New Histories of Writing IV:
Forms and Rhetorics
Case Western Reserve University
and Engineering: The "Ironic" Re-emergence of Classical Aristotelian
Rhetorical Conventions in the Present Day Engineering Classroom
While discussing Brainerd Kellogg's 1880 publication A Text-Book on Rhetoric, a work used for several decades at the high school and college level, S. Michael Halloran notes that there is "no sense that the subject is intellectually challenging or socially important" (175). As early as the middle of the 19th century, courses studying rhetoric were beginning to slip from college curricula and the prevailing attitudes reflected by Kellogg and others did not help. The Industrial Revolution was in part to blame as blossoming corporations began to put pressure on schools regarding the specialized skill-sets required of their employees. A notion of "professionalism" was born. Students were going to school to get an education in a particular field of study often dictated by industry. Not surprisingly, what was the instruction of classical rhetoric began to take on a system of values influenced by professionalism. Halloran explains:
The ethos of professionalism is reflected also in the common organizational scheme for current-traditional textbooks: from words, to sentences, to paragraphs, and finally to the whole discourse. The underlying metaphor is of the discourse as something constructed from parts, much as a machine is assembled from its parts, or as science in the Baconian inductive mode assembles discrete observations into general principles (168-9).
way writing does take on a mechanistic quality. It became a vehicle with
which to transport information for consumption. The element of "passion"
and the idea of "persuasion" were being forced out. The crowding
came from the presence of new classes required of the growing fields of
study such as engineering and the sciences. But, while rhetoric and composition
were certainly losing the battle for competing number of classes, the
alternate courses "bore ironic traces of the rhetorical tradition
they were displacing" (Halloran 178). This project examines how new
"ironic traces" of the rhetorical tradition are cropping up
in contemporary coursework, specifically in the field of engineering.
The research draws heavily from personal experience and the responsibility
of directing the professional and technical writing program at Case Western
Edward P. J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors assert, "modern students are not likely to have received much formal training in the art of persuasion" (16). While stereotypes regarding the poor communication skills of engineers in the workplace are certainly prevalent, this comment may prove to be changing from within the curriculum. Reviewing engineering programs offered by competing institutions such as Case Western Reserve University, Carnegie Mellon, University of Rochester and MIT elucidates this point. All of the programs require a version of freshman writing, English or composition. Beyond this common component, the approaches to instilling writing and communication skills do not vary a great deal. Most of the programs look to the humanities. MIT states in its description of their "Communication Requirement" that the "subjects are intended to provide you with a foundation in effective expository writing and speaking" (MIT). These subjects have been determined to be "either writing classes or classes in the humanities, arts, and social sciences in which students plan, organize, draft, and revise a series of sequenced assignments based on course material." Similarly, Carnegie Mellon requires that a "sequence of humanities, social science or fine arts courses which provides depth in a specific area must be completed" (CMU). At the core of Rochester's engineering mission statement is the idea that the university will "provide students with the opportunities to partake in research projects that require both the application of skills learned in the classroom and effective communication of the results of these efforts" (UR). The goals of these programs appear to stand in opposition to the assertion by Corbett and Connors as well as the general stereotype surrounding an engineer's communication skills.
But, critics of these programs assert that the schools are still not doing enough in the way of educating in the art of communication and that they are merely paying lip-service to accreditation agencies. Indeed, most engineering programs are quick to mention their compliance with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). This agency has been in existence for over 70 years but recently revised their strategic plan in 2002. ABET's most current document on accreditation, "Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs: Effective for Evaluations During the 2003-2004 Accreditation Cycle" states that graduating students must possess "an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility" and "an ability to communicate effectively" (ABET).
Universities are no doubt feeling pressure from the engineering industry too. Companies are demanding more from their employees, and during economic downturns and tight job markets, they can afford to be selective. During a recent interview, C. Richard Hullihen, former Vice President at Marconi Medical Systems and Timothy Kulbago, Chief Technology Officer at RIS Logic Inc., discussed their criteria for hiring their engineering teams. According to Hullihen, he has a "three category system." The first portion is what he terms the "Can Do" portion or the candidate's known or proven technical skill-sets. The next is "Will Do" or what the candidate has accomplished with these skills in the past and therefore what they "will do" for his company in the future if hired. Both growth potential and candidate weaknesses are determined in this category. The third section Hullihen loosely refers to as "Fit" but Kulbago adds, "this is where the ability to communicate really comes into play." Both men explain that in order for an engineering team to function within any company the team members must be able to convey their ideas to not only other engineers but also other divisions such as sales and marketing. Quite simply, how can someone sell or market a product that they do not understand? Both men stress the notion that although "Fit" is the third category it is no less important than the first two and that they will not extend a job offer without it.
