Towards a Pro-active Technical Writing Curriculum


  1. Professor designs course materials, including writing assignment.

  2. LAC distributes handout with suggested timeline and a preliminary grading checklist for the final project.
  3. Students write a “statement of problem”and e-mail it to LAC staff.
  4. LAC grades submissions, requiring failing students to revise and resubmit by e-mail.
  5. LAC holds lecture workshop geared to solving problems students encountered.
  6. Students write assignment, submit on paper.
  7. LAC evaluates assignment.
  8. Professor returns assignment to student.

Fig. 7 : This revised writing assignment plan will require a little more grading time, but the final evaluation in step 7 should go smoothly enough to recover much of the time spent in steps 2 and  4.

The following revised assignment designs, based on the model given in Fig. 1, are sequenced assignments designed to take advantage of intervention points at key stages of the students’ composition process.  The first version, given in Fig. 7, requires very little additional effort on behalf of the professor, and only slightly more work from the writing staff member.  The writing instructor can adapt existing handouts or create a new one for step 2.  Grading the “statement of problem” (step 4) need not be a time-consuming affair; it can be marked quickly, on a simple three-point scale; evaluative comments can be brief codes, keyed to a specially-prepared web document.  The writing workshop (step 5) will be more effective because the instructor will already have seen the students’ first attempts.  Students will be more attentive because the workshop will address problems they have already encountered, not theoretical problems they have not yet bothered to consider.

The more complex assignment plan given in Fig. 8 (below) will require more advanced planning from faculty and students alike.  The process begins when the writing staff and the engineering professor collaborate to create a hypothetical engineering problem with more than one plausible solution (that is, no clear “right” answer).  Students submit a brief statement of the problem, revising and resubmitting it if necessary.  Students then electronically submit one solution to the problem.  The writing centre reviews these initial attempts, and designs a workshop to address common problems.  Students then compose and submit a completely different solution.

At step 8, the writing centre e-mails two copies of each proposal (steps 3 and 7) to random students.  Each student, then, receives four peer-authored proposals.  Students write a detailed analysis of the four proposals, select one course of action, and support their decision.  Students whose proposals are selected by their peers receive a bonus of 5 points.  Students stand to gain as much as 20 points.  This final reward taps into our students’ strong competitive streak, and simulates the tangible benefits engineers encounter in the real world when their technical writing skills help their professional careers.

Next: Conclusions

Dennis G. Jerz