ENGL390 is the professional writing class designed for scientists and engineers. There is a certain stereotype about scientists not being good communicators. After all, they’re stuck in a dumpy laboratory all day and don’t get to go outside. The University of Maryland recognizes this problem so now professional writing is a requirement for graduation.Here are the 5 goals of ENGL390 at the University of Maryland.
1. Analyze a variety of professional rhetorical situations and produce appropriate texts in response
What this basically means is you’re going to be given a prompt and you’re going to have to come up with a response. It’s kind of like one of those BCRs that you did back in grade school. You will have to read the prompt carefully in order to fully understand it. Many times there will be small details you’ve missed the first time. If that is the case, read the prompt again. When crafting your response, do not use the first person. Most writing is done in third person. And as always, check for grammatical mistakes when you’re done.
2. Understand the stages required to produce competent professional writing through planning, drafting, revising and editing
Ok, so this one is about the 4 (or sometimes 6) stages of writing. First, you have to plan out what it is you’re going to write. Is it a resume? A scientific analysis? A speech to a group of peers? You have to know your audience too so be careful how you structure it! Step two is to actually draft the piece. Drafting the piece means making a rough draft. Put down your ideas. Make sure you know what it is you are trying to say. It does not have to be perfect though. Step three is to revise the draft. Have someone (not yourself!) look at your draft. Tell them to go ham on your paper. Hopefully they can tell you how to fix your mistakes. And the last step is to edit the paper. Keeping your friend’s advice in mind, fix the mistakes you have. After that, your paper is ready to be presented!
3. Write for intended readers of a text and design or adapt a text to audiences who may differ in their familiarity with the subject matter
This end goal can be very difficult for scientists to achieve. Writing for fellow scientists is a simple task. You probably have worked with them for quite some time, and if they’re already in your field, they will probably know what you’re talking about. That’s the easy part. What is harder is adapting that writing for people who may not be in your field. You can’t just spit out the word ‘mitochondria’ and expect everyone to know that it is an organelle responsible for respiration and energy production. In this case, more is more. Break down that one word into several words if it can help your reader understand something.
4. Produce cogent arguments that identify arguable issues, reflect the degree of available evidence and take account of counter-arguments
This point is the interesting one. You are expected to know when a subject is worth having a debate over. An argument consists of two sides. If someone said to you, “a square is not a rectangle,” that would not be an argument because a square is a rectangle. It is not up for debate because everyone can agree squares are rectangles. But if you had someone come up to you and say, “Donald Trump is the greatest President America has ever seen!” then you have a debate on your hands. That Donald Trump is the greatest President is an opinion and opinions can be arguable. Your argument has to take into account the evidence you have. You cannot have an argument and not have evidence to back it up. And finally, you should acknowledge the other side. If you can, explain why your argument makes more sense.
5. Practice the ethical use of sources and the conventions of citation appropriate to each genre
Plagiarism is wrong. Don’t copy stuff off of other people and say it is yours. You will be caught. And there will be severe consequences. You may be accused of plagiarism if you fail to cite properly. The University of Maryland has a great Writing Center to help you with your writing. Take your writing there and there will be no worries about citations. And speaking of citations, each science genre has a different style. Maybe you’ve heard of MLA or APA. Bet you’ve never heard of IEEE style! That’s for Computer Science by the way…
Scientists don’t really like to talk. This course is designed to force you to do so. You’re going to have to take a professional writing course anyways. Why not take something you like? Read these 5 course outcomes and see if you think they’re doable. Hint: they are. And many of the outcomes involve points you’ve seen before so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you.