Writing Plan Phases
Collecting Baseline Data
First Edition Writing Plan
Second Edition Writing Plan
Third Edition Writing Plan
  • phase completed
  • phase in-progress

The Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geoengineering (CEGE) in the College of Science and Engineering currently employs 29 full-time faculty members and a dozen or so affiliates in five specialty areas: environmental, geomechanics, structures-mechanics, transportation, and water resources. The 200+ undergraduate majors are prepared for careers in government service, private consulting, industrial research, and academia.

Civil, Environmental, and Geoengineering Writing Plan

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Writing in Civil, Environmental, and Geoengineering

The Civil, Environmental, and Geoengineering faculty generated the following list in response to the question, “What characterizes academic and professional communication in this discipline?”

Logically-prepared and presented:

  • Logical structure in overall organization
  • Paragraphs and sentences arranged logically by showing linearity of ideas
  • Orderly and logical at level of writing mechanics (e.g., by providing transitional phrases connecting one part in the sequence to another)

Clear and efficient:

  • Precise, coherent, and focused; sentences are crisp, succinct, yet communicate all that is needed
  • Short but sufficient; descriptive but complete
  • Apt for requirements and expectations of the specific writing task
  • Thoughtful and attentive to given instructions
  • Comprehensively responds to all that was asked

Grammatically and mechanically sound:

  • Avoids grammatical errors and misspellings
  • Provides adequate citations to references and sources whenever needed
  • Uses units for quantities properly and consistently
  • Features some visual appeal and is visually legible (uniformity, spacing, shapes, etc.)

Effectively integrates different types of writing:

  • Clearly integrates math and prose
  • Distinguishes descriptive or qualitative writing
  • Clearly highlights quantitative results whenever present
  • Integrates figures and drawings properly and clearly into writing
  • Provides verbal explanations of formulas, whenever needed

Focused and purposeful:

  • Articulates how writing is a contribution to human knowledge
  • Synthesizes concepts into bigger ideas
  • Includes clear presentation of different parts of presentation (e.g., description of assumptions, evaluations,
  • definition of hypothesis, presentation of conclusions)
  • Displays proper adjustments for audiences of different writing tasks
  • Makes logic effectively transparent to audience
  • Meets requirements for reproducibility and is effectively sharable

Intentional in writing choices:

  • Captures the most important concepts
  • Features important observations with appropriate prominence
  • Encourages singular, intended interpretation
  • Helps reader understand what was done, how it was done, and for what reason
  • Demonstrates clear thinking and understanding

Writing Abilities Expected of Civil, Environmental, and Geoengineering Majors

The Civil, Environmental, and Geoengineering faculty generated the following list in response to the question, “With which writing abilities should students in this unit’s major(s) graduate?”

Minimum Requirements for Writing in the Major:

  • Evidences appropriate pre-planning processes and sufficient levels of knowledge
  • Recognizes and uses audience specific writing conventions
  • Uses and defines appropriate terminology and notation
  • Makes effective use of charts, visuals, and non-textual representations
  • Organizes communications effectively
  • Presents technical processes effectively
  • Describes uncertainty of analysis
  • Expresses complex data succinctly but comprehensively
  • Clearly communicates abstract ideas or complicated phenomenon
  • Writes with proper mechanics and formal presentation (grammar, proofreading, etc.)
  • Demonstrates proper scholarship and avoids plagiarism
  • Critically self-evaluates own work

Menu of Grading Criteria Used in Civil, Environmental, and Geoengineering Courses

For each of the twelve desired abilities, the Civil, Environmental, and Geoengineering faculty have generated a set of grading criteria.

Ability 1: Evidences appropriate pre-planning processes and sufficient levels of knowledge.

  • Provides a preliminary list of steps or flow chart of major processes
  • Identifies salient features and main topics of reading, including “gaps,” unstated assumptions, and problems to be addressed
  • Unambiguously names purpose of writing
  • Identifies or names potential sources of error

Ability 2: Recognizes and uses audience-specific writing conventions.

  • Is written in tone, voice, and style appropriate to specified audience
  • Specifies the audience when necessary

Ability 3: Uses and defines appropriate terminology and notation.

