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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Engineering design reports in upper-division undergraduate engineering courses and in the workplace
by Poltavtchenko, Elena, Ph.D., Northern Arizona University, 2013, 373; 3562160
Abstract (Summary)

The workplace success of new engineering graduates is ultimately affected by their oral and written communication skills. However, engineering students' academic preparation for industry's needs in terms of written communication has been widely acknowledged as inadequate. The present study is intended to improve our understanding of a prominent engineering genre, the engineering design report (EDR), and provide support for students learning to write this genre. The goals of this study are to (a) conduct a corpus-based register comparison between student and professional EDRs and (b) provide a more detailed description of professional EDRs, by determining their rhetorical organization and identifying linguistic features associated with this organization.

This research is based on two EDR corpora (N of texts=262, with approximately 1,119,186 words), one with upper-division engineering students' EDRs and the other with professional engineers' EDRs. The study examines both non-linguistic and linguistic features of student and professional EDRs. First, non-linguistic characteristics of EDRs are examined using the EDR situational framework developed for the study. Then, corpus-based methodologies are used to analyze core grammatical features and features associated with grammatical complexity in both corpora. Finally, to determine conventional discourse structures of professional EDRs, the study draws on the English for Specific Purposes tradition of genre analysis and then uses register analysis to investigate linguistic features associated with particular rhetorical structures.

The register analyses revealed complex patterns of linguistic variation, frequently influenced by the registers' situational characteristics. The results of these analyses indicate that two EDR registers fill different positions on the spoken-to-written continuum, with reports produced in the workplace being closer to professional written registers and student reports using more speech-like features. The genre analysis of professional EDRs uncovered the highly variable nature of this genre. Despite considerable variation in EDR rhetorical organization, 12 common moves were identified that cluster in specific ways to form EDR organizational units and rely on particular sets of linguistic features. A streamlined template of the EDR genre is introduced as are linguistic features associated with its organization. Study results may have pedagogical implications for teaching features of professional EDRs to students.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Biber, Douglas, Stoller, Fredricka L.
Commitee: Grabe, William, Larson, Debra, McGroarty, Mary
School: Northern Arizona University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: DAI-A 74/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics, Technical Communication
Keywords: Corpus linguistics, Disciplinary writing, Discourse analysis, Engineering design reports, Register analysis
Publication Number: 3562160
ISBN: 978-1-303-09680-8
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