The role of rhetoric in engineering judgment

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Introduction: ABET has approved changes to the EAC's Criterion 3 that will take effect for the 2019-2020 accreditation cycle. Among many changes and rearrangements is the introduction of the term 'engineering judgment' as one of the competencies that students must develop to prepare for professional engineering. Literature review: However, engineering judgment is not defined in the criterion, and although it is a ubiquitous concept in the philosophy of engineering and engineering education, little empirical investigation has been undertaken into the practice of engineering judgment. And there is even less conceptual or empirical investigation into communication's role in the practice of engineering judgment. Research questions: 1. What does engineering judgment look like in practice? 2. How does the sociotechnical situation affect engineering judgment? 3. What role does rhetoric have, not only in communicating judgments, but in forming them as well? 4. How can teachers and practitioners in engineering and technical communication use these findings to facilitate better judgment in the classroom and at work? Methods: Using videotape and fieldnotes, the author examines the two sequences of decision-making from a student engineering design project. An ethnomethodologically inspired framework is used to exhibit the phenomenal details of 'doing' engineering judgment. Discussion/conclusion: Data reveal that engineering judgment may be fruitfully understood by educators as not just a cognitive and individual ability to apply technical knowledge, but instead a capacity of participants to rhetorically establish common cause to interrogate and reflect on the relations between technical data and situations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8667081
Pages (from-to)165-177
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Transactions on Professional Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • Design
  • embodiment
  • engineering judgment
  • rhetorical theory


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