Write Using Design Process

I volunteered to judge the essays for the Future City competition, in which middle school students design an entire city using SimCity software. Here’s what the Future City essay instructions said:

“When engineers design solutions to problems, they go through a process of brainstorming, testing different ideas, learning from mistakes, and trying again. This is called the engineering design process. The engineering design process is a great way to work through any challenge that involves creating something that didn’t exist before, such as building a bridge, planning a trip – even writing an essay.”

I never thought of using the engineering design process as a framework for the writing process, but after I gave it some thought, hey!  It works!

Step 1: Do a thorough investigation of available information.
Collect data, go to the library, read some SPE papers, crunch some numbers, scribble on the whiteboard.

Step 2: Define the problem.
Give a little background, describe the current situation, tell how the problem happened or why the study was conducted, and discuss the impact.

Step 3: Brainstorm solutions.
Discuss the benefits of each option, the risks involved, and ways to mitigate the risks.

Step 4: Select a solution and analyze it.
Tell how it works, what resources or technologies are needed, and how the plan would be implemented.

Step 5: Summarize for management.
Include results, lessons learned, and references.

Now, as much as most engineers hate to write, this formula should feel quite comfortable to them. And when I was a magazine editor, this same framework was the basic recipe for a successful article worth publishing. Our oil industry readers always seemed to like that style of article because at its core, it is a technical love story with a happy ending.

The only problem I have with the Future City essay competition, which has “stormwater runoff” as its theme this year, is that grammar, spelling, and writing skills are only given two points each, whereas 20 other categories in the judging rubric are given three points apiece. Harrumph!

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Profound Quote of the Day:

“An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.”
– Anatole France, French novelist, 1844-1924
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