Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Subject: LCSH

Technical writing--Study and teaching, Engineering--Study and teaching


Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Engineering Education | Operations Research, Systems Engineering and Industrial Engineering


This paper reports results of a mixed methods study that examined engineering students’ acquisition of technical communication skills over time. In particular, this exploratory study aimed to identify persistent errors, lingering misconceptions, and challenges engineering students faced when they attempted to apply their knowledge and skills in new contexts. The 12 participants were drawn from engineering courses in which students were required to compose technical memoranda in response to requests for information from supervisors or clients. This integrated approach addresses content and communication in the same course. The study included a longitudinal analysis of four technical memoranda written across two courses and qualitative analysis of interviews conducted with students who wrote these memoranda. The study documented students’ improvement in technical communication over time, from one course to another. The study also found correlations between content knowledge and communication skills. Analysis of qualitative data showed that students bring with them prior knowledge about writing from high school and college courses that may support or interfere with the acquisition of technical writing skills. Insufficient or inaccurate prior knowledge including lack of experience with reporting data or using visual communication tools as well as the literal interpretation of models accounted for persistent errors. Taking “short cuts” was a common theme that led students to ignore effective writing practices, such as planning or revising. The most common misconception students held was the notion that engineering students are “good at math” but “poor at writing.” These results suggest that the acquisition of technical writing skills might be hindered by students’ own self-concepts. Instructors can promote students’ self-efficacy as writers by guiding them to understand that strong writing skills can be acquired with practice


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Publisher Citation

Li, C. Q., & Randi, J., & Sheffield, J. P. (2019, June), An Exploratory Study of Engineering Students’ Misconceptions about Technical Communication Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida.