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Writing as mimicry

As always, thank you for your patience. I’m getting these modules up as quickly as I can. I’ve never taught the course or content this way so hopefully my slowness will actually be to everyone’s benefit. Plus what even is time?!

Folks! We have so many tools at our disposal to support our writing and I want to share that even I, a professor and academic forget to use them sometimes. This is all to say that you’re all doing great! We’ve got nowhere to get to, we’ll just keep practicing to increase our comfort with writing and thinking.

The tool I forgot and remembered (time loops! fuck linearity!), comes from Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ Undrowned. 

Gumbs uses a rhetorical strategy of identifying a specific writing genre (in this case it’s marine biology guidebooks) and then mirroring (or modeling) after that genre to write in her own type of guidebook. This is a deliberate strategy to expose process and give an example of how a typically dry clinical form can be flipped on its head.

So in the spirit of Alexis Pauline Gumbs, here’s a look into my process: I will start breaking down the learning objectives for each module at the beginning. Today’s topics include:

Transparency about the institutional expectation

Comp/rhet concept of genre

How we can use it WFE


I want to give you some background about this course because I *think* it’ll help us think through how we connect with “Writing for Engineering.” WFE is staffed by the English Dept (aka not engineers) and the curriculum is not crafted in collaboration with GSOE. What does this mean for all of you? It means we (I) have to guess what “writing for engineering” is and what is applicable for you all.

So the assumption we’re all making (English Department, Grove, the field of writing for engineering) is that writing like an engineer assumes the rhetoric and style of an academic genre. What do I mean by that? The type of writing you are expected to be proficient at is a very small niche (research articles, lab reports) within the field, and so while it’s good to know about the IMRD (Introduction, Methods, Research, Discussion) sections in an academic text, you probably won’t see any of this beyond your college experience unless you decide to stay in academia. 

But you’re still being asked to write this way in other courses, so we should practice it. Let’s practice though, with the understanding that WFE is a performative genre (like most things in academia).

Which brings us back to the writing concept of genre: the form that we model our writing after; the style we choose to communicate in in order to deliver a particular message. 

Did you know that it is common practice to mimic writing styles in academia? We mimic what people have done before us and change the content. Academics rarely write from scratch. We follow a formula not dissimilar to a math equation. For “technical writing” (and WFE falls under that umbrella), we follow a specific set of moves and steps to communicate our information. 

This is a helpful tool! We can use a formula to make the writing easier. I’m not an engineer, but let’s say that technical writing is similar to fundamentals that you start with in any of your fields: there’s certain code that’s a baseline and you build from there.

Luckily for us, Dr. Budsaba Kanoksilapatham created a worksheet that shows the different moves and steps in a typical academic research paper. Each “move” is the information you’re trying to claim/establish and each “step” is how to support the move. The PDF is attached.

For this week’s assignment, I would like you to go into https://arxiv.org/, an open-access engineering research database, and find an article that is interesting to you. Then I want you to pick one of the four sections outlined by Dr. Kanoksilapatham and note where you see the steps and the moves happening. This is probably better suited to printing out and highlighting, but I don’t expect you to do that, so just figure out a way to show me the moves and steps (screenshot with notes, photo with highlighting). The best place for these to go will probably be into our Google Drive folder. The link to that is on the right side of our course site.

Finally in the comments of this module just write a few sentences about what you found by using this method of search and find.

Next week we’ll take a look at some writing that’s actually happening in the world in your field. Thanks everyone!


Gumbs, Alexis Pauline, and Adrienne Maree Brown. Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals (Emergent Strategy). AK Press, 2020.

Kanoksilapatham, Budsaba. “Rhetorical Structure of Biochemistry Research Articles.” English for Specific Purposes, vol. 24, no. 3, 2005, pp. 269–92. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.esp.2004.08.003.