While discussing Brainerd Kellogg's 1880 publication A Text-Book
on Rhetoric, a work used for several decades at the high school
and college level, S. Michael Halloran notes that there is "no
sense that the subject is intellectually challenging or socially
important" (175). As early as the middle of the 19th century,
courses studying rhetoric were beginning to slip from college curricula
and the prevailing attitudes reflected by Kellogg and others did
not help. The Industrial Revolution was in part to blame as blossoming
corporations began to put pressure on schools regarding the specialized
skill-sets required of their employees. A notion of "professionalism"
was born. Students were going to school to get an education in a
particular field of study often dictated by industry. Not surprisingly,
what was the instruction of classical rhetoric began to take on
a system of values influenced by professionalism. Halloran explains:
ethos of professionalism is reflected also in the common organizational
scheme for current-traditional textbooks: from words, to sentences,
to paragraphs, and finally to the whole discourse. The underlying
metaphor is of the discourse as something constructed from parts,
much as a machine is assembled from its parts, or as science in
the Baconian inductive mode assembles discrete observations into
general principles (168-9).
this way writing does take on a mechanistic quality. It became a
vehicle with which to transport information for consumption. The
element of "passion" and the idea of "persuasion"
were being forced out. The crowding came from the presence of new
classes required of the growing fields of study such as engineering
and the sciences. But, while rhetoric and composition were certainly
losing the battle for competing number of classes, the alternate
courses "bore ironic traces of the rhetorical tradition they
were displacing" (Halloran 178). This project examines how
new "ironic traces" of the rhetorical tradition are cropping
up in contemporary coursework, specifically in the field of engineering.
The research draws heavily from personal experience and the responsibility
of directing the professional and technical writing program at Case
Western Reserve University.
Edward P. J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors assert, "modern
students are not likely to have received much formal training in
the art of persuasion" (16). While stereotypes regarding the
poor communication skills of engineers in the workplace are certainly
prevalent, this comment may prove to be changing from within the
curriculum. Reviewing engineering programs offered by competing
institutions such as Case Western Reserve University, Carnegie Mellon,
University of Rochester and MIT elucidates this point. All of the
programs require a version of freshman writing, English or composition.
Beyond this common component, the approaches to instilling writing
and communication skills do not vary a great deal. Most of the programs
look to the humanities. MIT states in its description of their "Communication
Requirement" that the "subjects are intended to provide
you with a foundation in effective expository writing and speaking"
(MIT). These subjects have been determined to be "either writing
classes or classes in the humanities, arts, and social sciences
in which students plan, organize, draft, and revise a series of
sequenced assignments based on course material." Similarly,
Carnegie Mellon requires that a "sequence of humanities, social
science or fine arts courses which provides depth in a specific
area must be completed" (CMU). At the core of Rochester's engineering
mission statement is the idea that the university will "provide
students with the opportunities to partake in research projects
that require both the application of skills learned in the classroom
and effective communication of the results of these efforts"
(UR). The goals of these programs appear to stand in opposition
to the assertion by Corbett and Connors as well as the general stereotype
surrounding an engineer's communication skills.
But, critics of these programs assert that the schools are still
not doing enough in the way of educating in the art of communication
and that they are merely paying lip-service to accreditation agencies.
Indeed, most engineering programs are quick to mention their compliance
with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
This agency has been in existence for over 70 years but recently
revised their strategic plan in 2002. ABET's most current document
on accreditation, "Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs:
Effective for Evaluations During the 2003-2004 Accreditation Cycle"
states that graduating students must possess "an understanding
of professional and ethical responsibility" and "an ability
to communicate effectively" (ABET).
