CHEN 489 Technical Communication for Chemical Engineering


CHEN 489 applies basic science and business writing principles to relevant, contemporary contexts. Assignments require students to understand the rhetorical contexts in which they are writing so that their choices regarding genre, development, organization, design, and style fit the audience. The course also emphasizes careful editing so that the work reflects the professional standards of the chemical engineering profession.

Course Description

Emphasizes Process

Since each workplace requires its employees to produce many different kinds of deliverables, and since the rapid speed at which emerging technologies are changing what workplace communication involves, it becomes increasingly important to emphasize process (how to address different professional contexts) over focusing on product (for example, how to write a memo). While the course DOES require students to complete several traditional workplace products (i.e., memos, reports, and resumes), instruction focuses on the guiding principles of technical communication. Therefore, CHEN 489 students apply basic principles to different rhetorical contexts, whether these contexts include workplaces, research labs, an academic courses, etc.

Encourages Critical Thinking

The course uses an inquiry-guided approach to encourage students to think critically and take responsibility for their learning. Therefore, many of the assignments use case studies that require students to solve a problem and present their solution to a client. Instruction and assessment focus on skills as well as deliverables. Some of these skills complement the inquiry approach students are learning in their science and engineering courses. For example, they will

  1. analyze a rhetorical context to define the problem and assess needs and constraints
  2. identify reasonable options
  3. determine appropriate criteria for evaluating options
  4. evaluate the options and create a graphic that presents the evaluation results
  5. recommend solutions
  6. present research findings in a report to the client

Students also learn the principles and practices of editing for clarity, brevity, and correctness. They understand how correct and effective writing establishes the credibility of their work while writing that contains errors diminishes it.

Reinforces ABET Communication Outcomes

The course curriculum recognizes the importance of communication as described in the ABET outcomes, preparing students to demonstrate communication competencies in several areas. One of their assignments, the Aggiefolio, specifically highlights which ABET outcomes are addressed in their writing course and in other engineering courses and allows for validation by experts in particular academic areas.

Incorporates Technology Purposefully

Though the course does not focus on teaching software, it does stress the importance of understanding the pros and cons of using different communication technologies. Students are reminded that their employers will be interested in how quickly they are able to adapt to new situations, including how readily they learn new information and apply new skills. They are also reminded that the TAMU Chemical Engineering Program Educational Outcomes [1] encourage them to "engage in lifelong learning" and hone "an ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice".  In addition, the Foundation Coalition, who supervises the implementation of ABET curricula standards, promotes instruction that provides "technology-enabled learning" [3]. Therefore, a goal of the course is to equip students in communication technologies that will help them continue to learn in their chosen profession of chemical engineering.

[1] Department of Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University. Program Outcomes (adapted from ABET Engineering Criteria Program Educational Outcomes). 2010. 16 July 2010.

[3] Foundation Coalition. Technology-Enabled Learning. 2010. 12 July 2010.