An Interview-Based Study on Writing Instruction in Engineering Programs

For the fulfillment of Project 3 in EH-603: Editing for Publication, I plan to complete and edit the proposal for my master’s thesis, which will near its completion at the end of the Spring semester of 2018. The thesis will be completed and defended by the end of Fall 2018.

My thesis will examine the current state of engineering student writing skills in modern institutions, focusing specifically on the College of Engineering and its undergraduate programs at the University of Alabama Huntsville. Through interview-based research, I aim to take an inventory of the types of writing assignments engineers at UAH receive and how they would characterize their writing assignments, both in terms of how much they enjoy the assignments and whether they perceive them as practical to their respective careers. The research will be structured in the form of individual oral interviews with students in the Electrical, Computer, Mechanical, Aerospace, and Chemical Engineering programs, a survey of the UAH engineering course catalog, and examination of individual course syllabi. The objective is to gather as much information as possible on any writing-intensive courses and assignments. I will also describe research-grounded solutions to the existing challenges with attempting to integrate writing into engineering curricula and point to areas where more research is needed to address the unanswered questions and problems that persist. Ultimately, I aim to report on the implementation of writing activities in required courses other than freshman composition and suggest avenues for additional research on the value of the writing integration.

My thesis will be structured as a report on a research study, in which I will have chapters dedicated to an introduction, a literature review, the methodology, and one or several chapters on my findings and the discussion of them. The proposal will offer a brief overview of the of writing instruction in engineering programs, the experiences that led to my interest in the problem, and the research questions I aim to answer through my research. The current problem that I will examine is rooted in the fact that engineering instructors often rely too heavily on introductory college writing courses to prepare their students’ for the amount and the varieties of writing each particular discipline demands. Thus, introductory college writing instructors are often faced with the task of integrating strategies and rhetoric specific to various discourse communities in their general composition courses. The difficulty with integrating writing in the disciplines into one writing course is the diversity of disciplines that exist in modern institutions. A freshman level college writing course at UAH might see a rough average of 33% engineering, 18% science, 15% each of business and nursing, and less than 10% humanities students (“Facts and Figures”). The disproportionately high percentage of engineering students is not unusual in most STEM-intensive institutions. Moreover, engineering students do not represent one broad category; each group of engineering students may represent several distinctive concentrations within the principal discipline. At UAH, for example, approximately 30% of engineering students select Mechanical Engineering as their concentration, 20% select Aeronautical, and 14% select Electrical Engineering; the remainder represent an amalgamation of Chemical, Industrial Systems, and Optical Engineering (“Headcount Enrollment”).

While research on the theory behind WAC/WID pedagogy suggests promising results in terms of bridging the gap between the humanities and the sciences, there is still plenty of room for additional research on its practical applications. ABET has taken enormous strides in furthering the value of communication and rhetoric by encouraging STEM programs to integrate more communication skills and collaborative learning environments in their curricula. Kristin Walker, among many other WAC/WID advocates, indicates that “such integration is necessary in order to prepare students to work successfully in a global, diversified workplace” (369). This perspective is not unique to writing instructors, as engineering faculty tends to agree that the cultivation of writing skills is extremely important to tailoring professional engineers (Zhu 34).

Epistemic Theories and the Evolving Structure of Technical Communication

I’m taking the opportunity presented by my final project for EH 603 and using it to expand on some of the idea’s contained in blog post that I made for my personal website and make it suitable for submission to Intercom, the Society for Technical Communication’s magazine. My blog post, Structure and Assumptions in Technical Communications and Philosophy, was written after thinking about a technical writer’s job responsibilities for a previous class’s assignment. It occurred to me that one of the main responsibilities of a technical communications professional is to properly structure information for use by the intended audience. Contemplating how to properly structure information brought to my mind some epistemological theories I studied while completing my undergraduate degree in philosophy. For those that don’t know, epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and justification of knowledge. I will focus on how epistemological theories about the structure of knowledge can be applied to structuring user guides and manuals. I think that linear structured user guides can be analogous to a foundationalist theory of justification and coherence theory can be analogous to the modern online help experience without a linear construction.

In the original blog post I also discussed using a philosophic understanding of assumptions to better understand the audiences for technical writing. I’m going to drop this part to focus exclusively on structure because I’d rather not try to split my attention between what I feel could be two separate articles. I think that this could wind up shortchanging each topic and wind up with an article that doesn’t cover structure or assumptions in as much depth as I would like.

In order to rewrite and expand my original blog post into a format suitable for Intercom I read a number of Intercom articles and examined the author guidelines page. My original post was only around 600 words and according to the guidelines page my target length should be around 2000 words. The longer length will require more depth when discussing epistemological theories. I will also need to be cognizant that my intended audience consists of technical communications professionals, so philosophical jargon and terminology will need to be avoided.

