Description of Writing Lessons
This summer, I am posting online lessons from my professional short course on scientific writing. Typically taught one day on the campus of a company, laboratory, or university, my scientific writing course is designed to help engineers and scientists make their reports, papers, proposals, and emails more informative and persuasive. One feature that distinguishes this course are the professional examples examined. Carefully chosen, these examples provide insights into what separates scientific writing that succeeds from scientific writing that does not.
Another feature that distinguishes this course is how well vetted it is. In the past thirty years, I have taught this short course to thousands of engineers and scientists at more than 100 institutions. Sites include Simula Research Laboratory in Norway, Pratt & Whitney, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, Pennsylvania State University, Virginia Tech, Areva Nuclear Power, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. While most universities and laboratories have preferred a focus on research writing, most companies have preferred a focus on project writing. This online version of the course accommodates both preferences.
The purpose of these online lessons is not to supplant other courses on scientific writing (or technical writing). On the contrary, the purpose is to strengthen other such courses. In fact, many instructors assign specific lessons to their students. Also, although many talented instructors are working hard to teach writing to engineers and scientists, scientific writing is much too challenging to be mastered in a single course. One reason is the inherent complexity of scientific content. Another reason is the widely varying degrees of audience knowledge about that content.
For professionals and graduate students who have not taken my scientific writing course, these online lessons provide you with many insights about the writing that you do. Such insights are valuable not only for your own drafts and revisions but also for your reviews of documents written by others. For students in design and laboratory courses that require reports and papers, these lessons address many writing questions that the instructors do have time in class to address. For the thousands of engineers and scientists who have taken my professional course, these online lessons serves as a refresher. Those of you who took the course some time ago will note many changes in the lessons. In essence, those changes arose from your questions, comments, and suggestions. Over the past thirty years, you and other participants have honed these lessons, enriched them, and made them more precise.
Introduction to Writing Lessons
As an engineer or scientist, when you sit down to write a report, proposal, or research paper, you make hundreds of decisions. Some decisions such as what details to emphasize have large effects on the document's success. Other decisions such as whether to insert a comma have relatively small effects. These writing lessons certainly address the decisions with large effects. However, these writing lessons also discuss decisions with small effects when such decisions occur frequently. Simply put, I have created a set of lessons that I would have wanted when starting my own career in engineering and science.
Introduction to Course: My first experience writing a scientific document.
Contents of Writing Lessons
The lessons given below contain short instructional films followed by exercises (note that all lessons should be posted by September 2019). As ordered, the lessons move from analyzing your constraints (Lesson 1) to writing at the sentence level (Lesson 2). To see the big picture, you might prefer to view Lesson 7 after Lesson 1 and then proceed back to Lesson 2. Also, to refresh yourself with important writing terms such as subject, dependent clause, and infinitive phrase, you might want to review the essence of grammar in Appendix A before starting Lessons 4 and 5.
Lesson 1: Analyzing your audience, purpose, and occasion.
Lesson 2: Being precise and clear
Lesson 3: Avoiding ambiguity
Lesson 4: Sustaining energy
Lesson 5: Connecting your ideas
Lesson 6: Beginning with the familiar (sections, illustrations, definitions)
Lesson 7: Organizing research papers and technical reports
Lesson 8: Providing proper emphasis
Lesson 9: Writing emails, instructions, and proposals
Lesson 10: Actually sitting down to write
Appendix A: Essence of grammar
Appendix B: Essence of punctuation
Appendix C: Avoiding the major errors of usage
Appendix D: Choosing a professional format