  • Uses terminology and notation correctly
  • Uses terminology and notation that best transmits message to target audience (including avoiding jargon for readers outside field)

Ability 4:  Makes effective use of charts, visuals, and non-textual representations.

  • Uses non-word based descriptions (visuals, tables, code, etc.) as appropriate to communication task
  • Includes visuals that are drawn or drafted legibly
  • Effectively incorporates mathematical equations and formulas into prose
  • Uses consistent method of presentation of visuals
  • Properly numbers, labels, and references visuals (legend, axes, in-text references, etc.)

Ability 5: Organizes communications effectively.

  • Sequences thoughts, words, notations, and results according to recognizable logic
  • Omits needless words, sentences, and paragraphs
  • Uses an organization scheme appropriate to purpose of assignment

Ability 6: Presents technical processes effectively.

  • Outlines process used to arrive at technical results
  • Moves from problem statement to solution
  • Presents processes such that they can be repeated by others

Ability 7: Describes uncertainty of analysis.

  • Presents conclusions that express uncertainty of outcome
  • Presents lab experiment results and conclusions reflect the uncertainty of the analysis

Ability 8: Expresses complex data succinctly but comprehensively.

  • Expresses information with sufficient depth
  • Avoids excess and redundant information
  • Uses words that match purpose and audience of writing

Ability 9: Clearly communicates abstract ideas or complicated phenomenon.

  • Evidences cause-consequence relationships
  • Uses diagrams and flow-charts to present complex ideas

Ability 10: Writes with proper mechanics and formal presentation (grammar, proofreading, etc.).

  • Is written in sentences that lend themselves to a single interpretation
  • Is written in sentences that contain few grammar, spelling, or proofreading errors

Ability 11: Demonstrates proper scholarship and avoids plagiarism.

  • Uses appropriate sources for information
  • Uses clear and consistent citations to acknowledge all sources used or consulted
  • Properly distinguishes between quotes, summaries, and paraphrases

Ability 12: Critically self-evaluates own work.

  • Provides self-reflection about writing process
  • Includes self-assessment using instructor rubric
  • Includes a completed grade sheet

Highlights from the Writing Plan

In their first-edition Writing Plan in AY 2015-2016, CEGE focused on the development of an extensive curricular matrix that identified where its writing abilities were being taught within the curriculum along with possible opportunities for more explicit attention to specific writing tasks and abilities. For its second-edition Writing Plan, spanning AY 2016-2018, CEGE identified three core strategies for assisting students: (1) increasing the use of its writing criteria in course materials; (2) developing instructional support through consultations and workshops; and (3) integrating a departmental writing guide and library of student writing samples into three undergraduate core courses that have laboratory components: Civil Engineering Materials (CEGE 3402W), Fluid Mechanics (CEGE 3502), and Environmental Engineering Laboratory (CEGE 3541).

With its third-edition Writing Plan, approved by the Campus Writing Board in April 2019, CEGE is continuing its efforts to further develop and integrate its writing guide into the curriculum. The department has also launched an internal assessment of student writing in CEGE 3042W (Civil Engineering Materials) that seeks to measure the development of undergraduate writers over the course of the semester. The department’s recently developed writing-intensive course in Project Management (CEGE 4101W) offers a fine statement about the importance of writing on its syllabus, one which reflects CEGE’s commitment to its undergraduates:

"When you graduate from the University of Minnesota with a degree in civil, environmental, or geo- engineering, you will all possess the computational and analytical skills expected of an entry-level engineer. But, this is not enough. One of your key competencies will be the ability to effectively communicate with a wide variety of audiences. You will have to communicate with your supervisor, professional peers, and subordinates; contractors and construction workers; past and present clients, as well as potential future clients; elected officials; federal, state, and local governmental regulators and reviewers; and, perhaps most frighteningly, the general public. The breadth of this list of audiences is unique to civil, environmental, and geo- engineering. Writing will be your most common form of professional communication. You will spend a significant fraction of your time writing — even as a junior engineer. You will be called on to write memos, emails, proposals, press releases, invoices, instructions, recommendations and explanations, reports, and design documents. Sometimes you will be writing by yourself and sometimes writing as a member of a team. In short, writing is a required professional skill for all civil, environmental, and geoengineers. We will be working on this skill in this class.”