Exploring the analogy between the structures of knowledge and user help will require citing some sources to fully expand upon the epistemological theories. I believe that the most difficult part will be accurately summarizing the epistemic theories in order to use them as a lens to better understand structuring information as a technical communicator. I want to use publicly available sources for the article so that the reader can view anything I cite without worrying about finding access to sources that are behind a paywall. I will use the Stanford’s online dictionary of philosophy for general reference. I’ll be referencing to Ernest Sosa’s paper “The Raft and the Pyramid: Coherence Versus Foundations in the Theory of Knowledge” which is publicly available online. If I require more sources I will make sure that the they can be accessed easily by the public by finding them through use of the google scholar function.

I hope to use this article to show how philosophical theories can be used to better understand other subjects such as technical communication. In this way the article can function as an example of how philosophy can be used practically. I hope to combat the popular misconception of philosophy as esoteric and practically useless. I think that philosophy can function as a strong base for those looking to enter into technical communication field.   

-Christopher Matthys

Works Cited

“Author Guidelines.” Intercom, https://www.stc.org/intercom/author-guidelines/ Accesed 1 April 2018

Matthys, Christopher. “Structure and Assumptions in Technical Communications and Philosophy.” 22 October 2017, https://www.variousinterests.net/blog/2017/10/20/75qgzve7klenw4t4jwjmat2iqerzc7

 Zalta, Edward N. ed. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/index.html

Freelance Technical Editing Rates and Information

The following information was obtained through research for my EH 603 Technical Editing class; my professor suggested sharing it on the blog, so here it is!

Because of the global nature of business these days and the ability of editors to work remotely, it was difficult to find prices for freelance editors specifically for the Huntsville area. I did find a website (Editorial Freelancers Association, 2015) that listed a range of prices for various freelance editing jobs. The rates for a basic copyediting job ranged from $30-$40 per hour at an estimated pace of 5-10 manuscript pages per hour to $40-$60 per hour for substantive or line editing at a pace of 1-6 manuscript pages per hour.

According to Miranda Marquit in her blog (n.d.), beginning editors can charge around $20 per hour, experienced content editors can charge $50-$85 per hour, and experienced proofreaders can charge $25-$35 per hour.

Besides the copyediting jobs we have talked about in class this semester, some of the other roles and jobs that freelance editors perform, according to Allena Tapia (2016), include acquisitions editor, coordinating editor, developmental editor, fact checker, globalization/translations editor, and integrity editor. Some of these jobs are specific functions that fall within the overall umbrella of comprehensive editing. A brief description is given below:

* An acquisitions editor is responsible for accepting, rejecting, and finding manuscripts for publication within a specific publishing house. This type of editing is typically not a freelance job, since an in-depth knowledge of the publishing house is required.

* A coordinating editor is responsible for overseeing all the areas a manuscript may have to go through, such as writing, graphics, and proofreading. The coordinating editor makes sure all the tasks are accomplished and, as the job title implies, coordinates with each area to know what stage the manuscript is in at all stages of its production.

* A developmental editor is someone who improves upon the manuscript somehow; perhaps further developing the plot, structure or theme. A developmental editor is also referred to sometimes as a comprehensive editor, a term we are all familiar with.

* A fact checker is exactly what the title says: someone who checks facts in a manuscript. This can be done online, at a library, or through phone calls or interviews.

* A globalization/translation editor is another area we touched upon in our class this semester. This is someone who prepares a manuscript for a specific audience, such as another country or culture, and must have a knowledge of the customs of that audience and ensure the manuscript reflects this appropriately.

* An integrity editor is simply someone who ensures that all references and cross-references are correct within a manuscript.

As you can see, freelance editing encompasses a wide range of jobs with a wide range of prices. Freelancing allows editors to be their own bosses, but they typically do not have the benefits, such as medical insurance and paid vacation, that company employees have.

 

Marquit, M. (n.d.). How Should You Charge for Freelance Editing? [Web log comment]. Retrieved from https://mirandamarquit.com/how-should-you-charge-for-freelance-editing

Editorial Freelancers Association. (July 2015). Editorial Rates. Retrieved from http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php

Tapia, A. (October 2016). 21 Freelance Editing Jobs: Work as a Freelance Editor. Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/freelance-editing-jobs-1360401

EH 603 Project 3: A Beginner’s Guide to PC Twitch Streaming

Project Background

For my final project in EH 603: Technical Editing, I am planning on creating a guide for how to get started streaming your PC gaming on Twitch. My idea for this project came from personal experience. I have played video games as a hobby almost all my life. About a month ago, I decided I wanted to stream my gameplay for friends who lived all over the country. It would be a way for us to interact on a regular basis through our mutual love of games and desire to laugh at how horrible I was at them.

So, I tried to start streaming. I set up my Twitch account and downloaded Open Broadcasting Software (OBS) to record and stream my games. I followed the steps outlined on the Twitch website’s guide to PC streaming for changing the settings in OBS to be able to stream (https://help.twitch.tv/customer/portal/articles/792761-how-to-broadcast-pc-games). Everything seemed to be set up correctly. Then I tested it, but it didn’t work. The audio from my microphone was fine and the game audio streamed, but the video did not show up. I spent over a week scouring the internet for different fixes to my black screen problem. It became increasingly frustrating when most of the guides kept telling me how easy it was to stream on Twitch. Then I would try their method of setting up OBS to stream to Twitch and it wouldn’t work. I became so frustrated that I almost gave up hope that my laptop could handle Twitch streaming.