Case Western Reserve University's next accreditation review will occur in 2006 -2007 and this year they will graduate nearly 350 engineers. Under pressure to both meet the expectations for accreditation and successfully place their graduates, the engineering and English departments have formed a partnership. The English department teaches an upper-level course titled "Professional and Technical Communications for Engineers." The course is a requirement for all engineering students in addition to their first year writing class. An oversight committee consisting of faculty from both departments was formed to decide the curriculum, the text and the general pedagogical approach to the course. An examination of some of the texts that were considered for the class as well as course instruction, begin to bring to light Halloran's "traces" of rhetoric.
The text currently used for the course is Paul V. Anderson's Technical Communication: A Reader Centered Approach. As the title suggests, audience analysis and understanding the audience are at the forefront of the course's agenda. For every assignment, students are required to complete a "Quick Planning Sheet" in order to define their objectives and strategize about their writing. It is important to note that this strategizing is relevant to all of the communications in this course including written, spoken and digital communications. The sheet has six categories: readers, situation, goals, document path, uncertainties, and strategies. Students compile data on the audience including who the people are that it consists of, their knowledge of the subject matter as well as what they may desire from the communication. Anderson clarifies the role of this first category by stating, "when you construct your mental portrait of your readers, you should incorporate those characteristics of your particular readers that will influence the way they respond to your communication" (61). Determining their familiarity with the subject matter allows the communicator the liberty of using technical terminology and assuming a certain understanding of field-specific concepts or requires him/her to develop and explain topic fundamentals. Simply stated, audience analysis is a foothold for establishing credibility and fundamental to producing a persuasive piece. This, of course, is not a new tactic. In book two of his On Rhetoric, Aristotle recognizes the importance of gaining the trust of his "hearers." He states, "for it makes much difference in regard to persuasion (especially in deliberations but also in trials) that the speaker seem to be a certain kind of person and that his hearers suppose him to be disposed toward them in a certain way and in addition if they, too, happen to be disposed in a certain way" (120).
Before continuing to the situation category it is important to note that all of these categories are recursive in nature. That is, the development of situation or strategies may include a "call back" to the audience category. Indeed, it is impossible to discuss situation without understanding the role audience plays in a particular situation. This relationship is by design and the development and re-development of the content of the categories creates a more robust analysis.
So, while the notion of rhetorical exigency has not found its way into this classroom, understanding the situation in which the students are communicating strives to take its place. Students are asked to determine the context in which the audience will receive the communication, analyze relevant history that may impact the reception, understand any current events that could alter it and determine the degree to which the "hearers" are heterogeneous. Engineers, or any other communicator for that matter, may not have the luxury of assuming a homogeneous audience. Contemporary rhetoricians, such as Loyd F. Bitzer, identify the rhetorical situation as carrying great significance because it "contains a set of constraints made up of persons, events, objects, and relations which are parts of the situation because they have the power to constrain decision and action needed to modify the exigence" (305). While Aristotle is perhaps not as succinct in his treatment of the repercussions for not addressing the rhetorical situation he does provide tactics for addressing heterogeneous audiences. Chapters 12 through 17 of book two in On Rhetoric breaks down what Aristotle has determined to be dominant character types of potential audiences. Granted, chapters such as "The Character of Those in the Prime of Life" and "The Effect on Character of Good Birth" are gross generalizations but Aristotle's methodology of dissecting the make-up of his audience still serves the contemporary student.
