There are few skills more valuable than the ability to share your ideas effectively in writing. Studies of HR professionals consistently rank good written communication to be one of the most desirable competencies in the workplace. Engineering is no different. Professor Rick Bereit knows a few things about good writing, and about the quest to train engineers to think beyond numbers and models, and to use language to explain the ideas they envision. He runs the writing workshop for the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Water at the U, and for the past year and a half has been mentoring Pakistan’s next generation of water professionals on their English writing skills.
The workshop is viewed by many to be one of the strengths of the USPCASW student exchange program. The curriculum is broken down into two sections: one with an emphasis on basic grammar and syntax, and the other on the craft of technical writing.
With English being a second or even third language to some students, Professor Bereit has identified a few areas to focus in on, specifically punctuation and definitive articles, which many students learning English struggle with. Overall, he has seen student writing improve, and commends their strong grasp of sentence structure and ideation.
“Engineers spend as much as 60% of their time writing,” Professor Bereit observes. “Whether that be proposals for funding, reports, or simple correspondence—writing is integral to the job of engineers.”
Proofreading, revision, and patience are a sort of mantra for Professor Bereit. “You cannot create and perfect at the same time,” he likes to say. He also encourages his students to write with passion. Even if a student is writing about their research on irrigation, or a sanitation project, they can still use vivid and meaningful language.
He encourages his engineering students to channel their inner Charles Dickens, and conjure sentences and paragraphs rich in detail and description. “Every good idea would benefit from being expressed well,” Professor Bereit explains. “Good writing is the icing on the cake.”