Universities are no doubt feeling pressure from the engineering
industry too. Companies are demanding more from their employees,
and during economic downturns and tight job markets, they can afford
to be selective. During a recent interview, C. Richard Hullihen,
former Vice President at Marconi Medical Systems and Timothy Kulbago,
Chief Technology Officer at RIS Logic Inc., discussed their criteria
for hiring their engineering teams. According to Hullihen, he has
a "three category system." The first portion is what he
terms the "Can Do" portion or the candidate's known or
proven technical skill-sets. The next is "Will Do" or
what the candidate has accomplished with these skills in the past
and therefore what they "will do" for his company in the
future if hired. Both growth potential and candidate weaknesses
are determined in this category. The third section Hullihen loosely
refers to as "Fit" but Kulbago adds, "this is where
the ability to communicate really comes into play." Both men
explain that in order for an engineering team to function within
any company the team members must be able to convey their ideas
to not only other engineers but also other divisions such as sales
and marketing. Quite simply, how can someone sell or market a product
that they do not understand? Both men stress the notion that although
"Fit" is the third category it is no less important than
the first two and that they will not extend a job offer without
Case Western Reserve University's next accreditation review will
occur in 2006 -2007 and this year they will graduate nearly 350
engineers. Under pressure to both meet the expectations for accreditation
and successfully place their graduates, the engineering and English
departments have formed a partnership. The English department teaches
an upper-level course titled "Professional and Technical Communications
for Engineers." The course is a requirement for all engineering
students in addition to their first year writing class. An oversight
committee consisting of faculty from both departments was formed
to decide the curriculum, the text and the general pedagogical approach
to the course. An examination of some of the texts that were considered
for the class as well as course instruction, begin to bring to light
Halloran's "traces" of rhetoric.
The text currently used for the course is Paul V. Anderson's Technical
Communication: A Reader Centered Approach. As the title suggests,
audience analysis and understanding the audience are at the forefront
of the course's agenda. For every assignment, students are required
to complete a "Quick Planning Sheet" in order to define
their objectives and strategize about their writing. It is important
to note that this strategizing is relevant to all of the communications
in this course including written, spoken and digital communications.
The sheet has six categories: readers, situation, goals, document
path, uncertainties, and strategies. Students compile data on the
audience including who the people are that it consists of, their
knowledge of the subject matter as well as what they may desire
from the communication. Anderson clarifies the role of this first
category by stating, "when you construct your mental portrait
of your readers, you should incorporate those characteristics of
your particular readers that will influence the way they respond
to your communication" (61). Determining their familiarity
with the subject matter allows the communicator the liberty of using
technical terminology and assuming a certain understanding of field-specific
concepts or requires him/her to develop and explain topic fundamentals.
Simply stated, audience analysis is a foothold for establishing
credibility and fundamental to producing a persuasive piece. This,
of course, is not a new tactic. In book two of his On Rhetoric,
Aristotle recognizes the importance of gaining the trust of his
"hearers." He states, "for it makes much difference
in regard to persuasion (especially in deliberations but also in
trials) that the speaker seem to be a certain kind of person and
that his hearers suppose him to be disposed toward them in a certain
way and in addition if they, too, happen to be disposed in a certain
Before continuing to the situation category it is important to note
that all of these categories are recursive in nature. That is, the
development of situation or strategies may include a "call
back" to the audience category. Indeed, it is impossible to
discuss situation without understanding the role audience plays
in a particular situation. This relationship is by design and the
development and re-development of the content of the categories
creates a more robust analysis.
So, while the notion of rhetorical exigency has not found its way
into this classroom, understanding the situation in which the students
are communicating strives to take its place. Students are asked
to determine the context in which the audience will receive the
communication, analyze relevant history that may impact the reception,
understand any current events that could alter it and determine
the degree to which the "hearers" are heterogeneous. Engineers,
or any other communicator for that matter, may not have the luxury
of assuming a homogeneous audience. Contemporary rhetoricians, such
as Loyd F. Bitzer, identify the rhetorical situation as carrying
great significance because it "contains a set of constraints
made up of persons, events, objects, and relations which are parts
of the situation because they have the power to constrain decision
and action needed to modify the exigence" (305). While Aristotle
is perhaps not as succinct in his treatment of the repercussions
for not addressing the rhetorical situation he does provide tactics
for addressing heterogeneous audiences. Chapters 12 through 17 of
book two in On Rhetoric breaks down what Aristotle has determined
to be dominant character types of potential audiences. Granted,
chapters such as "The Character of Those in the Prime of Life"
and "The Effect on Character of Good Birth" are gross
generalizations but Aristotle's methodology of dissecting the make-up
of his audience still serves the contemporary student.
Once audience and situation are under development, students begin
refining the goals and objectives of their persuasive argument.
Anderson instructs students stating, "your goal will be to
bring about change. You will be endeavoring to transform some aspect
of the current situation - the way things are now - into a more
desirable state" (57). His book provides a simplified diagram
of the ideal communication:
Other texts reviewed for this course such as John M. Lannon's Technical
Communication include sections such as "Identify Your Specific
Goals." Lannon advises:
Arguments can differ considerably in what they ask people to do.