Once audience and situation are under development, students begin refining the goals and objectives of their persuasive argument. Anderson instructs students stating, "your goal will be to bring about change. You will be endeavoring to transform some aspect of the current situation - the way things are now - into a more desirable state" (57). His book provides a simplified diagram of the ideal communication:
Other texts reviewed for this course such as John M. Lannon's Technical Communication include sections such as "Identify Your Specific Goals." Lannon advises:
Arguments can differ considerably in what they ask people to do. Your goal might be to (a) influence people's opinions, (b) seek their support, (c) propose some type of action, or (d) alter their behavior. In each instance, persuasion asks people to try something new or different - to accept some type of change requiring some level of personal involvement (41).
are encouraged to begin with generalized conceptions of their goal state.
For example, a software engineer may identify his/her goal state as the
implementation of a proposed software upgrade. Breaking down this overarching
goal yields the underlying goal states that must be reached for the communication
to be a success. For instance, the need to influence the opinion of the
information technology staff so that their view of the proposed software
is positive needs to be considered. Once their perception is positive
another goal should be obtaining the staff's support for the project.
While Lannon did not specifically say so in the included section, it must
be noted that the desired goal state may represent a state where no change
occurs. That is, the communication might endeavor to preserve the existing
system. But regardless of the identified goals, these desired states directly
effect what is said in the communication. The software upgrade example
shows that if the information technology department's opinion must be
swayed then the accolades of the product must be researched and presented.
Persuasive elements of these arguments might include testimony from other
companies that have successfully upgraded their software or other unbiased
reviews. This discovery of arguments is directly tied to the first canon
of rhetoric or inventio. The process of and the ability to "find
something to say on a given subject" according to Corbet and Connors,
"is the crucial problem for most writers" (19).
The communication path asks the students to speculate on readership beyond their known audience. This requires them to envision the present uses of their forming communication and its potential future uses. Again, due to the recursive nature of these categories, audience must be re-thought and developed further. This information can have a large impact on invention often altering or adding to the writer's argument. In their introduction to Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries, William A. Covino and David A. Jolliffe offer terminology for this dilemma such as "primary" and "subsidiary" audiences as well as "immediate" and "mediated" audiences (12). While these terms can be useful for discussion, the document path asks students to actually trace potential routes the communication could take and analyze readers along the way. For instance, many engineering design documents, reports, and proposals will be maintained by companies for future consultation. Students should get in the habit of asking themselves questions like, "If my design documents are consulted for legal purposes will they adequately convey my ideas?" They should also entertain the possibility of unexpected or extended audiences with question such as, "If my proposal is read or heard by upper-level management will it exude the appropriate degree of professionalism as well as speak to their level of expertise?" In an academic setting, the students' communications rarely go beyond the professor who prepared the assignment. Mike Markel, in his text also titled Technical Communication, warns that in "the working world, however, you probably won't have explicit guidelines, and you will often write to people you have never met" (93). Indeed, in large corporations engineers will prepare proposals for senior management and decision makers that they may never meet in person. Likewise, the lawyers that may need to reference engineering design documents for patent or copyright purposes may never meet the engineer who composed them.
All of the categories discussed thus far can and most likely do contribute to the uncertainties categories. The purpose is for students to compile a list of unknown data and then systematically plan for those uncertainties. Referencing again the software upgrade example, students may have identified the company's chief financial officer as an audience member but his/her level of familiarity with the proposed software may not be determined. As noted the information technology staff will certainly be reviewing the communication but any history these audience members have with the product cannot always be known. Do they have colleagues in another company that have had a negative experience with the software? Have they had a negative experience with another product that the producer of the software you are proposing makes? Students are encouraged to consider as many possibilities they can and decide which questions require plans and strategies.
"Strategies," Corbet and Connors claim, "is a good rhetorical word, because it implies the choice of available resources to achieve an end. It is no accident that the word strategy has military associations, for this word has its roots in the Greek word for army" (2). Aristotle reminds that "all people are persuaded by what is advantageous" and Anderson adds that what is motivating to the audience may not be what motivates the speaker (75). Strategizing in regards to how to appeal to an audience is ideally made easier with the use of the planning sheet but clearly is still a complicated task. These appeals to the audience are what Aristotle called pisteis. The term has "no precise English equivalent" but can be roughly understood as the "means of persuasion" (Covino & Jolliffe 15). Under the first canon of inventio mentioned earlier, the speaker could make use of two types of arguments or means of persuasion. The first was classified as a system of "non-artistic proofs" which the speaker "did not have to invent" (Covino & Jolliffe 18). Alternately, the second mode of persuasion was dubbed "artistic" and was comprised of rational, emotional and ethical appeals or logos, pathos and ethos. Those readers familiar with Aristotle's system of logos, pathos and ethos can no doubt begin to see how these three appeals are embedded in the six categories of the engineering planning sheet. Anderson, Lannon and Markel all make wide use of the artistic proofs.
