2022 First-Year Engineering Experience

GIFTS: Introducing Quad Chart to Reinforce Technical Communication Skills

Presented at Technical Session T2

Abstract: Our first-year engineering students write and present technical reports, lab reports, capstone projects, formal emails, posters, elevator pitches and more, to communicate their technical knowledge globally to a wide variety of audiences. They are required to present information as objectively as possible. Although the importance of communication may seem self-evident, engineering students do not conceive themselves as writers, and so, do not work to improve their writing skills, or do not know how to communicate results or technical information concisely, clearly, accurately, and logically. Communication is a skill that can be learned and developed. A quick and efficient way of communicating complex technical ideas in a simple and easily understandable way is through the creation and use of a quad chart. This comprises a single page divided into four quadrants laid on a landscape perspective. A quad chart is a universal tool, and our engineering students can use it in multiple ways - for a quick introduction of their professional and academic activities, short briefings, an initial research proposal, lab report, or the summary of a research effort. Each quadrant may represent one main topic, be it an engineering problem being addressed, research question, a resume, a statement of purpose, or even an elevator pitch focused on introducing themselves. For instance, in presenting a lab report, the first quadrant can focus on Introduction of the goal or motivation of their work, the second on a succinct, bulleted Methodology or project design – where students can discuss the data collected and the process, variables tested, and control group. The third quadrant could primarily be a graphic representation of relevant data and Results. The fourth quadrant could focus on Interpretation and Conclusion of the results. It could address how the results support their hypothesis, applications for future work, and acknowledgment of limitations in their current work. They can briefly describe the content and objective of each quadrant through writing, illustrating, or through images and tables. Each quadrant can represent a single topic with its own heading and a visual that is easy to see, visualize, and comprehend. The four quadrants can be summarized to tell a visually appealing digital story or provide a quick overview of the project. A quad chart is intended to be more visual than detailed and enables to quickly introduce the project, their contribution and its significance and impact. Our first-year students can efficiently and effectively develop the skill of writing, communicating, and presenting information, their skills and expertise, and various technical documents, through a simple, visually appealing, and user-friendly single-page document like a quad chart. This idea has been implemented and practiced with graduate engineering students, but not with undergraduates. The author plans to introduce this to first-year engineering students.

Key words: quad chart, technical information, presentation, communication, graphic representation

  1. Mr. Timothy J Hinds Michigan State University [biography]
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