Your goal might be to (a) influence people's opinions, (b) seek
their support, (c) propose some type of action, or (d) alter their
behavior. In each instance, persuasion asks people to try something
new or different - to accept some type of change requiring some
level of personal involvement (41).
are encouraged to begin with generalized conceptions of their goal
state. For example, a software engineer may identify his/her goal
state as the implementation of a proposed software upgrade. Breaking
down this overarching goal yields the underlying goal states that
must be reached for the communication to be a success. For instance,
the need to influence the opinion of the information technology
staff so that their view of the proposed software is positive needs
to be considered. Once their perception is positive another goal
should be obtaining the staff's support for the project. While Lannon
did not specifically say so in the included section, it must be
noted that the desired goal state may represent a state where no
change occurs. That is, the communication might endeavor to preserve
the existing system. But regardless of the identified goals, these
desired states directly effect what is said in the communication.
The software upgrade example shows that if the information technology
department's opinion must be swayed then the accolades of the product
must be researched and presented. Persuasive elements of these arguments
might include testimony from other companies that have successfully
upgraded their software or other unbiased reviews. This discovery
of arguments is directly tied to the first canon of rhetoric or
inventio. The process of and the ability to "find something
to say on a given subject" according to Corbet and Connors,
"is the crucial problem for most writers" (19).
The communication path asks the students to speculate on readership
beyond their known audience. This requires them to envision the
present uses of their forming communication and its potential future
uses. Again, due to the recursive nature of these categories, audience
must be re-thought and developed further. This information can have
a large impact on invention often altering or adding to the writer's
argument. In their introduction to Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions,
Boundaries, William A. Covino and David A. Jolliffe offer terminology
for this dilemma such as "primary" and "subsidiary"
audiences as well as "immediate" and "mediated"
audiences (12). While these terms can be useful for discussion,
the document path asks students to actually trace potential routes
the communication could take and analyze readers along the way.
For instance, many engineering design documents, reports, and proposals
will be maintained by companies for future consultation. Students
should get in the habit of asking themselves questions like, "If
my design documents are consulted for legal purposes will they adequately
convey my ideas?" They should also entertain the possibility
of unexpected or extended audiences with question such as, "If
my proposal is read or heard by upper-level management will it exude
the appropriate degree of professionalism as well as speak to their
level of expertise?" In an academic setting, the students'
communications rarely go beyond the professor who prepared the assignment.
Mike Markel, in his text also titled Technical Communication, warns
that in "the working world, however, you probably won't have
explicit guidelines, and you will often write to people you have
never met" (93). Indeed, in large corporations engineers will
prepare proposals for senior management and decision makers that
they may never meet in person. Likewise, the lawyers that may need
to reference engineering design documents for patent or copyright
purposes may never meet the engineer who composed them.
All of the categories discussed thus far can and most likely do
contribute to the uncertainties categories. The purpose is for students
to compile a list of unknown data and then systematically plan for
those uncertainties. Referencing again the software upgrade example,
students may have identified the company's chief financial officer
as an audience member but his/her level of familiarity with the
proposed software may not be determined. As noted the information
technology staff will certainly be reviewing the communication but
any history these audience members have with the product cannot
always be known. Do they have colleagues in another company that
have had a negative experience with the software? Have they had
a negative experience with another product that the producer of
the software you are proposing makes? Students are encouraged to
consider as many possibilities they can and decide which questions
require plans and strategies.
"Strategies," Corbet and Connors claim, "is a good
rhetorical word, because it implies the choice of available resources
to achieve an end. It is no accident that the word strategy has
military associations, for this word has its roots in the Greek
word for army" (2). Aristotle reminds that "all people
are persuaded by what is advantageous" and Anderson adds that
what is motivating to the audience may not be what motivates the
speaker (75). Strategizing in regards to how to appeal to an audience
is ideally made easier with the use of the planning sheet but clearly
is still a complicated task. These appeals to the audience are what
Aristotle called pisteis. The term has "no precise English
equivalent" but can be roughly understood as the "means
of persuasion" (Covino & Jolliffe 15). Under the first
canon of inventio mentioned earlier, the speaker could make use
of two types of arguments or means of persuasion. The first was
classified as a system of "non-artistic proofs" which
the speaker "did not have to invent" (Covino & Jolliffe
18). Alternately, the second mode of persuasion was dubbed "artistic"
and was comprised of rational, emotional and ethical appeals or
logos, pathos and ethos. Those readers familiar with Aristotle's
system of logos, pathos and ethos can no doubt begin to see how
these three appeals are embedded in the six categories of the engineering
planning sheet. Anderson, Lannon and Markel all make wide use of
the artistic proofs.