Anderson's chapter on "Planning Your Persuasive Strategy" instructs students on how to bolster claims with rational appeals. However, the text does not pursue logical or rhetorical terminology. For instance, the differences between deductive and inductive reasoning are not explored and terms such as syllogism and enthymeme are not introduced. Instead, Anderson focuses simply on the importance of being able to display empirical data and examples as rational proof. Lannon and Markel follow suit with the omission of any such terminology and concur for an emphasis on data and example simply stating "numbers can be highly convincing" (53) and an "example makes as abstract point more concrete" (125). All three authors also caution against underdeveloped and illogical arguments. According to Anderson, the audience will "search aggressively for a weak line of reasoning" and that "they are wary of arguments based on false assumptions" (108). He provides his own example by way of a proposal to computerize a textile mill:
For example, [the audience] may agree that if another textile mill like yours saved money by computerizing, then your mill will probably enjoy the same result; your readers, however, may question the assumption that the other mill is truly like yours. Maybe it makes a different kind of product or employs a different manufacturing process. If you think your readers will suspect that you are making a false assumption, offer whatever evidence or explanation you can to dispel their doubt (108).
example could certainly serve as a segue into a discussion on, say, dialectic,
he never makes that transition.
Nor is the transition made to discuss pathos, but understanding and appealing to an audience's emotional needs is clearly part of the persuasive strategy for both Aristotle and contemporary technical writing texts. While Aristotle may have desired argument to rely solely on reason (an approach very much in-line with the traditional engineering mindset) he recognized that people are "also endowed with the faculty of free will, and often enough their will is swayed more by their passions or their emotions than by their reason" (Covino & Jolliffe 18). Taking emotional needs into account is a necessary strategy for effective communication in the engineering workplace. If, for example, a chemical engineer is going to request the assistance of a colleague on an upcoming research project, he/she has a better chance of receiving the help if their communication begins by recognizing that person's past successes in the field and noting the invaluable nature of their expertise. Likewise, if a boss or manager has to provide criticism of a subordinate's performance, the critique will be better received if it includes both positive and negative evaluative points. Anderson asserts that being sensitive to emotional needs such as "the desire for recognition, good relationships at work, a sense of achievement, personal development, and the enjoyment of work itself" can advance a communication's persuasive potency (102).
The third mode or the ethical appeal could, according to Aristotle, be the most persuasive of the three. Ethos does not correspond to our modern understanding of ethics rather it was intended as an assessment of the character of the communicator. Attributes such as "intelligence, benevolence and probity" are of extreme importance as without them "an orator's skill in convincing the intellect and moving the will of an audience could prove futile" (Covino & Jolliffe 19). Again, all of the engineering communication texts support and discuss the merits of this rhetorical component. Lannon mirrors Aristotle by stating that "[o]ften, the biggest factor in persuasion is an audience's perception of the writer" (45). Anderson included a complete section on tactics for building an effective relationship with the audience and how to appear a credible person. He advises:
If your readers feel well disposed toward you, they are likely to consider your points openly and without bias. If they feel irritated, angry, or otherwise unfriendly toward you, they may immediately raise counterarguments to every point you present, making it extremely unlikely that you will elicit a favorable reaction, even if all of your points are clear, valid and substantiated. Good points rarely win the day in the face of bad feelings (111).
are asked in class to consider the authors of engineering journals they
consult during their own research. In subsequent discussions regarding
the inclusions of the author's educational degrees, their university affiliations
and their past publications, students agree that this information can
add to or take away from the credibility of the presenter. This point
becomes particularly relevant in this course when it comes time for students
to display their own credentials in résumés and cover letters.
