for your writing?
  • Do you think your audience is interested in the topic? Why or why not?
  • Why should your audience be interested in this topic?
  • What does your audience already know about this topic?
  • What does your audience need to know about this topic?
  • What experiences has your audience had that would influence them on this topic?
  • What do you hope your audience will gain from your text?

These questions will help your students consider how they should frame their answers and what sort of content/language they need to include.

Brainstorming: Before your students start responding to writing prompts, have them first jot down all the ideas that come to their mind. They can freewrite or make a list.

Organizing thoughts: It might be helpful for students to first outline or map out all their main points. This can take many different forms, including a traditional outline or a diagram/idea map. A traditional outline will help students develop a specific structure while a diagram or idea map will help them to begin organizing their thoughts and thinking about how all their ideas fit together.

You can find an example of an idea map and strategies for developing effective outlines in the following OWL resources:

Additionally, for more information on pre-writing, consult “Invention: Starting the Writing Process” and “Introduction to Prewriting: Invention”.

Quick revision and editing tips before turning in assignments

Content revision:

  • First, ask students to read the prompt and then their answer again. Did they sufficiently address the prompt or answer the question?
  • Do they have topic sentences for each paragraph? Do they use transitions between sentences/ideas and between paragraphs?
  • Ask students to revisit the topic sentence and final sentence of each paragraph. Does everything in between those sentences fit together? Does the final sentence build from the topic sentence?
  • Do they have any sentences that seem unnecessary or that don’t advance the main idea? If so, advise them to remove these sentences.

For more information on topic sentences and transitions, consult the OWL’s resources on paragraphs and transitional devices.

Sentence-level editing:

  • Although grammar and mechanics are not as important as conceptual knowledge, instructors and TAs should still advise students to proofread their writing, as things like typos and spelling errors can weaken a writer’s professional ethos.

  • Instructors and TAs can ask their students to read for specific types of easily identifiable grammatical or mechanical errors, such as sentence fragments, run-on sentences, comma splices, and subject-verb agreement.
  • If possible, suggest that students read their answers out loud. Reading out loud allows students to more easily identify unnecessary sentences or errors.

For more information on common sentence level errors, consult the OWL’s “Finding Common Errors” page.

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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.