Home > Uncategorized > How to Tell If You Have an Engineer in Your Class

How to Tell If You Have an Engineer in Your Class

No, this isn’t going to be a joke about guys with neatly pressed jeans and scientific calculators, just some observations about writing which may be worth bearing in mind given that most EAP teachers have a humanities or social sciences background and may react with alarm at the conventions of writing in more technical disciplines. After working on my templates for APA, MLA and Chicago style papers, I had a look at one for the IEEE and noticed the following.

  • IEEE papers are submitted in a 10pt font (9pt for citations) and single-spaced. Either engineering profs wear thick glasses or papers are easier to read when typeset using LaTeX. (If you got that joke, you’re probably already an engineer or a mathematician and don’t need to read further.)
  • Not only that, but they’re in two columns as well, though I’ve never known a student do this.
  • Text is fully justified, not ragged-right as in MLA and APA.
  • The tendency of some students to cite by simply giving a number in square brackets referring to a numbered list of citations at the end of the paper is common in science and engineering papers. IEEE, ACS and AIP citations are in the order in which they are cited in the text, not alphabetical order. I imagine if you asked an engineer why they didn’t include page numbers, they’d just think “You mean you don’t know how to do a text search?”
  • A subheading starting with a number like 2.1.4. is a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with an engineer. This love of subheadings may contrast with what we were taught; I remember my English tutor decrying subheadings on the grounds that “they disrupt the flow of the prose.”

The point is not that we should be teaching all this, but rather that we shouldn’t react with shock when a paper looks weird to the eyes of someone used to the big three of MLA, APA and CMS. If you want your students to submit papers that are, for example, double-spaced, you need to tell them that this is your preference, not assume that everyone does it like that.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. June 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    The numbered sub-heading thing may be down to a tendency to use an outlining tool to create the structure of the document.

    • June 11, 2010 at 1:06 pm

      Could be or they could be using a mark-up language like SGML or LaTeX that encourages that kind of thing. And of course if the student is a software engineer, there’s the tendency to think in terms of top-down programming, which means they are more likely to write a bunch of section headings (in descending order) before writing any actual sentences. I’ve done this myself on occasion, but I usually delete the lower-level headings.

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