The Selzer Study (Or Lack Of)

Blog ยป The Selzer Study (Or Lack Of)

Posted on 19 Apr 2013 01:43

John Selzer used an ethnographic study to look at the writing techniques of one specific engineer. Specifically, Selzer shadowed an engineer - Kenneth E. Nelson, an engineer from Chicago - while the engineer was at work. Selzer looked at all writing Nelson produced, including final drafts as well as notes, outlines, and revisions. He also asked Nelson to respond to a series of questions on tape after each writing session; the questions asked Nelson to detail his writing process for that specific session. Selzer also interviewed Nelson at various points during the study in order to clarify details from the tape recordings as well as to ask Nelson about his writing style in general.

Essentially, Selzer wanted to find out how engineers go about their writing processes - planning, drafting, and revising. It seems like he hoped to be able to provide teachers of technical writing with insight into the engineer's writing method in order to make those teachers' lessons more effective and relevant to students. Selzer states that not much work has been done on the writing process of engineers, so his study is a foray into that topic.

While the results of Selzer's study are not stellar (he basically states that his study was pointless because it's impossible to come to a conclusion about the writing of engineers from the study of one engineer), his methodology is worth taking notes from. Selzer was very methodical in his research, keeping track of every letter Nelson wrote and asking Nelson about every step in his writing process. While such a research method is very time consuming, it allows for a great attention to detail and a lot of results to present.

For my own project, I think that carefully observing the participants of my study would be a good idea. Although I am planning to perform an experimental study instead of an ethnographic study, I would still be able to pay attention to how engineering students and business students go about the process of coming up with product names and descriptions instead of just looking at the results of my study.

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