Anderson's chapter on "Planning Your Persuasive Strategy"
instructs students on how to bolster claims with rational appeals.
However, the text does not pursue logical or rhetorical terminology.
For instance, the differences between deductive and inductive reasoning
are not explored and terms such as syllogism and enthymeme are not
introduced. Instead, Anderson focuses simply on the importance of
being able to display empirical data and examples as rational proof.
Lannon and Markel follow suit with the omission of any such terminology
and concur for an emphasis on data and example simply stating "numbers
can be highly convincing" (53) and an "example makes as
abstract point more concrete" (125). All three authors also
caution against underdeveloped and illogical arguments. According
to Anderson, the audience will "search aggressively for a weak
line of reasoning" and that "they are wary of arguments
based on false assumptions" (108). He provides his own example
by way of a proposal to computerize a textile mill:
For example, [the audience] may agree that if another textile mill
like yours saved money by computerizing, then your mill will probably
enjoy the same result; your readers, however, may question the assumption
that the other mill is truly like yours. Maybe it makes a different
kind of product or employs a different manufacturing process. If
you think your readers will suspect that you are making a false
assumption, offer whatever evidence or explanation you can to dispel
their doubt (108).
Anderson's example could certainly serve as a segue into a discussion
on, say, dialectic, he never makes that transition.
Nor is the transition made to discuss pathos, but understanding
and appealing to an audience's emotional needs is clearly part of
the persuasive strategy for both Aristotle and contemporary technical
writing texts. While Aristotle may have desired argument to rely
solely on reason (an approach very much in-line with the traditional
engineering mindset) he recognized that people are "also endowed
with the faculty of free will, and often enough their will is swayed
more by their passions or their emotions than by their reason"
(Covino & Jolliffe 18). Taking emotional needs into account
is a necessary strategy for effective communication in the engineering
workplace. If, for example, a chemical engineer is going to request
the assistance of a colleague on an upcoming research project, he/she
has a better chance of receiving the help if their communication
begins by recognizing that person's past successes in the field
and noting the invaluable nature of their expertise. Likewise, if
a boss or manager has to provide criticism of a subordinate's performance,
the critique will be better received if it includes both positive
and negative evaluative points. Anderson asserts that being sensitive
to emotional needs such as "the desire for recognition, good
relationships at work, a sense of achievement, personal development,
and the enjoyment of work itself" can advance a communication's
persuasive potency (102).
The third mode or the ethical appeal could, according to Aristotle,
be the most persuasive of the three. Ethos does not correspond to
our modern understanding of ethics rather it was intended as an
assessment of the character of the communicator. Attributes such
as "intelligence, benevolence and probity" are of extreme
importance as without them "an orator's skill in convincing
the intellect and moving the will of an audience could prove futile"
(Covino & Jolliffe 19). Again, all of the engineering communication
texts support and discuss the merits of this rhetorical component.
Lannon mirrors Aristotle by stating that "[o]ften, the biggest
factor in persuasion is an audience's perception of the writer"
(45). Anderson included a complete section on tactics for building
an effective relationship with the audience and how to appear a
credible person. He advises:
If your readers feel well disposed toward you, they are likely to
consider your points openly and without bias. If they feel irritated,
angry, or otherwise unfriendly toward you, they may immediately
raise counterarguments to every point you present, making it extremely
unlikely that you will elicit a favorable reaction, even if all
of your points are clear, valid and substantiated. Good points rarely
win the day in the face of bad feelings (111).
