Communication, Teaming, and Research Skills

Development of Department Writing Guide for Civil Engineering

  • Mary U. Christiansen (University of Minnesota - Duluth)
  • Eshan Dave (University of Minnesota - Duluth)
  • Adrian T. Hanson (University of Minnesota - Duluth)
  • Jill D. Jenson (University of Minnesota - Duluth)
  • Sara Ojard (University of Minnesota - Duluth)
  • David A. Saftner (University of Minnesota - Duluth)
  • Rebecca Teasley (University of Minnesota - Duluth)


This paper describes the development of a writing guide for a civil engineering department. Motivation for developing a writing guide came from several sources. Freshmen enrolled in an introduction to civil engineering course turned in writing assignments demonstrating a need for improvement. The introductory course is frequently taken concurrently with a required freshman level writing class and well before a required discipline specific advanced writing class, so this was generally expected. Continued issues in junior and senior level classes, however, have clarified the need for additional program focus on written communication. Students have continually expressed frustration at having to adapt to varying lab report expectations from different faculty members and, most importantly, capstone design reports have demonstrated that student writing is not at industry expectations.

The writing guide was a collaborative effort between civil engineering faculty and writing studies faculty. The initial phase focused on defining the content of the writing guide: reports (lab, project, etc.), memos, homework submittals, figures, tables, equations, professional e-mails, and references. The second phase was to develop an outline for the rubrics; the goal was for the rubrics to be general enough to be adapted by each faculty member for a given assignment, but still provide students with a consistent outline to assess their writing prior to submitting it for grade. Finally, in the third phase, the level of detail in the writing guide was discussed. In order to be useful, the writing guide was made specific enough for the students to use it to successfully complete writing assignments but general enough to allow individual faculty to adapt assignments toward the specific outcomes in each course. Above all else, the main goal of the writing guide is to prepare students for real world written communication. Therefore, it must not leave students with the impression that there is a template that can be applied regardless of audience. These concerns were considered during the development of the writing guide and will be part of in-class writing instruction within both civil engineering and writing courses.

Written work will be assessed using both university and ABET assessment processes. Example work collected as part of the ABET process from the Fall 2012 semester will be retroactively assessed using the newly developed rubrics. In addition, Fall 2014 work will be assessed as it is submitted. Spring 2015 work will represent the first semester using the department writing guide. Pre-writing guide assessments will be compared to assessments of writing after the department guide is introduced. By comparing work over the next several years, senior year writing submittals will be used to determine if a greater level of competency was achieved by students exposed to the writing guide for their entire undergraduate experience as compared to students who received the writing guide late in their undergraduate career.

How to Cite:

Christiansen, M. U. & Dave, E. & Hanson, A. T. & Jenson, J. D. & Ojard, S. & Saftner, D. A. & Teasley, R., (2014) “Development of Department Writing Guide for Civil Engineering”, 2014 ASEE North Midwest Section Conference 2014(1), 1-6. doi:

Rights: Copyright © 2014, Mary U. Christiansen, Eshan Dave, Adrian T. Hanson, Jill D. Jenson, Sara Ojard, David A. Saftner, and Rebecca Teasley

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Published on
18 Oct 2014
Peer Reviewed