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Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), an undergraduate program within the College of Science & Engineering, with 54 faculty and more than 460 undergraduate students, is a leading international program in education and research for electrical and computer engineering. ECE provides students with the skills to serve as key contributors of talent, expertise, and innovative ideas. Our graduates join leading academic research institutions and companies in a broad range of industries and technologies worldwide.
Writing in Electrical and Computer Engineering
The Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty generated the following description in response to the question, “What characterizes academic and professional communication in this discipline?”
Exceptional writing in electrical and computer engineering doesn’t simply state a mathematical answer but should tell a story. Telling a story is important as it engages the reader, sets expectations, presents content, and summarizes findings. This concept is clearly applicable within formal papers but is also broadly applicable. Even basic circuit problem sets can find a foundation in this concept. For example, restating the problem or redrawing a circuit schematic “sets expectations,” intermediate work “presents the content,” and boxing an answer “summarizes the finding.”
During the self-assessment meetings the faculty gathered the following characteristics of writing in ECE:
- Tells a story and doesn’t merely offer a mathematical answer.
- Focused; Provides as much information as necessary and no more.
- Provides necessary context for understanding technical and mathematical answers.
- Clear explanation of processes, mechanisms, analyses, and findings.
- Appropriate visual modes for describing solutions (diagrams, tables, charts, figures).
- Visuals are clear; include captions, labels, and symbols.
- Clearly stated assumptions.
- Coherent- structured and oriented toward a purpose.
- Uses technologies of writing well (Excel, LaTeX, etc.).
- Uses writing to boil down to an issue and justify conclusions.
- Impacts and consequences tied to audience.
- Representative of professional standards and practices.
- Documents development of ideas, steps in process, and variations/decisions.
- Consistent style (consistent in first and third person).
More broadly, when presenting content, there are three areas the above characteristics can be grouped into:
- Observing and reporting data clearly, while communicating the assumptions and limitations of that data.
- Draw conclusions and persuade audiences, in a method relevant and appropriate to the targeted audience.
- Utilizing professional standards and practices to produce high-quality writing.
Writing Abilities Expected of Electrical and Computer Engineering Majors
The Electrical and Computer Engineering 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:
The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering understands writing as an iterative process central to engineering. Whether in homework, laboratories, or formal papers, students will report data accurately, draw well-supported conclusions, and will follow standards and expectations for writing in industry and academia.
Report data and observations:
- Synthesize information from sources of data and evidence, including limits on available data.
- Provide sufficient explanation for technical answers, such that it can be understood by particular audiences (peer level, non-technical, stakeholders).
- Provide clear explanation of processes, mechanisms, analyses, and findings.
- Select appropriate visual modes for describing data and observations.
Draw conclusions and persuade audiences:
- Tell a coherent story: Set the purpose and context, establish motivation or research question.
- Identify and explain the impacts of technical data in ways that are meaningful to the intended audience.
- Structure documents to draw well-supported conclusions; avoid tangents and irrelevant information.
- Use engineering data, evidence, and reasoning to persuade specific audiences.
Demonstrate attention to professional standards and practices:
- Grammar, mechanics, punctuation, spelling.
- Citation practices (quotation, paraphrase, figure captions).
- Ethics (avoid plagiarism and research misconduct).
- Follow expected publication standards (professional journal guidelines, employer’s documentation standards, etc.).
Menu of Grading Criteria Used in Electrical and Computer Engineering Courses
Report data and observations.
Synthesize information from sources of data and evidence, including limits on available data.
- Describes the sources from which data is derived.
- Distills the data to a subset supporting the conclusion.
- Explicitly discusses contradictory data and sources of error or noise.
Provides clear and sufficient explanation for technical data, processes, mechanisms, analyses, and observations.
- Includes information about the starting point (provided technical information).
- Addresses related engineering concepts that impact method for obtaining data, analyses, and resulting observations.
- (Additional criteria for oral assignments) offer a verbal explanation of technical answers, particularly in lab contexts.
Select appropriate visual modes for describing data and observations.
- Includes graphs that summarize data.
- Uses components of format explicitly– title, axis, units are labeled and standard.
- Includes schematics that are consistent with professional expectations (no crossed wires, values expressed appropriately).
Draw conclusions and persuade audiences.
Tell a coherent story: Set the purpose and context, establish motivation or research question.
- Explicitly states purpose and motivation, particularly in formal documents.
- States the problem or redraws the circuit, particularly for informal documents or homework.
Identify and explain the impacts of technical data in ways that are meaningful to intended audience.
- Adapts choices in language, vocabulary, and technical detail to the intended audience.
- Identifies common concepts understood between writer and reader then connects them meaningfully to conclusions.
Structure documents to draw well-supported conclusions; avoid tangents and irrelevant information.
- Provides a structured narrative (introduction, body, conclusion).
- Contains no extraneous material.
Use engineering data, evidence, and reasoning to persuade specific audiences.
- Emphasizes key features and results relevant to specified audience to persuade (such as technical specifications, cost/benefit, and intangibles).
Demonstrate attention to professional standards and practices.
Grammar, mechanics, punctuation, spelling.
- Contains no errors that could introduce ambiguity.
- Contains few, if any minor errors.
Citation practices (quotation, paraphrase, figure captions).
- Uses paraphrase in a manner consistent with the writing in the field (no direct quotations)
- Consistent with its method of citation throughout the document (meets course style sheet if provided).
Ethics (avoid plagiarism and research misconduct).
- Cites unique conclusions.
- Cites all figures, words, etc. extracted from other sources.
- Identifies roles and follows instructor guidelines for collaborative assignments.
Follow expected publication standards (professional journal guidelines, employer's documentation standards, etc.).
- Follows patent documentation standards as it relates to lab notebooks.
- Looks like NSF, NIH, DOD proposal or journal template, as assigned.
Highlights from the Writing Plan
In its second edition Writing Plan, Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty members have used new lab notebook materials developed in plan one in additional 3000-level lab courses. Small groups of faculty are also developing writing guidelines for their subdisciplines, including guidelines for coding and code commentary. The department’s efforts continue to focus on drawing effective conclusions and responding persuasively to varied audiences. During the COVID year, much of the attention paid to writing focused on adapting to lab courses that were taught primarily online and adjusting our courses to best meet the needs of students in all phases of the program. The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering will submit its third writing plan in fall of 2021.