As a STEM student, I never saw the English language arts or anything writing-related prevalent in my career. I thought that once I completed high school, my life would completely revolve around numbers, science, and problem solving, but that was not the case. To my great surprise, writing and English is still prevalent in many STEM fields because it is necessary to establish good communication in the workplace and explain detailed processes and/or objects. It is extremely prevalent when meticulously analyzing reports, providing detailed descriptions, and presenting thorough proposals. After completing the lab report analysis, technical description, and proposal for this class, I have learned various skills for scientific writing, improving me both as a writer and as a STEM student.
The lab report analysis taught to be concise and sophisticated. Frankly, I have never written an official lab report before, let alone a lab report analysis. Sure, I may have written lab reports in high school, but the complexity and format completely differed from one written by a professional. Lacking the knowledge of scientific writing, I would have been at loss if it were not for the fact that I have already read a few lab and review articles beforehand from my workplace at the Barabino Lab. Prior to the Spring semester, I was assigned to read multiple articles on tissue engineering and compose a summary. Equipped with a slight background information on lab reports and basic scientific knowledge, I had a sense of what to expect and not expect in a lab report. The purpose of the lab report analysis was to compare two different lab reports and inform the reader of my findings. The two reports that I examined were Ontogenetic Color Change and Mating Cues in Largus californicus and Temperature and Pressure Measurements of an Ideal Gas That is Heated in a Closed Container. When writing my analysis, I kept in mind of the main components of a lab report: title, abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, conclusion, references, and appendixes. Although I had some experience with scientific articles, my lab report analysis was not perfect. I still struggled with being concise with my sentences and using scientific words in the right places. Writing concisely is one of the biggest challenges that I face in writing because I find it very difficult to convey my ideas in succinct words. I usually like to elaborate on my explanations, so it is a problem for me to limit myself to just a few words. Using scientific words is also another challenge because in the scientific field, it is better to use certain words to name or describe certain objects or functions. When it comes to using scientific words, I can either lack the vocabulary, or not know when to use the right words. Working on these two flaws will definitely enhance my scientific writing in the future.
Like the lab report analysis, the technical description was not something that I have done before. Unlike a plain definition found in the dictionary, a technical description encompasses both descriptive words and detailed diagrams to describe objects and functions. My technical description was done on the Pilot-G2 pen, a retractable gel pen manufactured by a Japanese company. I provided a brief history of the pen and its company, the pen’s structure, its function, conclusion, and a glossary. The pen works in the way that when the user presses the plunger (the plastic tube on the top of the pen), plastic parts called the cam body and the stop members have angled teeth to push the pen cartridge out of the pen barrel, and retract the cartridge when the plunger is pressed again. In the technical description, my writing focused primarily on constructing lengthy sentences in order to help my readers understand the structure of the pen and its retractable mechanism. It is important to be concise, but it is also important to provide sufficient details for the readers. My writing is composed of many lengthy sentences, but they are all revised so that they will provide enough information in the least amount of words. This way, I am able to effectively describe the retractable pen without too many words to confuse my audience. Similar to the lab report analysis, the technical description had a purpose of informing the reader, but in a more descriptive manner: details were given for the different components that made up the pen and diagrams were provided to portray the pen’s retractable mechanism.
The final project for the class was the proposal. Compared to the previous two papers, the proposal was definitely the most difficult. It was challenging in the sense that we had to construct an idea or innovation and sell the idea to the class in a professional manner. Unlike the analysis and description, the proposal was team-based that consisted of two parts: a writing portion and a presentation. The writing portion was composed of many sections: the purpose, introduction, possible proposals, technical description, and process of innovation. These requirements seemed daunting at first, but by designating different sections for each member, my group was able to complete the proposal on time. I was in charge of the technical description because I enjoy explaining and describing the mechanism behind different processes. Our innovation focused on improving the wheelchair. We decided to come up with a special gear that connected the wheelchair’s wheels to the push rim (the wheel that the user pushes) to provide easier push and faster acceleration. Our inspiration came from the gears on a bicycle. When a biker pushes the pedal, the biker is rotating the larger gear of the bicycle. This larger gear is then connected to a smaller gear by a chain to the rear wheel. Because this gear is smaller than the gear connected to the pedals, it will produce more revolutions for every revolution given by the bigger gear. Thus, pushing the pedal will propel the biker forward. Like a bicycle’s gears, our wheelchair’s gears also incorporated this “two-gear” mechanism. In contrast, however, we decided to combine the two gears into one by using a structure that resembles a truncated cone (a cone with the sharp top cut off to reveal a smaller circular base). The smaller circle is connected to the rear wheel of the wheelchair while the larger circle is connected to the pushrim, meaning that the rear wheel will produce more revolutions for every push applied to the pushrim. I drew all of the diagrams with Paint (a graphic computer application) and used pictures from online. Completing the technical description of the proposal was not difficult because I used the same format as my technical description for the Pilot-G2 pen, so I went on to assist my other group mates for their sections and made the slides for the presentation. When creating the slides, I found it necessary to edit the slides so that they were concise yet descriptive. Having brief bullet points are important in a presentation so that it is easy for the audience to see and create more emphasis on us as presenters instead of the slides. Some of my members tried to create a few slides, but all of the slides were lengthy so I had to completely change them to maintain brevity. I also had to make many edits to the proposal to keep a consistent flow and rid of grammatical errors. After completing the proposal, I had to remind myself that the lack of equal distribution of group work is inevitable so I should never expect too much when working with others. Compared to the other two papers, the proposal was similar in the fact that I used the same skills from the technical description to produce one for the wheelchair, and the skills of using detailed, scientific words in my writing. The proposal also did not share the same purpose of the analysis and the technical description; the proposal’s motive was to persuade the audience to invest in our product. On the contrary, the proposal was formal, which is similar to styles of both the analysis and technical description. The biggest difference was the amount of workload and the group work. The main challenge resides in the group work because there were more requirements to satisfy than the previous papers and a presentation to create. Because the work was not entirely fair, the proposal definitely posed the biggest challenge for me in this class.
To summarize the aforementioned points, Writing for Engineering has taught me various skills that helped me develop as a writer. The lab report analysis helped me realize the importance of using scientific vocabulary and being brief; the technical description taught me to use diagrams for my explanations; and finally, the proposal demonstrated to me the importance of persuasion and presentations, especially in the workplace. I still have a long way to becoming a decent writer in the scientific world, but encompassing these lessons will definitely take me one step closer to my goal.