are asked in class to consider the authors of engineering journals
they consult during their own research. In subsequent discussions
regarding the inclusions of the author's educational degrees, their
university affiliations and their past publications, students agree
that this information can add to or take away from the credibility
of the presenter. This point becomes particularly relevant in this
course when it comes time for students to display their own credentials
in résumés and cover letters. The assignments surrounding
the creation of these documents require the same amount of strategizing
about persuasive tactics. The employment documents are generally
a struggle for most engineering students. The notion that an argument
must be made regarding their abilities is unnatural and once again
the "truth" surrounding their skills and experience should
This is why many engineering students enter with negative preconceived
notions about a course that deals so much with what they initially
perceive as manipulative strategizing. Beginning with the planning
sheet confirms their suspicions. Students' ideas about arriving
at "truth" in their research and then presenting their
findings in their writing seem to mirror more Plato's philosophy
of "transcendent absolute truth" than Aristotle's probability
and dialectic (Bizzell & Herzberg 81). Where does this ideology
come from? Halloran would contest that it stems from professionalism's
nurturing of a strict adherence to concrete scientific method that
had no perceived use for rhetoric and persuasion. "Within the
ethos of professionalism, passion would ideally be eliminated altogether,
and so persuasion, once the overarching purpose of all rhetoric,
became a concession to the weakness of the audience" (Halloran
168). Indeed, many students feel that relying on rhetoric and persuasion
to support research is merely a crutch for incomplete research.
Worse yet, this stigma surrounding rhetoric can steer students away
from embracing its techniques simply because they fear being accused
of abusing its power.
These are concerns that must be addressed in the classroom. "It
is wrong to warp the jury by leading them into anger or envy or
pity: that is the same as if someone made a straightedge rule crooked
before using it" (Aristotle 30). The measurement analogy is
convenient but Aristotle still will not appear in any of these texts.
Yet, ABET clearly requires institutions addressing Aristotle's concern
when they state students must graduate with "an understanding
of professional and ethical responsibility." Again, all three
of the engineering communications texts meet the challenge without
the overt use of rhetorical conventions. Almost every chapter of
the Anderson text ends with a discussion on ethics or appropriate
moral conduct in regards to the materials covered. Topics include
ethical communication in a student's résumé, cover
letter, persuasive strategies, speeches and presentations, proposals,
progress reports and even graphs, charts and visual aids. The crux
of Anderson's ethical remarks is "[w]hen you are writing persuasively,
respect your readers' right to evaluate your arguments in an informed
and independent way. If you mislead your readers by misstating facts,
using intentionally ambiguous expressions, or arguing from false
premises, you deprive your readers of their rights" (118).
For some students this discussion of rhetoric and the importance
of protecting an audience's "rights" may not be enough
to display the impact rhetoric can have in the engineering world.
While some of the time the texts are restricted to fabricated situations
or examples for which the students must prepare their communications,
all of the works strive to include factual instances of engineers
communicating with both great success and sometimes catastrophic
failure. In Lannon's chapter titled "Weighing the Ethical Issues"
he candidly discusses NASA's decision to launch the space shuttle
Challenger. On the evening before the shuttle was scheduled to launch
the company that produces the rocket boosters for NASA, Morton Thiokol,
faxed NASA officials a recommendation to abort the launch. Although
this was the first time in twelve years that the company had formally
made such a recommendation NASA is documented as having been "appalled"
(Lannon 72). Thiokol's recommendation came in the form of a faxed
presentation which contained charts and diagrams in support of their
claim. Thiokol engineers asserted that the forecasted weather with
its projected low temperatures would cause the seals around the
boosters to fail potentially causing a massive explosion. Unfortunately,
the graphical representation of the data failed to create a cause
and effect relationship between temperature and seal failure (Tufte
24). Later investigation would reveal that both NASA and Morton
Thiokol engineers were under pressure from their respective managements
to authorize the launch. This multi-faceted catastrophe serves as
a powerful backdrop for the difficult situations in which engineers
may find themselves and how effective communication could have come
to their aid.
What is perhaps more surprising than how well these texts make use
of Aristotle's ethical guidelines as well as logos, pathos and ethos
is their representation to some degree of all five canons of rhetoric.
Inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria and pronuntiatio all come
through in these texts. Similarly to logos, pathos and ethos, these
rhetorical conventions show just how much they intersect and inform
each other in the engineering arena. That is, if they were still
overtly in use. It is important to consider that while Halloran
pinpoints the Industrial Revolution and professionalism as key factors
in the demise of rhetoric, other scholars trace at least the beginnings
of it disappearance to start hundreds of years earlier. Chaim Perelman
in his The Realm of Rhetoric accuses Petrus Ramus and then René
Descartes of consolidating the five canons. It was Ramus who "attributed
to dialectic the study of every kind of reasoning, analytical as
well as dialectical, and thus reduced rhetoric to elocution, the
search for forms of expression that were out of the ordinary, for
ornamentation" (1380). Descartes was equally culpable. According
to Perelman he actually "went even further in his desire to
eliminate all rhetoric from his philosophy. His idea of a philosophy
more geometrico was to build a system which, moving from one self-evidence
to another, would leave no room for any disputable opinion"
(1380). In her recent book, Electric Rhetoric, Kathleen Welch summarizes
Perelman's assessment stating that it is from Ramus that the "long
journey of rhetoric as attenuated style or language decoration gathered
great power that continues today" (150). And yet Anderson,
Lannon and Markel all use and it will be argued even need all five
canons for their texts to succeed.