The assignments surrounding the creation of these documents require the
same amount of strategizing about persuasive tactics. The employment documents
are generally a struggle for most engineering students. The notion that
an argument must be made regarding their abilities is unnatural and once
again the "truth" surrounding their skills and experience should
This is why many engineering students enter with negative preconceived notions about a course that deals so much with what they initially perceive as manipulative strategizing. Beginning with the planning sheet confirms their suspicions. Students' ideas about arriving at "truth" in their research and then presenting their findings in their writing seem to mirror more Plato's philosophy of "transcendent absolute truth" than Aristotle's probability and dialectic (Bizzell & Herzberg 81). Where does this ideology come from? Halloran would contest that it stems from professionalism's nurturing of a strict adherence to concrete scientific method that had no perceived use for rhetoric and persuasion. "Within the ethos of professionalism, passion would ideally be eliminated altogether, and so persuasion, once the overarching purpose of all rhetoric, became a concession to the weakness of the audience" (Halloran 168). Indeed, many students feel that relying on rhetoric and persuasion to support research is merely a crutch for incomplete research. Worse yet, this stigma surrounding rhetoric can steer students away from embracing its techniques simply because they fear being accused of abusing its power.
These are concerns that must be addressed in the classroom. "It is wrong to warp the jury by leading them into anger or envy or pity: that is the same as if someone made a straightedge rule crooked before using it" (Aristotle 30). The measurement analogy is convenient but Aristotle still will not appear in any of these texts. Yet, ABET clearly requires institutions addressing Aristotle's concern when they state students must graduate with "an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility." Again, all three of the engineering communications texts meet the challenge without the overt use of rhetorical conventions. Almost every chapter of the Anderson text ends with a discussion on ethics or appropriate moral conduct in regards to the materials covered. Topics include ethical communication in a student's résumé, cover letter, persuasive strategies, speeches and presentations, proposals, progress reports and even graphs, charts and visual aids. The crux of Anderson's ethical remarks is "[w]hen you are writing persuasively, respect your readers' right to evaluate your arguments in an informed and independent way. If you mislead your readers by misstating facts, using intentionally ambiguous expressions, or arguing from false premises, you deprive your readers of their rights" (118).
For some students this discussion of rhetoric and the importance of protecting an audience's "rights" may not be enough to display the impact rhetoric can have in the engineering world. While some of the time the texts are restricted to fabricated situations or examples for which the students must prepare their communications, all of the works strive to include factual instances of engineers communicating with both great success and sometimes catastrophic failure. In Lannon's chapter titled "Weighing the Ethical Issues" he candidly discusses NASA's decision to launch the space shuttle Challenger. On the evening before the shuttle was scheduled to launch the company that produces the rocket boosters for NASA, Morton Thiokol, faxed NASA officials a recommendation to abort the launch. Although this was the first time in twelve years that the company had formally made such a recommendation NASA is documented as having been "appalled" (Lannon 72). Thiokol's recommendation came in the form of a faxed presentation which contained charts and diagrams in support of their claim. Thiokol engineers asserted that the forecasted weather with its projected low temperatures would cause the seals around the boosters to fail potentially causing a massive explosion. Unfortunately, the graphical representation of the data failed to create a cause and effect relationship between temperature and seal failure (Tufte 24). Later investigation would reveal that both NASA and Morton Thiokol engineers were under pressure from their respective managements to authorize the launch. This multi-faceted catastrophe serves as a powerful backdrop for the difficult situations in which engineers may find themselves and how effective communication could have come to their aid.
What is perhaps more surprising than how well these texts make use of Aristotle's ethical guidelines as well as logos, pathos and ethos is their representation to some degree of all five canons of rhetoric. Inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria and pronuntiatio all come through in these texts. Similarly to logos, pathos and ethos, these rhetorical conventions show just how much they intersect and inform each other in the engineering arena. That is, if they were still overtly in use. It is important to consider that while Halloran pinpoints the Industrial Revolution and professionalism as key factors in the demise of rhetoric, other scholars trace at least the beginnings of it disappearance to start hundreds of years earlier. Chaim Perelman in his The Realm of Rhetoric accuses Petrus Ramus and then René Descartes of consolidating the five canons. It was Ramus who "attributed to dialectic the study of every kind of reasoning, analytical as well as dialectical, and thus reduced rhetoric to elocution, the search for forms of expression that were out of the ordinary, for ornamentation" (1380). Descartes was equally culpable. According to Perelman he actually "went even further in his desire to eliminate all rhetoric from his philosophy. His idea of a philosophy more geometrico was to build a system which, moving from one self-evidence to another, would leave no room for any disputable opinion" (1380). In her recent book, Electric Rhetoric, Kathleen Welch summarizes Perelman's assessment stating that it is from Ramus that the "long journey of rhetoric as attenuated style or language decoration gathered great power that continues today" (150). And yet Anderson, Lannon and Markel all use and it will be argued even need all five canons for their texts to succeed.
