Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session(s) / 2 weeks, 2 hour(s) / session

Subject Description

21W.783 is a series of seminars focusing on common writing problems faced by professional engineers and scientists. Participants will tune up their writing skills and prepare a pair of technical documents under the guidance of the instructor. The writing assignments focus on a single topic of the student's choosing, preferably one for which the necessary research has been done, or is in the process of being done. (For Writing Topics, see the assignments section.) In addition to the writing component, students will deliver an oral presentation based on the written work.

A grade of B- or better in this course satisfies Phase II of the writing requirement.

Text and Other Instructional Materials

No textbook is required; all materials are either photocopied or available on the web.

Teaching Approach

21W.783 is based on the following premises:

  • Writing is a process. Good writing is both a decent written manuscript and the series of actions that goes into producing a decent manuscript. Students will examine writing as it appears on the page and determine how to produce good writing through the processes of planning, organizing, writing, review, editing, and rewriting.

  • Writing improves with practice. Feedback on this writing produces better writing and better writing habits. 

  • Writing is a collaborative activity. Writing is a collaboration between the writer and the audience. Both expect cooperation from the other. Without this cooperation, nothing is communicated. Writing can also be a collaboration among writers working together on a common task.


Before you enroll, be sure you have time to attend the classes. Students who miss more than one of the required class sessions will not pass this course. The proposal and the final paper constitute two thirds of the final grade, roughly in proportion to their length. (Some quality proposals may be only a single page in length.) Class participation, homework and drafts make up the remaining one third. As a rough measure, an A means that I would want the author writing documents in my lab; a B means that, while not stellar, the document is acceptable.

Timeliness is an important characteristic of good writing; do not expect an A grade on a late paper. Students who do not have a substantial draft of the final paper by drop date must drop.

Assessment of Writing

You will receive suggestions and constructive criticism of your writing from in-class review during writing workshops and from the instructor, who will evaluate each assignment from the standpoint of its power and effectiveness, its organization and coverage, its grammar and style, and its punctuation and mechanics.