Smith, Summer. “What Is “Good” Technical Communication? A Comparison of the Standards of Writing and Engineering Instructors.” Technical Communication Quarterly 12 1 (2003): 7 – 24. Print.

  • In this article S. reports the findings of a study she conducted wherein engineering instructors and TC instructors were asked to respond to different questions concerning “What constituted “Good” TC?”  S.’s findings suggest that TC instructors and engineering instructors’ conceptions of what they consider to be good TC aren’t so dissimilar; in fact, her findings posit that faculty from both disciplines could learn a lot from one another concerning effective TC both inside and outside of the classroom.
  • S. notes that often TC and WID from Engineering are often considered different beasts: TC instructors (especially noobs) don’t feel confident assessing intensely technical documents and often seek to “convert” technical students; likewise, some technical students disregard TC because they see TC instructors as lacking the authority to teach their disciplinary conventions (7).  These views are reinforced by lack of transfer from TC to the workplace and teachers own reflections on disjuncts b/n TC and technical students in published scholarship.
  • S. wants to encourage a dialogue b/n TC teachers and engineering instructors that exists somewhere besides the student as conduit relaying disciplinary demands and writing teacher desires (8).
  • Research questions that framed this study:  What are the types of response in the engineering and writing instructors’ repertoire of responses to student writing?  What are the similarities and differences between writing and engineering instructors’ emphases within this repertoire?  (8)
  • S. used a “read aloud protocol” (Swarts, Flower and Hayes) to assess instructor responses to student work.  S. provides an interesting write up of her methods on 7-12.
  • Categories and findings:
    • Word Choice:  45% engineering instructors, 13% writing instructors.
    • Mechanics: both groups had very similar ideas about standards for mechanics.
    • Re-Reading:  Engineers reread for comments on style or mechanics while writing instructors reread to consider coherence (it is sufficient as a point?  are the evaluations coherent?).
    • Evaluation of validity:  more evaluations of validity by engineering instructors (perhaps because this is their subject area?).
    • Evaluation of coherence:  Writing instructors considered coherence more than engineering instructors.
    • Evaluation of organization:  Writing instructors evaluated more often for organization; both groups preferred inductive organizational tactics.
    • Evaluations of design:  Writing instructors evaluated more for design by focusing not only on individual design choices but for the relationships implied by design elements throughout the paper.
  • How could these two groups learn from one another?  Writing instructors could enrich and make more credible their evaluations of TC by evaluating validity more often (calling folks on generalizations or inconsistencies).  Engineering instructors could learn to consider document design and organization more often.  Perhaps most beneficially, because they prefer such similar things, S. argues that TC instructors and engineering instructors should speak to each other more often to come to consensus about evaluation practices.

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