Selzer's "The Composing Process of an Engineer"

Blog » Selzer's "The Composing Process of an Engineer"

Posted on 18 Apr 2013 17:34

Zeyad Saleh

Jack Selzer, the author of “The Composing Process of an Engineer”, noticed that there has been little research done on the process an engineer takes in order to produce a final written piece. Therefore, he decided to conduct this experiment. He did his research on simply one person, Kenneth Nelson, a transportation engineer in Chicago. He chose him because Nelson spends half of his time writing proposals and reports.

Selzer’s method of research was basically record everything Nelson does. He interviewed him at first. Then, he studied Nelson’s previous work, ranging from drafts to final products, and also studied some of his recent works. He also set up a tape recorder and had Nelson record himself answering given questions.

Selzer was quite amazed at the results. He noticed that Nelson did not approach his pieces like a textbook would tell him to. Instead, he first thought about the purpose of the piece and then created an outline. This is where most of his brainstormed ideas go in. However, unlike other people, Nelson did not cross out many things off of his outline. Once Nelson had written it down, it rarely came out. Nelson starts his train of thought and does not leave until it is written down. He then spends a lot of time creating a draft and then his final piece is made. But, there are a few intermediate steps Nelson does before his final piece is final. For example, he studies the audience he is writing to and makes sure to include topics and things in his paper that his audience will like. He also includes previous work in his papers if he thinks that they are related. Because of the amount of time spent making the initial pieces (outlines and drafts), the time spent revising is short. Selzer realized that Nelson barely spent time revising and when he did, barely anything was changed or taken out. This is because Nelson spends so much time and effort in the beginning of the process and is confident about his initial work that a revision is unnecessary.

Selzer’s work did show, in great detail, Nelson’s process in composing a piece. However, it cannot be used to generalize how engineers compose written pieces. Selzer spent great time and effort on one person and found many great information. However, Nelson is just one person and a generalization about all engineers cannot be made. Even Selzer said that his research only what Nelson did and not what engineers do. To make this research better, a balance between how much research is done and how many test subjects used can be made.

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