As already noted, inventio refers to the process of locating arguments. When students are asked to locate an argument in the Challenger example they generally begin by stating that the shuttle should not launch due to the cold weather. Of course this is true but inventio is the process of uncovering all of the necessary arguments that must be made to reach the desired result. Why will the rocket boosters explode? It is because the seals will fail. Is there a direct correlation between temperature and seal failure? Yes, but an argument will need to be made to show why. Eventually this questioning process reveals the substantive arguments necessary to build a case against the launch.
Inventio can often yield a complicated network of ideas and proposed arguments but not any structure. The second canon, dispositio, deals with arrangement and organization. "Once the ideas or arguments are discovered there remains the problem of selecting, marshalling, and organizing them with a view to effecting the end of discourse" (Corbett and Connors 20). This process also gets a great deal of attention throughout the engineering texts. Anderson has developed what he terms "superstructures" for all of the documents proposed in his text including oral presentations. For example, the Challenger presentation could be organized into categories such as criteria, method, alternatives, evaluation and recommendation. Even seemingly lesser communication tasks have recommended formats. For instance, a progress report submitted to a manager could contain information organized via an introduction, sections on past and future work, as well as conclusions and recommendations. All of these sections are tied to questions that engineers will have to answer or argue. "Is your work progressing as planned?", "What progress do you expect?" and "How do things stand overall?" are questions built into this superstructure (524). Anderson generally capitalizes on the opportunity to discuss how a communication such as a progress report is rhetorical in the first place. (The texts do not use the term "rhetorical" rather they will refer to the persuasive component of the communication or instruct on how to build a strong argument with it.)
The third canon elocutio or style is difficult to define but generally deals with the selection of words and how they are arranged or presented for a given situation. Focuses include but are not limited to tone, clarity, ornamentation and the use of jargon. Anderson begins his section on "Creating Your Voice" with these remarks:
While reading something you've written, your readers "hear" your voice - and, based on what they hear, they draw conclusions about you and your attitudes. These conclusions can affect the persuasiveness of your communications. Consequently, the ability to craft and control your voice is an area of expertise that is essential to your success (240).
The engineering texts ask various questions of the communicator to assist them in selecting the appropriate style. "How formal do my readers think my writing should be?" "How subjective or objective do my readers believe my writing should be?" "How much 'distance' do my readers expect me to establish between them and me?" All of these ideas can, of course, be found in classical rhetoric. Selecting from the low, middle, or high style (attentuata, mediocris and gravis) was Quintilian's method for approaching a speech. Each category had it own purpose attached to it. The low style was generally for "instructing," the middle for "moving" and the high for "charming" (Corbett and Connors 21). With what has become typical of the engineering texts, Anderson, Markel and Lannon omit the rhetorical theory and terminology and move straight to application.
The fourth canon, memoria, which deals with the memorization of speeches, has traditionally received the least treatment in works on rhetoric. Other than a brief introduction, Corbett and Connor decided that there would be "no consideration in [their] book of this aspect of rhetoric" (22). While the engineering communications texts give less attention to memorization, they all address the subject. The consensus is that approaching oral presentations with the decision to commit all of the content to memory is not productive and potentially detrimental to persuasion. When trying to present complex data a "small slip in phrasing could be embarrassing or damaging" (Anderson 405). Markel points out that even "trained actors" struggle with the task.
