Can't write anything. Henry Petroski: the WRITING Engineer


Catching up

Directions due Monday, where in class we will have our final peer review.  By Friday, you need to have a final project proposal. READ THESE SAMPLES.  You will post something similar.  More information on how to do that on Friday.  I suggest drafting in MSWord, GoogleDoc, and even a text editor.  Details on Posting in class.

Monday after TGbreak?  Sorry! BUT, seven item annotated bibliography.

Here is an assignment sheet to guide your directions.

Posted on Wednesday, November 15, 2017 at 08:33AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment

Wrapping up your designed review version; FINAL PROJECT

Steps toward your final project:

  1. Topic proposal, that addresses a thesis or problem statement that your document addresses.  Note also the real or highy plausible audience this document can address. (EMAIL ME BEFORE SUNDAY MIDNIGHT!)
  2. Annotated bibiiography of seven sources (FOR TUESDAY, IN HARD COPY)
  3. Audience analysis sheet, to control the final project writing choices (FILL OUT/COMPLETE TUESDAY, HARD COPY)
  4. Argument/structure analysis (TBD but due next Thursday)
  5. Abstract (TBD)

For Tuesday, you need an annoted bib of at least seven sources in HARD COPY. You will also need to bring a digital copy of the audience analysis sheet for Tues. We will discuss revise, and turn in at the end of Tuesday's class.

Today, we do this stuff: document design.

We wrap up the designed review article. I will mark and grade, returning these documents to you on Tuesday. You will have a grade for this assignment. 

You will need to complete the redesign in class, printing out this document at the end of the class session for a second grade.


We will all use this masthead, courtesy of Megan B. (now a medical illustrator):


Posted on Thursday, June 23, 2016 at 08:06AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment

Little pause to contemplate the end

Tasks for Thursday:


  1. Bring digital document of your review for revision by this checklist/guide for summer. Here is a very rough guide to what we will complete -- PLUS YOUR REVISIONS BASED ON MY COMMENTARY -- in class on Thursday, to print out and turn in for a grade.  
  2. Consider if you will take the Wikipedia extra credit challenge, based on some content in your review (ToBeExplained).
  3. Have two ideas about a final project to go: 
    • working title
    • type of document (to know, to do, how to do)
    • audience
    • context 
    • purpose

Ok, in class we will search for three-to four images to use in our redesign.  Candidates include

  • journal cover
  • author image (permission email required
  • image from article
  • pull quote option (FROM THE ARTICLE)
  • "general" image from field that is copyright free
    • check government sources
    • see what professional associations offer
    • use a search on Google for permissions-free images 

We we learn a number of conventions on use, attribution, and professional courtesy.

Perhaps, we will have time for cover letter resume work.

Posted on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at 08:04AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment

Week 3: Day one


  • Drafting, revising, perfecting the article review you are writing now: peer review of entire document (7-12 paragraphs) on Thursday, with final copy due for a grade on TUESDAY, June 21. (FIXED THE DATE)
  • At home, you need to revise your rain garden memo.  Start by using the checklist given, reviewing the entries on this class journal, and your class notes.
    • Checklist!
    • Topic sentences/transitions sentences
      • SV early, let detail trail
      • SV together
      • NO ITs in the document, period.
      • No There is/there are subject
      • Discussion guide in class here, for rain garden revision.
    Knitting up from earlier:
  • Transitions/paragraphs example
  • Empty subjects (there is/are; it) READ THIS ENTIRE PRESENTATION FOR THURSDAY!!!!!!!!

New links for class discussion today:

That/Which (recall that that/who notes)

Opening moves for technical documents

Citation:  in class, we will talk about the conventions of citation in a close read of an article.  Basically, the steps are:

  1. first mention, full name (in the ethos paragraph that also introduces the article).
    • (author, date)
  2. last name throughout
  3. Example:  Marybeth Shea is a professor of technical writing at the University of Maryland. She studies stasis theory in environmental policymaking.  Her research article appears in the Journal of Conservation Biology and is the subject of this review (Shea, 2014).

Here is a checklist for the article review.

Back to that/which: That-which: which takes a comma; that does not! See this  handout on choosing which and that.



Let's review some conventions of standard written English (take notes from our work on the board).  I do want to mention a few new ones:

  1. punctuation with quote marks (nice summary  here at Grammar Monster)
  2. colon and semi colon use (start here with The Oatmeal's take)
  3. that/which distinction
  4. hyphens are little and used with words; dashes are longer and used between words (See this guide from DOOK)
    1. setting off appositives (dashes)
    2. some words where hyphens are helpful
      • fast-sailing ship and fast sailing ship

Empty subjects DRAFT HANDOUT.

