Engineering Innovation Through Rhetorical Invention

Published in Professional Communication Conference (IPCC), 2016 IEEE International:

Teaching engineering students to innovate—to develop novel solutions, new applications, or original designs for solving problems—is becoming a more central concern in engineering education. Many programs are increasing the number of project-based courses, to provide students with the conditions in which innovation might occur, yet innovation remains difficult to teach directly. In one such course in Chemical Engineering, we introduced a framework to aid students in exploring the central questions of their projects, from how to define the problem, to how to recognize the value of previous approaches to specific technical challenges, to how to interpret the results of innovative research. This framework, which we call a “What-How-Why” diagram, integrates the thinking that chemical engineers need to cover as they design the work of a project, with the thinking that they need to do in order to communicate that work to an audience. We have found that this framework helps students to plan their work, to recognize potential areas for specific innovation, to better recognize the significance of variations in research design, and to communicate innovative solutions more effectively.


Suzanne Lane

Suzanne Lane

Director of Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication