TAMUG Writing Lab
Notes for Students
The Capstone Project
Notes for this booklet have been prepared by the Writing Lab at Texas A&M University at Galveston as a resource for students. Information provided is based on general practice in engineering and communication rather than as specific instructions for this course. When there are differences in information, your instructor is the final authority.
Foreword to students and faculty
This is a collection of information related to preparation of your written submission of your design project. Material has been selected from diverse sources, and material not specifically provided by your instructor may be useful, but is not authoritative. A document, report, design proposal, and even an email to a consulting engineer, is a combination of well researched and specific information (including calculations) and of relevant information included based on the writer’s judgment of its usefulness. This collection contains both.
Where possible, sources are properly cited. In some cases, we have not been able to locate the original authors but have included information as a classroom resource; this material is not intended for republication. Material used in this context will be identified as "source unavailable." We have compiled this collection based on potential value to students who are developing professional skill in communicating with target audiences, and we have made a sincere effort to identify material which is not original.
You may copy material from this collection for individual reference or classroom use. Material provided by The University Writing Center (UWC), Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), and TAMUG Writing Lab may be used freely for presentation to wider audiences outside of the classroom. These writing resource centers request only the courtesy of mentioning their contributions and encouraging members of your audiences to access the information they provide.
A significant amount of material for this collection has been gleaned from the online centers above and from an early (2002) style guide developed by Craig Bateman and Victoria Jones as a reference for MASE students.
Frequently material from these has been edited, revised, or altered in sequence in order to relate it directly to MASE 406: The Capstone Project. The acronyms below will be used to credit these contributors and to provide easy location of related information.
Marine Systems Engineering Manual of Style (2002), C. Bateman and V. Jones – (MASE 2002)
Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL)
University Writing Center, Texas A&M University (UWC)
Sidebars and Tips for Writing are inserted into appropriate sections without inclusion in the Table of Contents or Reference section. These are informal (and sometimes humorous) sidebars from experiences in the TAMUG Writing Lab. They break up the "serious tone" of this manual and give student writers insight and knowledge that producing an extensive project has lighthearted moments of fun, and that these intrusions are an important and rewarding part of developing polished documents.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Section I: Requirements of the Project
Section II: Writing for Engineers
Section III: Writing and Editing at a Professional/Executive Level
Tips for concise writing
MASE 406 Engineering Design Project Required Inclusions
Title and Title Page
Table of Contents
Addendums or appendices
Include each of these as a separate section of your paper. Use headings for each section. Headings for body content, Geotechnical, Structural Design, Hydrodynamics, and Economics, sections should be brief, precise descriptions as under the heading "Title" below. All other headings, following standard practice are one or two word labels.
Your title must be a brief, specific description of your project.
Example of vague heading:
– "The use of some computing technologies in certain engineering classrooms"
Example of specific heading:
– "Using Matlab in the Freshman engineering classroom" (OWL)
Center the title on a line approximately one third down from the top of the page. On subsequent lines below the title include the course name and number, the instructor’s name and title, and the date of submission.
Centered on a line just above the bottom margin, enter the name of each author (first initial-period-last name). These may be on a single line, separated by commas, or you may enter each name on a separate line.
Place the abstract on a separate page. Note that in some engineering papers the editor will instruct you to place the abstract at the bottom of the title page. Practices are not universal; consult a publication, editor, or your professor to determine individual preferences.
An abstract is a single paragraph summary of your project. It includes the purpose of the project, a brief overview of the procedures, significant findings, and a statement of the predicted value or application of the information in the report.
An Executive Summary differs from an abstract in that it is longer, offering more detail. In some applications, you will include one or the other rather than both. Inclusion is determined by the editor or your professor. Follow the instructions you have been given.
An Executive Summary, even on long reports, must never exceed a single page. Executives rarely read entire reports; they read the summary and specific sections of interest to them or which related to their specific roles in a project using the report as part of development. The final paragraph of the summary should include your conclusions and recommendations.
The introduction leads your reader into the material that follows. Make your purpose clear in the first paragraph…even better, the first sentence. Rather than beginning with "The purpose of this project is," simply state the importance of the project. "To determine tolerance for stress on structural beams, we …". You may include relevant background if it directed you to specific practices or procedures. You may briefly include conclusions, rationale, and statement of significance. The introduction should end with a transition into the section that follows. For example, "The final design was determined based on desired "geotechnical, hydrodynamic, and economic outcomes.
