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


Week 1, Day 2: writing directions today 

Lots to do today.  First, your research article. Start reading this over the weekend.  Our third assignment will be a close review of this knowledge. Hint: make notes on three to five important take-aways. Let's also think about what is a  research article.

Let's consider some of the technical language we will use to talk about writing:

  • logos
  • pathos
  • ethos

See more here about Aristotle's "proofs." Dr. Garret's approach is a good place to start. We will think about logos, pathos, ethos in technical settings.

We also need to know about the canons of rhetoric:

  • Invention
  • Arrangement
  • Style
  • Delivery
  • Memory

In the BYU link above, please click into the links for these five aspects of rhetoric.

We will knit back to Tuesday's post to think about the Oxford or serial comma.  Why the videos?  Humor supports memory. 




Paragraph transitions: Think pearls beaded upon a string. Think train cars coupled. This UCSB guide is helpful with words that serve nicely as transition elements.  This writing guide emphasizes the value of repeating key words as a transition strategy. Now, think about transitions between sentences WITHIN paragraphs as another way to achieve cohesion.

  • Your memo:

Using stasis theory questions to organize an extended definition.  Your memo is an extended definition, structured by stasis theory. Detail here.

You will write a memo over the weekend in five short paragraphs, with sources, using this stasis structure. Let's talk about the audience/context/purpose for this memo. We will write for Jane Austen Powers at Leaf it to Us. Wh is she?

Answer: SHE IS THE BOSS and your primary audience for the memo.

46361-1032021-thumbnail.jpgSource:  Dover Pictoral Archive -- Office Clip Art collection 

Topic Sentences, to open each paragraph: A list of qualities for you to strive for

 Usually a short direct sentence (think announcement)

  • Signals the topic in the paragraph (think preview)
  • Hooks the reader by 1) raising a question or 2) provoking thought
  • Can be placed anywhere, but early on in the paragraph is the best default strategy for most professional documents; in other words, at the beginning of the paragraph
  • Contains an element of transition from the previous paragraph



Now, let's write directions in class. Here is the assignment sheet.   Before we turn this in, use this check list with a partner.

Posted on Thursday, June 2, 2016 at 07:03AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment

Summer 2016! Day 1, week 1

Day 1 of Week 1 WELCOME

Welcome. We will discuss several items that preview our work together in this class. Note: this section of 393 is also a campus Sustainabilty Themed Course.  I am a campus Chesapeake Fellow and also a national Sustainabily Fellow. 

  • books (a happy surprise)
  • class attendence (YOU MUST COME TO ALL CLASSES)
  • assignments overview
  • audience sensitivity and rhetorical theory

Theme:  Sustainability topics will be addressed in this class.  Regardless of your major, this broad social and technical theme can fit your major and career goals. We will discuss this today.

Details: Here is your syllabus. We will discuss the seven assignments that will total about 30 pages of written output in this class. 

For Thursday next (day two) please complete these requests:

  • Bring a resume and cover letter (draft) to class in digital format
  • Find a job description you would like to apply for
  • Bring an idea about directions you could write in class AND TURN IN BY END OF PERIOD
  • Find a technical article about your field to review for this class (options to be discussed in class)
  • Bring in three short definition/ descriptive paragraphs on the topics noted in the email

Note: your cover letter and resume, and the three paragraphs should be brought to class in digital form. For the directions assignment, you need an idea that is ready to go. In other words, you will draft, revise, and complete this directions assignment for a grade on Thursday.

Here are some materials we will use to jump-start summer learning: NAUGHTY WORD ALERT!


Commas! Yes.  Commas are very important to clarity in communication.

Read this link for Thursday. We will use the Oxford comma in this class, for precision and clarity.

Let's see what Stephen Colbert says about the Oxford comma.

Plagiarism Exhibit

Today, we will talk about professional writing and your majors/fields and look at audience analysis.  This website -- class journal, posted documents, links, and a draft etext will form the readings for this class.  Let's begin by exploring the etext.

Next up, definitions.  And directions.

What is a Cougar anyway?  Let's check out Cougar Net.  think you do not need to worry about cougar encounters?  Think again.



Bones of the Dead

No-knead bread (Sullivan Street)


Looking ahead?  You need to know about rain gardens and two related technical concepts: bioretention and phytoremediation.

Posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 06:36AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment

Study hall/ writing workship again!

And, you need to send me an email by Friday midday about some final project possibilities.  Start with the article review.  Can you continue with this document?  (Highly advised for summer school.)

For discussion today, some examples of sentence types for you to use in your document design revision.

Design checklist

Back to the checklist/guideline document given to you last week (many of you did not use items in this document :( );

Here is the ssmple document for this "look"(again, a repost).

Posted on Thursday, June 25, 2015 at 06:59AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment

Lots to do! 

Much of today's work happens in class.  We are preparing for a document design phase of your review for THURSDAY.  Your prep today--and on Wednesday--will set the stage for Thrusday's in-class work.  You will revise and design your review, peer review in class, consult with me, and PRINT OUT for a grade.  All in one day.

Our prep work concerns this "look"

Much of our class discusion today will center on this document sample, MS Word functionality, and limitations on design.

Other work:


Posted on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 at 07:18AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment

Study hall/Writing workshop day

Lots to do. Writing is truly revising. Let's look a bit at the evaluation/policy stasis step (between 4 and 5). Here is a recent meta-analysis article on exercise. We can also look at the strong policy quality of the Pope's letter on the environment (released this AM).  We can speak a bit about science reluctance to go to policy stages, although engineers, by training, do move to this step as part of problem solving.

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.



Posted on Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 06:23AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment