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

Mechanical Engineering, enrolling approximately 600 undergraduates in its major and offering courses taught by about 43 faculty members, is among the largest of the twelve departments belonging to the College of Science & Engineering. The department enrolled in the WEC Program in 2006, during the program's pilot phase.

In its three writing plans, Mechanical Engineering has focused on ensuring that explicit and relevant writing instruction has been integrated into its mid­-level courses so that as they matriculated into their final year, students were better able to deliver the kinds of design reports and technical communication expected of them in capstone-level projects. As a resource to all ME courses, graduate student Ben Adams collaborated with faculty members to develop, publish, and pilot three discipline-specific writing style guides: problem sets, lab reports, and design reports. For its third edition plan, faculty and instructors worked with WEC staff to create and improve rubrics for writing assessment and developed accompanying TA workshops.

Additional activities include: Durfee, Flash, Adams, and Applesies: "A Writing Program for Mechanical Engineering" in Proceedings of the 118th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, 2011.

Mechanical Engineering Writing Plan

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Writing in Mechanical Engineering

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

The ability to communicate is essential in mechanical engineering. It is not sufficient to have an idea; that idea must be communicated clearly and concisely to other members of a design team, to managers, to academic researchers, to a newspaper reporter, to the general public, or to oneself through a design notebook. 

At the University of Minnesota, the Mechanical Engineering faculty recognize that students do not enter our undergraduate program as competent technical writers and that many are not proficient in the standards of academic writing. Therefore, we recognize that it is our responsibility to provide our undergraduate majors with an education in technical communication. We expect that every undergraduate receiving a degree in mechanical engineering is competent in written technical communication. Because learning is the shared responsibility of faculty and students, it is the responsibility of students to know that the department has high expectations for their engineering writing, that they should strive to become better engineering writers while they are in our program and that they will experience some form of engineering writing instruction in all core mechanical engineering courses.  

Effective writing in mechanical engineering is:

  • Pointed, concise and factual, avoiding redundancy, abstraction, and extraneous information
  • Data-driven for accuracy and credibility 
  • Systematic, logical and efficient in describing and solving problems
  • Seamless in its integration of textual, numeric, and graphic information
  • Explanatory, often involving depiction of spatial objects and description of complex technical concepts and data
  • Predictable in its use of prescribed format and structure
  • Collaboratively authored when work is conducted by a distributed team
  • Presented in multiple formats, including documents, presentations, posters and web sites
  • Written and formatted in ways that are appropriate for technical or non-technical audiences depending on the purpose of the writing
  • Expressed using correct mechanics

Writing Abilities Expected of Mechanical Engineering Majors

The Mechanical 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:

  • Apply knowledge of physics, mathematics, and engineering in their writing
  • Record and analyze activity related to laboratories and design projects
  • Visually represent technical concepts and designs to explain their salient features
  • Synthesize and summarize key points
  • State and explain engineering project metrics such as productivity, costs and time to completion
  • Analyze the audience and create a document that meets their needs
  • Represent themselves professionally through their writing
  • Explain, discuss, and demonstrate physical apparatus
  • Integrate visual, textual and oral explanations
  • Create team-written documents using collaborative authorship tools
  • Produce documents in the styles used by professional engineers
  • Write according to style guidelines approved by mechanical engineering faculty

Menu of Grading Criteria Used in Mechanical Engineering Courses

For use by faculty in rubrics as appropriate to the assignment, and by raters in WEC rating sessions: 

  • Applies knowledge of physics, mathematics, and engineering in writing
  • Communicates methods and results from an experiment or computer simulation
  • Interprets and acts on result related to laboratories or design project
  • Visually represents technical concepts to explain their salient features
  • Visually represents technical designs to explain their salient features
  • Uses figures and graphs to explain concepts
  • Summarizes key points
  • Synthesizes key points
  • Demonstrates engineering project metrics such as productivity, costs and time to completion
  • Is written in ways that consistently addresses target audience
  • Writing represents author professionally
  • Explains complex concepts, results and physical apparatuses.
  • Integrates visual and textual explanations
  • Is a team-written document where all authors have contributed
  • Is written in the style used by professional engineers
  • Is written in the style of professional engineering reports and articulates the target problem
  • Is written in the style of professional engineering reports and solves a problem
  • Is written according to style guidelines in the Mechanical Engineering style guides
  • Is grammatically and mechanically correct
  • Cites sources appropriately
  • Is concise

Highlights from the Writing Plan

Motivated by their 2019 ABET review, the Mechanical Engineering Department has engaged with the WEC Legacy Project to ensure continuous improvement in technical communication skills. The department will expand its professional development offerings for faculty and instructors, ensuring that new members of the department are acculturated to the writing emphasis of the curriculum. In addition, a comprehensive review of current writing guides will both refresh the content of the style guides and emphasize writerly choices over explicit prescriptions. The Mechanical Engineering Legacy plan was approved in September 2020.