Most of what is discussed in regards to memory is actually in relation to the fifth canon of rhetoric termed delivery or pronuntiatio. While the communications planning sheet discussed earlier is used for strategizing oral presentation, Anderson, Lannon and Markel all devote at least a chapter to the art of delivery. As an alternative to memorization, the texts propose "scripted," "outlined" or "impromptu" talks based on the situation the students may find themselves in. Anderson covers a wide range of presentation considerations including the need to make eye contact, combating nervousness, the need for rehearsal, the importance of voice projection and the dynamics of presenting as a group (412-7). In fact, all of the communications discussed in the texts can be thought of in terms of delivery. That is, a project manager can ask for an impromptu progress report in an elevator or a manager could ask to hear about the recommendations from a project proposal. Ultimately, the books try and impress the idea that presentation and the need for a solid delivery could occur at any time.
The "traces" that Halloran has observed appear to be quite pervasive in these texts. So what are the potential problems with the different systems these universities are proposing? Where is the disconnection or does a disconnection occur in the attempt to teach effective communication skills to engineers? To begin, the programs average 130 hours of coursework for undergraduates and anywhere from 6 to 12 hours of that time is required in composition and professional communications. All of the programs allow students to test out of their freshman writing obligation via Advanced Placement credit from high school. While CWRU's decision to make students wait until their junior year to enroll in their professional communications class is a sound one, it is possible for a student with Advanced Placement credit to have gone without formal writing instruction since high school. The obligation to the core curriculum requirements of their engineering disciplines is simply too great.
Also, the contexts in which the courses are set should be called into question. When a student of engineering enrolls in an English class, attends the class at the English department and has new multi-disciplinary peers, they are distanced from their engineering environment. While this is certainly healthy from the standpoint that students are exposed to alternate ways of thinking and communicating it becomes the responsibility of the student to take what they have learned from the humanities and effectively apply it to their field. The situations that engineering students may be "writing into" in their humanities courses do not necessarily reflect any real-world engineering dilemmas. Keeping a student's writing and communication education separate from their engineering studies can unfortunately serve to uphold the disconnection between rhetoric and engineering.
While CWRU's course effectively brings the two together, it faces its own set of hurdles. It wants to bypass the theory that provides the foundation for the course's ideology and skip right to application. The class will begin to function analogously to a "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" or "WYSIWYG" software package. Take, for instance, any of the HTML editors that are currently on the market such as Macromedia's Dreamweaver, Adobe's GoLive or Microsoft's FrontPage. All of these applications offer a graphic user interface which allows users to author HTML and write relatively complicated code without knowing anything about mark-up language or scripts. Software engineers are critical of such applications as they are notorious for producing inefficient code that does not comply with many industry standards but nevertheless will run. Advocates for rhetoric will have a similar "purist" response to CWRU's engineering course. The class will potentially produce graduates who do not possess an understanding of what it is that brings potency to their communication. Once this becomes transparent, the course moves from being perceived as part of the engineering core curriculum, that is, something imperative to an engineer's education, to a mere service course. Communications for engineers, perhaps more specifically rhetoric for engineers, has a small foothold in the university curriculum but remains in constant danger of falling back into obsolescence.
Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Official web site.
Anderson, Paul V. Technical Communication: A Reader Centered Approach. Boston: Heinle, 1997.
Aristotle. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. (G. A. Kennedy, Trans.) New York: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Bitzer, L. F. "The Rhetorical Situation." In William A. Covino and David A Jolliffe (Eds.) Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries. (pp. 300-310). Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995.
Bizzell, P. and Herzberg, B. (Eds.), The Rhetorical Tradition: Reading from Classical Times to the Present (2nd ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.
Mellon University (CMU). The official web site of undergraduate engineering.
Covino, William A. and David A. Jolliffe (Eds.) Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995.
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Hullihen, C. Richard. and Timothy Kulbago. Phone Interview. April, 2003.
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Markel, Mike. Technical Communication. (7th Ed.) Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.
Institute of Technology (MIT). Engineering writing requirement web site.
The University of Rochester (UR). Official web site for undergraduate engineering.
Perelman, Chaim. The Realm of Rhetoric. In P. Bizzell & B. Herzberg (Eds.), The Rhetorical Tradition: Reading from Classical Times to the Present (2nd ed., pp. 1379-1383). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.
Tufte, Edward. Visual and Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Making Decisions. London, UK: Graphics Press, 1997.
Welch, Kathleen. Electric Rhetoric: Classical Rhetoric, Oralism, and a New Literacy. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.