You must include relevant information and findings on each to the assigned topics.
Include in-text citation (parenthetical) crediting your source and a reference page entry for each. There is a one-to one-correspondence between entries-include a reference page entry for each in-text citation. Do not include an entry in the reference list if you do not have a corresponding entry in the text. Professors and editors have individual style preferences and style guides are available in the Writing Lab.
Plagiarism, intentional or unintentional, is a violation of professional ethics, and The Aggie Honor Code included as an addendum to this manual. When in doubt, credit your source.
In this section, you may add information which is related to your report, including interim calculations and other information which may be useful to your audience but are not directly related to your final design.
Additional appendices might include:
A list of abbreviations and acronyms
A list of applicable equations
List above by Bateman and Jones (2002)
Warning! Ignore at your own risk !!!
Dr Miller stated, in an email (10/23/2008), "Keep a list of all reference material you review but only include the cited material in the report reference list. Use appendices for details of calculations and data analysis - include results and summaries of methods in the text."
Your adviser has a red pen and your paper will look like it bled to death if you disregard his or her instructions! If uncertain, ask!
Tips from the Writing Lab
1. Don’t write a paper. Tell your story-how would you say it if you were saying it instead of writing. When we write papers, we constantly look over our shoulder waiting for someone to correct our oversights. We focus inward. When we are concentrating on getting our message across, we focus outward; we recheck to be sure our listener is following us (understands).
2. Begin in the middle. We know what we want to say, but we never know where to start. Start in the middle-write what you know you want to say. Stream of consciousness is fine-just let it flow. As you write, a logical sequence will form, and in the process, you will find yourself thinking, "That’s it-that’s where I want to start.
3. Use temporary section headings to organize. Creating a loose outline, using temporary section headings will help organize. As you write, you will find yourself thinking, "I think I should put this information under Economics." As you progress, cut and paste. Each section will begin to fill out and stand alone.
4. Write each section separately. Once most of the information is in each section, write each section individually. Rather than writing a long paper, write several short ones. Information that doesn’t fit will be easy to identify, and delete or move to a different section or to include in an appendix. Note: Do not delete information, move it to another section or to a clean file. You may need it later.
5. Write like you talk. It’s the way you think most effectively. Later, you can revise to fit professional conventions and polish it. Concentrate on sharing your thought first, public presentation later.
6. Don’t try to be perfect. Trying to be perfect creates writer’s block and stifles your thinking. Correcting (editing and revising) as you write may cause you to lose your train of thought. You end up rereading what you have written in order to recapture it. Rewrite unclear sentences as you go, but correct minor oversights as you reread and edit. Highlight or use bold type to mark places you want to revisit.
7. Write a little each day. Habitually adding to your project daily keeps it fresh in your mind and keeps it from bogging down. If you don’t have something new to add, edit something you wrote earlier. New thoughts come easily when you are in the habit of writing regularly.
II. WRITING AS ENGINEERS
A Guide to Written Communication for Engineering Students
The quality of your design or your idea will be evaluated based on your
ability to communicate it.
Many excellent projects were never accepted because they were poorly written.
Language, to an engineer, is a tool as important as a calculator or sophisticated software. Engineering is collaborative. Effective cooperation between team members requires precise understanding. Careless use of language and weak application of professional practice (convention) render otherwise gifted engineers isolated and helpless in a world of complex cooperation.
Poets and novel writers are language artists. They are driven by the beauty of words and the flow of passages. They communicate in a figurative reality.
Engineers are language craftsmen. They are precise. They strive for accuracy. Wasted words interfere with clarity and passages without logical connection result in inefficiency in completing projects.
Engineers are writers. On the job, they prepare reports, submit proposals, create guides and manuals, and distribute information in letters and emails. Engineers may spend as much as 60% of their working hours writing to diverse audiences to achieve a variety of purposes.
Each document written by an engineer is produced to achieve a specific purpose. Each document is targeted to a specific audience who plays an essential role in a project in progress.. Engineers who are skilled at using language as a precision tool enhance their potential for successful careers.
Suggestions for clear writing
1). Keep sentences short
Keep to one main idea per sentence
2). Prefer active voice sentences except when specified in style guides or assignments
3). Avoid having more than 3 numbers in one sentence
4). Avoid having more than 3 prepositional phrases in one sentence
5). Keep paragraphs short
Note: APA and some other style guides specify having at least three sentences in a paragraph.
6). Avoid figures of speech, jargon, and clichés.
