Faculty Team Up to Create Communications Manual for Engineers

Friday, March 25, 2016
Eng Comm Manual Article

The Engineering Communications Manual includes real-world examples from practicing engineers across a variety of industries to help reinforce the importance of effective communication.

In the field, engineers must be adept at communicating and collaborating with a variety of project stakeholders. That's why mechanical engineering professors Richard Layton and Sean Moseley teamed up with English professors Richard House and Jessica Livingston to create a text to help engineers develop their technical communication skills.

Recognizing that students who are successful communicators are more successful in their careers, the group created The Engineering Communication Manual, recently published by Oxford University Press. The manual contains modules organized into categories, from general communication skills to tailoring communication to different constituencies, types of audiences and genres, the writing process, and visual presentation elements.

Unlike other communications tomes, this one is specifically designed to help students, faculty, and young professionals integrate communication skills into their engineering projects.

Students at Rose-Hulman have long been required to take a course in technical communications, but many see it as a necessary evil, not ascribing the same weight to knowledge they gain as they would to calculus or mechatronics.

"They're used to compartmentalizing," observes Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Sean Moseley. Many times, he adds, his students want to dismiss the importance of verbal and written communication skills because those items are outside of their comfort zones.

"For students who are drawn to the analytical world, writing can be kind of scary. It's a defense mechanism-you're not good at it, so it's not important," he says.

But mastery of effective communication skills is not only essential in the workplace, it can make or break a candidate's chances of landing his or her dream job in the first place.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2016 survey, employers rank collaboration and communication skills (both written and verbal) among the attributes they most seek in candidates, alongside traits like leadership and problem-solving ability.

Included in the book are real-world examples from practicing engineers across a variety of industries. These authentic examples help reinforce the message that the ability to communicate effectively is fundamental to every engineer's knowledge arsenal.

Moseley adds that while students may not understand the importance of the lessons now, "ultimately, I think it'll make our students much more successful. It's something they'll really see the benefit of a few years after they graduate."