Then finally, one night, I found the solution to why the video wasn’t going through to Twitch, and it was a simple setting that none of the guides I had found mentioned.

The Project

As I stated above, my plan for this project is to be a guide for getting started streaming on Twitch from your PC. However, this will not be a guide for the gamer who has built their own computer and spends hours gaming every day. Likely, that audience already knows how to stream on Twitch or has a friend who can teach them. This guide will be for the people like me who want to stream for fun as a hobby in their free time. Maybe they aren’t as tech savvy as an experienced gamer, but they love to play video games and want to share their experiences with the world on Twitch, but they just can’t figure out how to set it up. The goal of this project is to help PC gamers stream to their heart’s content.

I’ll start off by taking the reader through creating a Twitch account and downloading OBS. Then I plan to go step-by-step through the settings that helped me to finally stream with audio, video, and webcam. I will include screenshots of OBS and Twitch to help people see what to do with their settings, how to set up their account, how to find their stream and chat, and more. Most of the project will focus on how to configure the OBS settings to allow you to stream audio and video. This is because the problems that come up are most often caused by OBS.

My hope is that this project will help people like me who were frustrated and thought they were just not going to be able to stream. I will try to include information for Mac users, but I am limited in my knowledge of Macs because I personally have a Windows laptop. I will have to look into the differences in OBS between the operating systems.

 

Image source 1: http://www.noobgrind.com/twitch-to-ban-or-not-to-ban/

Image source 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LX04mw_xG6A (Video thumbnail for Jonesmedia’s video)

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

For my final writing project in EH603 Editing for Publication, I will be editing a proposal. The principal investigator, or PI, for the proposal is none other than the course professor herself, Dr. Robinson. A principal investigator is the primary individual responsible for the preparation, conduct, and administration of a research grant (“Research Administration & Compliance”). In other words, she is the grant’s leading lady. (By the way, I will be using “grant” and “proposal” interchangeably.) There are a few other professors involved in the grant and not all of them are faculty at UAH. The Foundation funding the grant is the Spencer Foundation, named in honor of Lyle M. Spencer, the man responsible for founding Science Research Associates (SRA). The Foundation was established in 1968 and aims to provide funding for those seeking to improve education through research, programs, or activities (“Investing in Education”). The Foundation offers different categories of grants; Dr. Robinson’s falls under the Small Research Grant which has four deadlines throughout the year, and the next one is May 1.

The name of the research proposal is Psychological Safety Training Intervention for Improving Team Climate. The theory is, the more comfortable team members are with being themselves (referred to as psychological safety) while a part of a team, the better the team will function. For example, think back to a time when you were part of a group. Did you feel slightly withdrawn or want to tone down your personality until you got a better feel for the group? I know I’m guilty of that. Well, by toning yourself down, you’re not actually extending your “best foot forward.” I mean, it makes sense; how could you give the team/performance 100% of you if you’re not being 100% you, right?

The research behind the grant will first take place in the upcoming summer (2017). The objective is to determine what works best for promoting psychological safety (there’s that term again) amongst team members. Three focus groups will be observed as they discuss their past experiences in a team and what made it successful and the focus groups will answer a controlled set of questions; these questions and discussions will help the participants conclude what makes a team succeed. The PI and her collaborators will then analyze the data to create two separate series of videos, referred to in the grant as training module interventions; the videos will each be under five minutes. The data will also produce game-like activities. Then, in the fall (2017), Dr. Robinson and her team will employ the video interventions and activities to several students at three different universities (including UAH) along with surveys to query students’ perceptions of their team. Afterwards, those same students will be asked to perform group projects (all part of course curriculum; don’t worry, the students won’t be given additional work). Dr. Robinson and her team will measure the effectiveness of the interventions based on the results of the students’ projects. The exercises and research will hopefully lead to a set of methods that establish the ideal level of psychological safety for generating the most productivity among teams.  

Because most of the grant is already written, my job will be to review the text for any grammatical errors and inconsistencies. I am also to rearrange the information to keep it consistent with the funder’s formatting requirements. For example, the Foundation asks that the proposal include topic, methodologies, disciplinary perspectives and geographic scope (“Investing in Education”) and include a narrative. I will need to double check citations and any figures used in the text and remain mindful of the word count.

I am delighted to have a role in the project, even if it is a smaller one. I am determined to make my input relevant and useful.

“Research Administration & Compliance.” Roles and Responsibilities of Principal Investigators/Co-Investigators | Research and Engagement. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2017. <https://www.umass.edu/research/policy/pi-and-co-pi-roles-and-responsibilities>.

“Investing in Education Research for the Purpose of Making Education Better.” Spencer. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2017. <http://www.spencer.org/>.