Sales, Hazel Eneida (2002)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.
This is a report of a six-year study of working and writing practices in an engineering environment. It is an investigation into a distinctive discourse community of design engineers conducted from an ethnographic perspective. It surveys the engineers’ attitudes towards writing and texts, and describes their distinctive writing practices, including collaborative writing. It shows them to have been acculturated into work attitudes, procedures, and a writing style which are at odds with actual demands made of them in the workplace. The engineering-lore about engineers being generally incompetent or indifferent writers is explored and, for the most part, debunked. The texts that design engineers write are identified, and it is shown that product design, the type of work activity that most engages and concerns the engineers, provides a common thread throughout all the documents considered. Particular attention is paid to proposals and executive summaries, since they give rise to specifications and requirements, all of which give most cause for concern to the engineers and the company. It is shown that proposals are ultimately persuasive in intent, in which engineers must convince the Customer of the superiority of their ‘solution’ over the proposal submissions from other companies. Pragmatism and problem-solving underpin the approach taken to proposal documents, the description and analysis of which is intended to be useful to the engineer writers themselves, and intended to reflect their collaborative writing practices. An analytical approach has been devised, based on information content, which is of potential use for diagnostic or evaluative purposes. Findings arising out the analysis suggest that the proposals and executive summaries written by design engineers comprise a selection of Information Components (ICs) drawn from a finite set of thirty-nine ICs. They indicate the existence of four major foci for proposal texts: three information-based, and one metadiscoursal. The results also seem to indicate that proposal writers may be focusing too much on product design in proposals to the detriment of other key information, which also contributes to the overall ‘solution’.
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