Date: Wed, 23 Mar 2011 16:46:52 -0400
Reply-To: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: ILPI <info**At_Symbol_Here**ILPI.COM>
Subject: Re: Technical Writing
Indeed, Ernest, this is
the heart of the matter. First, a few
1. When I was at a top
10 research university, I glanced through a copy of a graduate student's
research writeup that he/she submitted for their "A exam" (what you
submit after 2 years to be allowed to go on and finish your PhD in
chemistry. It wasn't even written in complete sentences.
This is a person who was happy to let everyone know that he/she
was a member of Mensa, and he/she brushed away this shortcoming with "I
don't think in complete sentences". I don't believe the thesis
committee was impressed with this
2. When I was a professor at a top
50 research university, many of the seniors in my inorganic lab class
began with atrocious notebook skills, but even more horrendous writing
skills. I was probably their first and last chemistry professor
who would go through and cover their reports in the red ink that they
deserved. I required all of their 8 lab reports to be in full JACS
style, and probably spent 30-45 minutes going over each one AFTER a TA
had made a first pass. They cursed me at the time for the workload
I placed on them, but many of them later ended up thanking me for making
them work so hard and helping to engrain the scientific communication
skills they previously lacked. Setting the bar
high and demanding performance is what effective teaching is about.
But at many schools the emphasis on faculty research may not
permit such intense mentoring.
3. I sat on a
PhD defense in which the student couldn't even explain one of the words
in the title of his/her thesis. Nonetheless, the student passed.
I sat on another department's A exam as an outside examiner....the
student's entire thesis revolved around electronic calculations on a
particular element, and the student (after two years of work) could not
even tell us how many valence electrons that element had, couldn't even
explain basic electronic principles etc. We had to fail him/her,
but two weeks later, his/her research adviser decided he/she was ready
to redefend, and passed the student.
4. I was
invited to give a research talk at Mobil (which was just plain Mobil
back then), and at the dinner afterwards I was sitting with a bunch of
industrial chemists. One of them was lamenting to the others that
they had hired two people from University X, and would "never hire
anyone out of University X again" because of the completely incompetent
notebook skills of those two hires. When I told them what I
required of my students, they said "thank you, thank you, thank
you...send some of your students to us!"
point 4 is where it's at. Schools need to learn is that every time
they shove an unprepared/incompetent student out the door with a piece
of paper bearing that school's name, that person will forever be a black
mark against them. And every time they send out a well-prepared
student, it will help with the placement of their future graduates.
Maybe industry needs to make more of an effort to send honest
feedback (positive or negative) to the schools so they get the
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On Mar 23, 2011, at 3:52 PM, Ernest Lippert
I like Jay's solution but an even better one
would result if excellent English and writing skills were
taught in our schools and colleges..
In my field,
our final product is a written report. Some employees struggle
with report writing and never seem to improve. It's a frustrating
loss of time and effort. Has anyone had success at improving
technical writing classes, seminars, or other alternatives? Thanks
for your suggestions.