As already noted, inventio refers to the process of locating arguments.
When students are asked to locate an argument in the Challenger
example they generally begin by stating that the shuttle should
not launch due to the cold weather. Of course this is true but inventio
is the process of uncovering all of the necessary arguments that
must be made to reach the desired result. Why will the rocket boosters
explode? It is because the seals will fail. Is there a direct correlation
between temperature and seal failure? Yes, but an argument will
need to be made to show why. Eventually this questioning process
reveals the substantive arguments necessary to build a case against
Inventio can often yield a complicated network of ideas and proposed
arguments but not any structure. The second canon, dispositio, deals
with arrangement and organization. "Once the ideas or arguments
are discovered there remains the problem of selecting, marshalling,
and organizing them with a view to effecting the end of discourse"
(Corbett and Connors 20). This process also gets a great deal of
attention throughout the engineering texts. Anderson has developed
what he terms "superstructures" for all of the documents
proposed in his text including oral presentations. For example,
the Challenger presentation could be organized into categories such
as criteria, method, alternatives, evaluation and recommendation.
Even seemingly lesser communication tasks have recommended formats.
For instance, a progress report submitted to a manager could contain
information organized via an introduction, sections on past and
future work, as well as conclusions and recommendations. All of
these sections are tied to questions that engineers will have to
answer or argue. "Is your work progressing as planned?",
"What progress do you expect?" and "How do things
stand overall?" are questions built into this superstructure
(524). Anderson generally capitalizes on the opportunity to discuss
how a communication such as a progress report is rhetorical in the
first place. (The texts do not use the term "rhetorical"
rather they will refer to the persuasive component of the communication
or instruct on how to build a strong argument with it.)
The third canon elocutio or style is difficult to define but generally
deals with the selection of words and how they are arranged or presented
for a given situation. Focuses include but are not limited to tone,
clarity, ornamentation and the use of jargon. Anderson begins his
section on "Creating Your Voice" with these remarks:
While reading something you've written, your readers "hear"
your voice - and, based on what they hear, they draw conclusions
about you and your attitudes. These conclusions can affect the persuasiveness
of your communications. Consequently, the ability to craft and control
your voice is an area of expertise that is essential to your success
The engineering texts ask various questions of the communicator
to assist them in selecting the appropriate style. "How formal
do my readers think my writing should be?" "How subjective
or objective do my readers believe my writing should be?" "How
much 'distance' do my readers expect me to establish between them
and me?" All of these ideas can, of course, be found in classical
rhetoric. Selecting from the low, middle, or high style (attentuata,
mediocris and gravis) was Quintilian's method for approaching a
speech. Each category had it own purpose attached to it. The low
style was generally for "instructing," the middle for
"moving" and the high for "charming" (Corbett
and Connors 21). With what has become typical of the engineering
texts, Anderson, Markel and Lannon omit the rhetorical theory and
terminology and move straight to application.
The fourth canon, memoria, which deals with the memorization of
speeches, has traditionally received the least treatment in works
on rhetoric. Other than a brief introduction, Corbett and Connor
decided that there would be "no consideration in [their] book
of this aspect of rhetoric" (22). While the engineering communications
texts give less attention to memorization, they all address the
subject. The consensus is that approaching oral presentations with
the decision to commit all of the content to memory is not productive
and potentially detrimental to persuasion. When trying to present
complex data a "small slip in phrasing could be embarrassing
or damaging" (Anderson 405). Markel points out that even "trained
actors" struggle with the task.
Most of what is discussed in regards to memory is actually in relation
to the fifth canon of rhetoric termed delivery or pronuntiatio.
