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 important 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 useful 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 me 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. Reading about these components in the textbook taught me that it is crucial to use available resources in order to obtain basic understandings of certain topics. I was able to better analyze the two lab reports because I knew what to anticipate after reading. Although I had some experience with scientific articles and read through the book, my lab report analysis was not perfect. I still struggled with knowing when to elaborate on my sentences in the right places. One example from my lab report analysis was when I wrote, “The title is clear for readers to understand the topic of the report.” I provided no explanation for this claim and moved on to discuss another component of the report. Recognizing my mistake, I quickly changed it to: “The title is clear for readers to understand the topic of the report because it is specific and to the point. The keywords in the title tell the readers exactly what the report will be about.” By looking over my writing and at peer review comments, I realized how beneficial it was to write drafts and have peer reviews. They help me identify careless mistakes in my paper and understand how to enhance my writing. In contrast with not knowing when to write more, I also struggle with writing less. 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. In the lab report analysis, I wrote, “These questions can quickly turn heads and lower the report’s credibility, but it must be considered that the experiment is not perfect, so not all variables can be controlled for a perfect experiment.” I am making the mistake of expressing too many ideas at once: a decrease in credibility, acknowledgement of an imperfect experiment, and uncontrolled variables. Instead of what I had previously, I could have broken up the sentences into two: “These questions can quickly turn heads and lower the report’s credibility, but it must be considered that the experiment is not perfect. Thus, not all variables can be controlled for a perfect experiment.” This reduces the lengthy sentence yet convey the same point. Completing the lab report analysis has definitely helped me enhance my research and writing skills. I learned the different components of a lab report and their effectiveness by utilizing my resources like my textbook and articles from my lab. Writing drafts and revising my paper taught me the importance of looking back at my work to improve my writing. These two lessons have ultimately enhanced my skills as a writer and my knowledge of scientific writing.
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. Completing the technical description would not have been possible if I did not research different sources for my paper. If I were to not use the internet for finding sources, then I would not have been able to learn and explain the history of the retractable pen, describe the pen’s function and structure, and compose a glossary. Writing the technical description taught me to acknowledge accessible sources needed to supply for my writing, and use different websites like dictionary.com and popularmechanics.com for definitions and research. My paper focused primarily on shortening lengthy sentences in order to help my readers understand the structure of the pen and its retractable mechanism. 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. In my technical description, I originally wrote: “The [Lower Barrel] is also there to prevent the spring from moving when the spring is compressed after the force is applied to the top of the pen.” I quickly changed this to: “The [Lower Barrel] is also there to hold the spring in place when the spring is compressed when the top of the pen is clicked.” This way, I am able to effectively describe the retractable pen without too many words to confuse my audience. Again, like my experience with writing the lab report analysis, I appreciated the revision and editing of my writing by rereading my sentences. Similar to the lab report analysis, the technical description had a purpose of informing the reader, but in a more descriptive manner. I achieved this by including a multi-step process of the retractable mechanism, and clear captions like “A diagram of the Pilot G-2 fully disassembled and its parts labelled” for my diagrams. Performing this task helps me effectively explain the engineering behind the retractable pen’s mechanisms and describe the pictures provided.
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 because we had to both construct and advertise an idea or innovation to the class in a professional manner. Unlike the analysis and description, the proposal was a team-based project 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. Compared to the purpose, introduction, and possible proposals sections, the technical description was more verbose. The purpose states: “The purpose of our project is to revolutionize the traditional wheelchair in order to make it more accessible and easier to maneuver.” The introduction has “…we propose a wheelchair in which the wheels and gears mimic that of a bicycle so that essentially, the wheelchair would be easier to push and maneuver.” The “Purpose” and “Introduction” only briefly explain the mechanism behind the wheelchair and provides minimum background in formation of the innovation. The technical description, on the other hand, includes a section for the structure of the wheel chair and a section for how the specialized gear in the wheelchair functions. The “Possible Proposals” was also very different from the description. Although both sections required research, the possible proposal focuses on the specifications of other wheelchair models like the costs and their drawbacks. We mentioned that the costs for electrical wheelchairs “range from $3,000-$30,000,” and that racing wheelchairs were “Unsafe, compact, and uncomfortable.” This demonstrates the purpose of the “Possible Proposals”: to rebuttal other existing ideas and models. On the other hand, the purpose of the technical description is to inform its audience of the wheelchair by using descriptive words and diagrams. 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. This tackles the course objective of “negotiating writing goals and audience expectations regarding conventions of genre, medium, and rhetorical situation.” Because presentations focuses on the speaker, there should not be too many words on the slides. Instead, those lengthy sentences and words should be spoken by the presenter, and the main points should be put in bullet points on the slides. Some of the slides’ bullet points include “Lower Costs, Stronger Frame, and Accessible Navigation” for the section labelled “Our Goals.” By reducing the number of words on the slide, we were able to explain in depth about our product while keeping the main ideas on the slide for the audience to see. Striking this balance of less words and more speaking allows the audience to not be distracted and keep them engaged. 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 incorporated 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 group work because there were more requirements to satisfy than the previous papers in addition to creating a presentation. 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 utilizing available resources and expanding my explanations; the technical description taught me to use diagrams for my explanations and maintain conciseness; and finally, the proposal demonstrated to me the importance of persuasion and presentations, especially in the workplace. I still have a long way from becoming a decent writer in the scientific world, but encompassing the lessons from this class will definitely take me one step closer to my goal.