The Engineering Profession and Communication


Engineering has been called an applied science that has as its
goal the creation or improvement of products or technologies with
immediate practical application. Unlike scientists, engineers typically
work on projects assigned by their management, most often
work in industry or government, conduct projects in teams, and
focus their goals on company or organizational success (Von Seggern
and Jourdain, 1996).
Engineers tend to be specialists who work to solve technical
problems collaboratively with other engineers and with scientists.
Typically engineers in both industry and academia “need more information
than they generate,” rely on personal information and
experience, seldom use libraries, and use more texts, technical reports,
catalogs, and trade journals rather than scholarly journals
or conference papers (Leckie, Pettigrew, and Sylvain, 1996).
The engineering profession is unique in many ways. For example,
engineering is “context-specific and often involves proprietary
information” and, as a result, “engineers tend to rely on conversations
with internal colleagues and clients” (Veshosky, 1998). Scientists,
on the other hand, are accustomed to external communication
sources, including academic journals and free exchange
with colleagues at other organizations. Engineers also communicate
some with external colleagues, but to a much more limited
extent. The thinking process required in engineering requires
more complex and abstract problem solving than most disciplines,
so communicating with non-engineers may be difficult (Li, 1994).
Although projects are assigned, engineers typically have freedom
in deciding how to do their work and “they are expected to
make informed decisions in a number of situations where many
possible solutions are available” (Hertzum and Pejtersen, 2000).
The choices that engineers make in deciding how to approach
their tasks and solve problems depends on their “understanding