Theses Doctoral

Technical Poetry: A Case Study of Teaching Technical Writing to Engineering Students through Poetry and Metaphor

Alikhani, Maryam S.

The purpose of this case study was to examine what would happen when poetry writing was incorporated into a technical writing course for engineering students. To make poetry relevant to engineering students and topics of technical writing, a low-stakes assignment of poetry writing as prewriting about a technical object, called Technical Poetry, was designed and paired with a high-stakes assignment of technical description.
The study explored with a group of engineering students their experiences of writing technical poetry, how they perceived it, and how it changed their technical writings and perceptions of engineering. The study did not intend to teach the engineering students to become professional poets, but to keep the focus of the study on enhancing technical writing instruction and developing students’ technical writing through a creative, poetic, and expressive pedagogy.
The problem that engineering students have, of writing for and communicating through technical documents with a broad range of audiences who vary from high-technical to low-technical and lay readers, demands a broad range of exercises in different writing forms and genres. The Expressive Theory of composition emphasizes the benefits of creative and poetic writing exercises that foster writing from alternative perspectives, such as the poet’s perspective, and eventually improve the students’ writing and communication skills. Furthermore, the Conceptual Metaphor Theory informed the study of the roles metaphors play in language and mind and how they can be applied to writing technical documents and clarifying complex technical and scientific matters for readers. Poetry was used as a creative and expressive pedagogical tool that introduced poetic devices such as metaphors, similes, and analogies to equip engineering students with language techniques for effective technical communication with a broad range of audiences. The practice of writing poetry and creating metaphors also served to familiarize the engineering students with the creative thinking experience used in industrial designing, inventing, and technical problem solving, referred to as biomimicry or biomimetic.
A qualitative case study was designed for in-depth case-by-case research. Data were collected from multiple sources including the students’ technical poems, technical descriptions in prose, pre- and post-poetry reflections or questionnaires, and interviews. The study adopted coding and discourse analysis methods to examine the students’ metaphors in communicating complex technical concepts with lay readers, their experiences of technical poetry writing, and their perceptions of engineering through the creative poetic pedagogy.
As a result, the vast majority of the students reported positive changes in their perceptions of poetry and engineering and showed more effectiveness in their technical writings. In addition to writing technical poems that embodied metaphors, the students wrote technical descriptions that included numerous metaphors which, in turn, made their technical writings more understandable and relatable to lay readers.
Recommendations are offered for ways that technical writing instructors can design and apply poetic, expressive, and creative pedagogies. Poetry was one way to make a change in the way English instructors teach technical writing to engineering students. Further studies can look at the impact of other literary and creative pedagogies.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English Education
Thesis Advisors
Sealey-Ruiz, Yolanda
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 15, 2018