Jack Selzer The Composing Process Of An Engineer


In the essay “The Composing Process of an Engineer,” Jack Selzer discussed the effect and function of the formal writing process of an engineer. He was trying to prove a proper way of technical writing for engineers or scientists. As a result, he thought that teachers were not ready to teach their students and thus they need new pedagogy. Jack gave an example which was Kenneth E. Nelson, an experienced engineer in Chicago. By researching Nelson’s composing processes, Jack claimed how engineers should be taught and something needed to be corrected.

The essay was separated into three parts which are procedures, results, and conclusions. Its organization is very simple and typical. Jack first gave a brief introduce of his research and methodology. Then he focused on results which contain planning and inventing, arrangement, drafting, and revision. Ultimately, Jack gave a concise conclusion includes his recommendations.

In the first part of the article, the author revealed his investigation of an experienced engineer named Nelson. He expressed his methodology in this paragraph which was qualitative studies but also with experiment. There were several examples or materials from Nelson’s projects appeared such as memo, abstracts, and reports. There wasn’t any analysis or his own opinions in this section, and instead, he concentrated on observations based on Nelson’s technical writing style. He visited and interviewed with Nelson and he even recorded on tapes.

The procedure was followed by the main portion which was results. Jack found Nelson performed “distinct planning, arranging, writing, and revising activities (page 179).” He also noticed that Nelson also placed special emphasis on planning and arranging when Nelson was revising. Thus, he illuminated and analyzed his observations step by step in results.

Planning and inventing, are key factors of Nelson’s reports. First, the author emphasized the importance of purpose. One observation was the response that Nelson gave to each customer’s questions. The purpose should be ingrained and could satisfy the request for a proposal. The second element was a persuasive aim. An appropriate persuasive recommendation directly affects the results of a report. In addition, the inventing was also a symbol of Nelson’s writing. For instance, Nelson spent up to more than 80% of his time on inventing and arranging. Meanwhile, Nelson also considered his audiences’ attitude toward his proposal. Thus, the customers’ requirements should be set at the first place to generate the content of a report.

The audience’s technical background was imperative to be considered while Nelson thought about the way his report would be used. Moreover, past letters, old proposals and reports were also helpful and valuable. Like Jack mentioned, Nelson always picked portions from others and combined different documents in a very short time. To sum up, the most important skill was that Nelson was so aware of how he might adapt content for his primary audience. He also relies on “an impressive array of invention procedures—analyzing audiences, reading, consulting colleagues, brainstorming, and reviewing previously written documents (page 181).”

As several people regarded arrangement as less important content for technical writers, Nelson had his particular procedure of arrangement. At this moment, outline became the most import process. An outline could indicate specific ideas and procedure with concise information. As recommendations, Nelson expressed the importance of following the steps of well-established principles of arrangement of individual segments, subsections, and entire reports. Thus, a proper outline would give an appropriate structure.

Unlike other process, Nelson only spent around 20% of his time on drafting. He could compose a draft efficiently and smoothly. For instance, once Nelson just spent two hours finishing a draft contained more than 1200 words (page 183). The reason of his efficiency was that the detailed plans and outlines contributed at this time. In addition, simplification was also a key factor. Nelson avoided using complicated or long paragraphs. He usually gave short ones that “give the reader a chance to breathe (page 183).” Moreover, between 71% and 90% were grammatically simple sentences.

Revision was always considered as an important procedure because it correct mistakes and fixed the weakness. However, Nelson never spent much time on revision. It only took him up less than 5% of his time. He usually left it to his secretary. The reason was that Nelson was so confident in his projects and he thought it was not necessary to edit it much more.

In short, Jack discussed the technical writing skills for engineers and scientists. He agreed with Nelson’s opinion and he recommended Nelson’s style. The author expressed teachers were unsuccessfully teaching their students due to their future requirement of writing skills. He also argued people did not really try to explore new method to write. In addition, engineers and scientists couldn’t find an exact or proper way in technical writing due to the reason that everyone had his or her own methods of writing. To sum up, Jack explained even engineers might write in completely different ways from professional writings, but Nelson’s style was practically the same.


  • “He determines his purpose, and then invents and selects content to carry out that purpose.” (page 179).
  • “Nelson has a clearly persuasive aim when he writes proposals and recommendations, and an informative goal for technical memos and progress reports.” (page 180).
  • “A persuasive recommendation report might have particular parts that must inform; a proposal must “look good” aesthetically if it is to accomplish its larger persuasive end.” (page 180).
  • “It is impossible to come to reliable conclusion about the writing process of engineers on the basis of a single case study.” (page 184).
  • “It may also be appropriate in teaching prospective engineers to emphasize principles and techniques of arrangement and, by contrast, to regard revision as the least important activity in the engineer’s writing process.” (page 185).


In the piece “The Composing Process of an Engineer,” Jack Selzer first briefly introduced his procedures at the beginning. It was an efficient beginning because it contained methodology and the process of his research. I could easily approach his theme which he was trying to discuss the required writing skills for technical writers. He just used one example that was Nelson who was an experienced engineer in Chicago. At this moment, I think it’s better to choose more instances instead of just focusing on one specific example. More models can be more persuasive to the readers. However, he described Nelson’s work in detail and provided proper research.

The next section was the results which was the core of the essay. He separated it into three portions that were “Planning and Inventing, Arrangement, Drafting, and Revision.” Jack mainly concentrated on the Planning. He picked several Nelson’s work to analyze. For instance, Jack introduced the importance of purpose and analysis of audience in this part. A good purpose could definitely attract audience and a proper analysis toward audience would be helpful when we were trying to persuade them.

In “arrangement,” Jack discussed the importance of outlines and structure. He just kept using Nelson’s report as an example. There were several instances used in this portion such as Nelson’s old outlines and reports. Jack also listed some basic but imperative principles in arranging a document. Meanwhile, the description of how Nelson ordered materials professionally when he was making an outline, helped readers further understand the importance of designing an outline.
In “drafting,” Jack analyzed how to write a draft smoothly and efficiently. He gave a good example to introduce Nelson’s time planning. The data he provided were detailed and persuasive. Nelson only spent less than 20% of the total time he worked in composing a draft. Nelson’s drafts were conventional and conservative. Jack emphasized the tone through the whole writing. He used Nelson’s report again to prove his opinion at this time.

“Revision” was not a favorite part for Nelson. There wasn’t much explanation of revision. Instead, Jack seemed to show how confident Nelson was with the writing. Thus, Nelson didn’t need much time on revision. Jack wanted to show once people well organized and outlined their writings, and they wouldn’t need more time on revision.

In conclusion, Jack argues and discussed his opinions about technical writing for engineers and scientists. He thought the current pedagogy was an improper teaching to technical writers. He suggested Nelson’s style which was creative and concise. I agreed with Jack Selzer. Many writing skills I have learned were not necessary or required when I tried to write a report. I felt I lacked of professional skills to write a technical report after I finished researches. People should be more creative but not mechanical.

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