7). Prefer short simple words rather than abstract, fancy language.
8). Eliminate redundancy and words which add no information.
Words that end in "ly" rarely clarify.
9). Prefer concrete terms to abstract.
10). Avoid vague qualifiers (many, several, extremely, basically)
11). Communicate-do not impress- also, say it like you would say it if you were saying it.
Editing is part of writing. Without a systematic strategy many writers over edit; they work too hard for limited results. Develop a strategy that works for you. Editing is a sequential process-a series of steps
Steps in the process
3. Required elements
4. Sentence structures-language use
5. Grammar and mechanics
Process and things to look for in each step
Organization: Is the title clear? Does it give a brief description of the text that follows?
Scan the subheadings. Are they clear? Do they describe the contents of each section? Are they in parallel form? Are they connected to the text (no accidental page breaks separating them from the sections they head) and do they show the logical development of the paper.
Content: Is all the relevant information you want to give your reader present. Is irrelevant information clouding your message? Is content of each section consistent with its heading? Is important information supported by appropriate outside sources and cited in proper format?
Required Elements: Have you included every required element in the paper. If a cover letter is required have you followed the required format? Is it dated? Do you have a checklist of required items to insure that all are included?
If graphics (graphs, charts, tables, pictures, etc) are used, are they properly credited? Do they clarify your meaning?
Sentence Structure-language use: Is every sentence clear on first reading? Are there ambiguous pronoun placements, single/plural shifts, clichés, figures of speech or overused favorite words? Have you checked for your pet phrases and habits which pad the paper or reduce clarity? Are sentence lengths varied to add interest? Is complex information presented clearly and logically? Is information presented using the least number of words possible?
Grammar and Mechanics: Have you run spellchecker and grammar checker? Have you double checked them? Do not let your spellchecker think for you. Electronic editors are not precise.
English is a flexible language. Rules change. Professors and journal editors have great leeway in defining what is and is not acceptable in submissions. These suggestions can be useful in polishing your academic and professional communication; however, if you have doubt about a suggested practice or policy, clarify with your professor or consult your style manual. They are your most precise and up-to-date sources.
Read it aloud: Reading aloud forces you to slow down and read it as it is written. You will hear it and say it as well as seeing it. If you become tongue tied or hesitate on any sentence, flag it and come back to it. If you see a mechanical error, fix it or flag it and come back to it.
Have someone read it aloud to you: Your reader will see it for the first time much as the intended recipient of the paper will experience it. As your reader reads, flag hesitations, redundancies, illogical connections, awkward sentences, and errors you pick up on. Repair these.
Write in the plural: Writing "students" is less wordy and less stiff than using "the student." If you always write in the plural you will avoid single-plural shifts (the student-they) and you will avoid most gender biased language. Students are always they, never he or she. Unless your subject is clearly singular, prefer the plural.
Do not contract: Consider eliminating contractions. Although some professors and disciplines permit them, some (APA for example) do not. Eliminating them in business and personal writing will make your writing more clear. If you never contract, you will never have doubt about its and it’s. If you use "it is", and never "it’s," you do not have to remember the elusive grammar rule.
Eliminate vague terms: Words like many, various, and several, pad your paper and reduce its precision. The most frequent offender is "a lot of." Even big, strong, and priceless, add nothing of value and reduce clarity.
Consider leaving out any word that ends in ly: If you are writing in the present tense, it adds nothing to use currently. It does not add information to say "he stumbled awkwardly." No one ever stumbled in any manner other than awkwardly. Words ending in ly rarely (one of those ly words J ) add useful information and many J words ending in y are superfluous, too.
Keep paragraphs short: Short paragraphs (5-7 lines) are reader friendly. Readers group information in long paragraphs in order clarify meaning. Group thoughts for them. There are exceptions to this in research writing in some disciplines. Check your style manual if you are unsure.
Keep sentences short: Although you should vary your sentence length, readable sentences should average about 20 words. Long convoluted sentences are hard to punctuate and may confuse your readers.
Prefer the active voice: Although there are specific uses for the passive voice, the active voice is less wordy and clearer. The statement, "Sales reports will be turned in to the sales manager each Friday" does not define who will do it. There are examples of active and passive voice in every writing manual. Consult the manual and use passive voice only when it is called for.
A few observations: J
People are who, not that.
Parking lots do not need to be paved. Bills do not need to be paid. Murderers do not need to be executed, and cereal does not need to be eaten.