While the communications planning sheet discussed earlier is used
for strategizing oral presentation, Anderson, Lannon and Markel
all devote at least a chapter to the art of delivery. As an alternative
to memorization, the texts propose "scripted," "outlined"
or "impromptu" talks based on the situation the students
may find themselves in. Anderson covers a wide range of presentation
considerations including the need to make eye contact, combating
nervousness, the need for rehearsal, the importance of voice projection
and the dynamics of presenting as a group (412-7). In fact, all
of the communications discussed in the texts can be thought of in
terms of delivery. That is, a project manager can ask for an impromptu
progress report in an elevator or a manager could ask to hear about
the recommendations from a project proposal. Ultimately, the books
try and impress the idea that presentation and the need for a solid
delivery could occur at any time.
The "traces" that Halloran has observed appear to be quite
pervasive in these texts. So what are the potential problems with
the different systems these universities are proposing? Where is
the disconnection or does a disconnection occur in the attempt to
teach effective communication skills to engineers? To begin, the
programs average 130 hours of coursework for undergraduates and
anywhere from 6 to 12 hours of that time is required in composition
and professional communications. All of the programs allow students
to test out of their freshman writing obligation via Advanced Placement
credit from high school. While CWRU's decision to make students
wait until their junior year to enroll in their professional communications
class is a sound one, it is possible for a student with Advanced
Placement credit to have gone without formal writing instruction
since high school. The obligation to the core curriculum requirements
of their engineering disciplines is simply too great.
Also, the contexts in which the courses are set should be called
into question. When a student of engineering enrolls in an English
class, attends the class at the English department and has new multi-disciplinary
peers, they are distanced from their engineering environment. While
this is certainly healthy from the standpoint that students are
exposed to alternate ways of thinking and communicating it becomes
the responsibility of the student to take what they have learned
from the humanities and effectively apply it to their field. The
situations that engineering students may be "writing into"
in their humanities courses do not necessarily reflect any real-world
engineering dilemmas. Keeping a student's writing and communication
education separate from their engineering studies can unfortunately
serve to uphold the disconnection between rhetoric and engineering.
While CWRU's course effectively brings the two together, it faces
its own set of hurdles. It wants to bypass the theory that provides
the foundation for the course's ideology and skip right to application.
The class will begin to function analogously to a "what-you-see-is-what-you-get"
or "WYSIWYG" software package. Take, for instance, any
of the HTML editors that are currently on the market such as Macromedia's
Dreamweaver, Adobe's GoLive or Microsoft's FrontPage. All of these
applications offer a graphic user interface which allows users to
author HTML and write relatively complicated code without knowing
anything about mark-up language or scripts. Software engineers are
critical of such applications as they are notorious for producing
inefficient code that does not comply with many industry standards
but nevertheless will run. Advocates for rhetoric will have a similar
"purist" response to CWRU's engineering course. The class
will potentially produce graduates who do not possess an understanding
of what it is that brings potency to their communication. Once this
becomes transparent, the course moves from being perceived as part
of the engineering core curriculum, that is, something imperative
to an engineer's education, to a mere service course. Communications
for engineers, perhaps more specifically rhetoric for engineers,
has a small foothold in the university curriculum but remains in
constant danger of falling back into obsolescence.
Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Official
Paul V. Technical Communication: A Reader Centered Approach. Boston:
On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. (G. A. Kennedy, Trans.)
New York: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
L. F. "The Rhetorical Situation." In William A. Covino
and David A Jolliffe (Eds.) Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries.
(pp. 300-310). Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995.
P. and Herzberg, B. (Eds.), The Rhetorical Tradition: Reading from
Classical Times to the Present (2nd ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's,
Mellon University (CMU). The official web site of undergraduate
William A. and David A. Jolliffe (Eds.) Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions,
Boundaries. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995.
S. Michael. "From Rhetoric to Composition: The Teaching of
Writing in America to 1900." In James J. Murphy (ed.) A Short
History of Writing Instruction: From Ancient Greece to Twentieth-Century
America. Davis: Hermagoras Press, 1990.
C. Richard. and Timothy Kulbago. Phone Interview. April, 2003.
John M. Technical Communication. (9th Ed.) New York: Longman, 2003.
Mike. Technical Communication. (7th Ed.) Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's,
Institute of Technology (MIT). Engineering writing requirement web
The University of Rochester (UR). Official web site for undergraduate
Chaim. The Realm of Rhetoric. In P. Bizzell & B. Herzberg (Eds.),
The Rhetorical Tradition: Reading from Classical Times to the Present
(2nd ed., pp. 1379-1383). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.
Edward. Visual and Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for
Making Decisions. London, UK: Graphics Press, 1997.
Kathleen. Electric Rhetoric: Classical Rhetoric, Oralism, and a
New Literacy. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.