Please, focus particularly on your sentences.  A good approach is to write short, clear direct sentences at the beginning and ends of paragraphs.  Why in these positions?  The brain is attending carefully to

  • the topic sentence position, where the main idea of the paragraph is announced
  • in the transition position BETWEEN the two paragraphs
  • tight (best for most documents; allows the audience to skim)
  • loose



One of Aristotle's canons for writing is ARRANGEMENT.  The order and "chunking" of information matters very much for reader cognition and receptivity to what you write.  This care in arranging information for the audience is also part of the cognitive wedge strategy.  Another way to think about this is the given-new contract to help ensure clarity and coherence for readers.  Look at this discussion on Given-New. (read three pages of this).

Citation in paragraphs, here.

 STRUCTURE FOR REVIEW (Paragraph by paragraphy:  content in the paragraph and what you ask the paragrapg to do, in order, for the audience)

  • Beginning (hook with strong opening, establish credibility of author(s), introduce context for research)
  • Middle (select three or four points to share, devoting one paragraph per point)
  • End (close with your commentary on application, controversy, idea for new research, and perhaps a limitation on the research)

Here is another structure guide. Can you see the stasis steops here:


Paragraph 1: introduce, hook, establish exigence

Paragraph 2: present credibility of authors and institution; announce article by focus on topic (not title) and journal (in ITALICS)

Paragraphs 3 and perhaps 4:  brief background definitions or descriptions or context

BODY PARAGRAPHS (your three or four point paragraphs)

Analysis or discusison paragraphs (1 or 2)


  • application
  • further research
  • suggested reading

But, let's spend some time on stasis theory.  Let's consider that many times in professional life, we need to focus on the fifth stasis of policy. WHAT OUGHT WE DO?  Here is a recent document all about policy: the proposed Northern Virginia deer managment plan. You do not need to read this entire piece. However, this document came across my desk last night. I think a great deal about deer management in urban areas like ours. So, this is an example of how stasis thinking can help us with work documents.  Note: nested within this document are the other stases:

  • definitions
  • causal patterns (deer population effects)
    • plants and ecosystems
    • homes and business (eating plant instations)
    • safety (cars)
    • human health (ticks, along with other animals, including white-footed wood mice)
  • value (within the causal patterns, we can see economic and social costs)
    • are white tailed deer good for our area?
    • what rights to these animals have?  (Consider the Bambi effect.....)
Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 at 08:04AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment

Week 2: day 2

Rethinking your rain garden memo (due on Thursday FOR A GRADE: Checklist here) 

  • cognitive wedge
  • paragraphs that unveil the extended definition (partial use of the stases steps)

Here is an arrangement for your memo.

Polite first person opening

  • Para 1: Definition (what is a rain garden, briefly, by two functions)
  • Para 2Classifying (what type of technology is this? Hint: low impact development and storm water management)
  • Para 3: Description (Illustrative; give detail on the layers of soil and the type of plants)
    • include two examples; consider the ones on campus (separate para; incorporated into one of the paras -- your choice)
  • Para 4: Evaluation (is this good or bad?  Use Dr. Davis' research as you do not have authority to evaluate based on your expertise)

Polite first person closing with offer to help (content you like but did not include?)

I would think you need about one source per paras 2, 3, 4  Use (author, date) citation from APA guidelines. Include a works cited page also.


and style.  Short paragraphs are evidence that you, the writer, does the heavy lifting for the reader. Why? Please consider paragraphing as an ethical duty to your reader.  At the very least, think about manners and consideration.


Here is an exercise in sentence-to-sentence coherence.  Work your way through this web exhibit, including the links. Read more about working on paragraph coherence strategies at OWL.


For some fun, as we all head into the hell of May:" Elements"!








Now, some sentences you can use at the beginning of your paragraphs:

Let's look at examples of topic sentences useful in the rain garden memo:

Rain gardens, or bioretention ponds, are a kind of low impact development.  Low impact development....

Rain gardens have two components:  layers of percolation material and carefully chosen plants.

Rain gardens protect the local environment by absorbing water run-off from impervious surfaces and by sequestering pollutants.

Dr. Allen Davis studies rain garden effectiveness.  Davis, a civil engineering professor, has been studying bioretention for more than twenty years.


Some grammar helps:

Some grammaer/language conventions:

What is an appositive? Friday bits and ends

What is an appositive? A bit of information you insert in between the subject and the verb.  You need commas or other sorts of punctuation to set this off.  This image of bunny paws can help you remember to do this:

Alot v. A lot: Grammar moment: the abomination of alot. alot is not a word.  Let's see what this blogger says about remembering to use a lot and not alot(click into image to access her website).

Now, to this bit of charm from N.N. Ta DAH!


Posted on Thursday, June 9, 2016 at 08:18AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment
Page | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Next 5 Entries