"He is not only enthusiastic, but also energetic" takes more words to write than "He is energetic and enthusiastic."
"Use not only (an ly word J ) but also" sparingly (an ly wordJ ) if ever. Notice that energetic and enthusiasm are almost synonyms. Frequently (an ly word J ) students pair synonyms in this form, and pairing always detracts.
Building a building will not create needed classroom space. The building will provide space. The process of building it may reduce parking space and won’t add classroom space.
It is sufficient to say "May" rather than "the month of May." Texas doesn’t need "the State of" to clarify it.
Most (more than 50% ?) of us use words we do not need when we write. Eliminating all superfluous words is not possible or even desirable, but wordiness bogs readers down and makes communication difficult.
Every word you put on paper is a choice you make; choose carefully!
Presubmission Paper Review
Author Title Date
Instructor & Class Doc. Style Prepared by
Org. clear on scanning?
Clear informative title?
Headings in parallel form?
Matches assigned format?
Clear, well supported conclusion?
Information in correct
All information relevant?
Material appropriate for target audience
List on reverse
Language appropriate for
Specific rather than vague?
clichés and trite phrases?
Few empty words ?
Limited passive voice?
Words used correctly
Used electronic tools?
Fragments and run-ons?
Repeated punctuation errors?
Aggie Honor System
Texas A&M University at Galveston
Definitions of Academic Misconduct
4. Multiple Submission:
Submitting substantial portions of the same work (including oral reports) for credit more than once without authorization from the instructor of the class for which the student submits the work.
· Submitting the same work for credit in more than one course without the instructor’s permission.
· Making revisions in a paper or report (including oral presentations) that has been submitted in one class and submitting it for credit in another class without the instructor’s permission.
· Representing group work done in one class as one’s own work for the purpose of using it in another class.
· Other similar acts.
The appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.
· Intentionally, knowingly, or carelessly presenting the work of another as one’s own (i.e., without crediting the author or creator).
· Failing to credit sources used in a work product in an attempt to pass off the work as one’s own.
· Attempting to receive credit for work performed by another, including papers obtained in whole or in part from individuals or other sources. Students are permitted to use the services of a tutor (paid or unpaid), a professional editor, or the University Writing Center to assist them in completing assigned work, unless such assistance is explicitly prohibited by the instructor. If such services are used by the student, the resulting product must be the original work of the student. Purchasing research reports, essays, lab reports, practice sets, or answers to assignments from any person or business is strictly prohibited. Sale of such materials is a violation of both these rules and State law.
· Failing to cite the World Wide Web, databases and other electronic resources if they are utilized in any way as resource material in an academic exercise.
· Other similar acts.
General information pertaining to plagiarism:
· Style Guides:
Instructors are responsible for identifying any specific style/format requirement for the course. Examples include, but are not limited to, American Psychological Association (APA) style and Modern Languages Association (MLA) style.
· Direct Quotation:
Every direct quotation must be identified by quotation marks or appropriate indentation and must be properly acknowledged in the text by citation or in a footnote or endnote.
Prompt acknowledgment is required when material from another source is paraphrased or summarized, in whole or in part, in one's own words. To acknowledge a paraphrase properly, one might state: "To paraphrase Locke's comment..." and then conclude with a footnote or endnote identifying the exact reference.
· Borrowed facts:
Information gained in reading or research, which is not common knowledge, must be acknowledged.
· Common knowledge:
Common knowledge includes generally known facts such as the names of leaders of prominent nations, basic scientific laws, etc., basic historical information (e.g., George Washington was the first President of the United States.) Common knowledge does not require citation.
· Works consulted:
Materials which add only to a general understanding of a subject may be acknowledged in the bibliography, and need not be footnoted or end-noted. Writers should be certain that they have not used specific information from a general source in preparing their work unless it has been appropriately cited. Writers should not include books, papers, or any other type of source in a bibliography, "works cited" list, or a "works consulted" list unless those materials were actually used in the research. The practice of citing unused works is sometimes referred to as "padding."
· Footnotes, endnotes, and in-text
One footnote, endnote, or in-text citation is usually enough to acknowledge indebtedness when a number of connected sentences are drawn from one source. When direct quotations are used, however, quotation marks must be inserted and acknowledgment made. Similarly, when a passage is paraphrased, acknowledgment is required.
· Graphics, design products, and visual
All graphics, design products, and visual aids from another creator used in academic assignments must reference the source of the material.