Communication Patterns of Engineers / Edition 1

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Communication Patterns of Engineers brings together, summarizes, and analyzes the research on how engineers communicate, presenting benchmark data and identifying gaps in the existing research. Written by two renowned experts in this area, the text:

  • Compares engineering communication patterns with those of science and medicine
  • Offers information on improving engineering communication skills, including the use of communication tools to address engineering departments' concerns about the inadequacies of communication by engineers
  • Provides strong conclusions to address what lessons engineering educators, librarians, and communication professionals can learn from the research presented
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"…this book is highly recommended for library and information science libraries and engineering special and academic libraries." (E-STREAMS, July 2004)

"…a mountain of research. Virtually every paragraph contains foods for thought. If you want a broad view of engineering communication…I highly recommend this book." (Computing, June 22, 2004) 

“...looks at all aspects of engineering communication, including how much time engineers spend reading for their jobs and the kind of information they produce as a result of their work.” (The Institute, January 7, 2004)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471484929
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 1/9/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.47 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

CAROL TENOPIR, PhD, is a Professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In addition to four books, Dr. Tenopir has published over 200 journal articles. Since 1983 she has been writing the "Online Databases" column for Library Journal. Dr. Tenopir is a frequent speaker at professional conferences and has earned numerous teaching and research awards.

DONALD W. KING, a statistician, has researched science, engineering, and medical communication for over forty years. He has authored or edited sixteen books, two of them award winners, and in the late 1970s he was named as one of the ten most-cited authors in the information field. Among numerous awards, he was named Pioneer in Science Information (Chemical Heritage Foundation).

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Table of Contents



Communication Models.

An Engineers' Communication Framework.

The Engineering Profession and Communication.

Information Seeking and Use.

Information Output by Engineers.

Engineering Education and Communication Skills.

The Engineering Scholarly Journal Channel.

Engineering Communication Patterns Compared with Science and Medicine.

The NASA/DOD Aerospace Knowledge Diffusion Research Project.


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First Chapter

Communication Patterns of Engineers

By Carol Tenopir Donald W. King

John Wiley & Sons

Copyright © 2004 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-471-48492-X

Chapter One



This book is a review and analysis of the literature and presentation of data from a series of surveys that attempts to provide insights into how engineers communicate. Much of the focus of the book is on the professional aspects of engineers' work, the information resources used to perform their work, and information output from their work that is communicated to others. Many of our studies and those of others dealt with traditional interpersonal and written communication channels. Together, these studies provide abundant evidence of the many factors that motivate engineers to use various communication channels. However, it seems clear that new technologies, such as the World Wide Web and electronic publishing, are having a profound effect on engineering communication patterns. We believe that knowledge and understanding of engineers' motives, incentives, and reasons for communicating in the past will help frame future communication practices.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Internet, and specifically the World Wide Web, became popular, making electronic and digitally based products (i.e., electronic journals) not only possible, but economicallypractical. By the late 1990s, electronic products became widely available and accepted by authors and readers. The Internet has dramatically increased the potential for both informal and formal communication. People have the option of easy and immediate contact with friends and colleagues all over the world, there has been an evolution of intensive groups of engineers on the Internet with interests in materials, nanotech, electronics, and so on. They can choose which format of many best suits their communication and information needs and requirements. Libraries also now have the option of choosing between print or electronic formats. Libraries and information centers exist to provide information services to their users, so it is important to find out which formats users prefer and how potential benefits offered by electronic resources will facilitate the research and development process and help (or hinder) engineers to do their work. Consequently, interest has increased regarding studies of and publications on scholarly communication and information exchange processes and systems since 1994. Many of these are directly applicable to engineers.

This book synthesizes the historical context surrounding early studies on the communication practices of engineers and scientists; looks at various aspects of communication through scientific and technical information (STI); examines the literature that distinguishes the information needs and uses of engineers from those of scientists; and offers a review of significant studies and projects that explore the communication practices of engineers.

The 1950s witnessed several excellent studies of how engineers and scientists communicate; however, research and surveys on the relationship between scientific activity and STI research took off in the 1960s, largely due to funding from the U.S. federal government and governments in Europe. The 1970s and 1980s saw a continuation of these studies, although this research slowed down by the early 1990s. Most of these studies defined communication broadly to include the creation of knowledge and its preparation for dissemination, the numerous channels by which it could be transmitted, and the assimilation and use of information the engineers received. Various meanings to the terms "information needs," "information seeking," and "information use" are found in the literature. For example, to some communication researchers "information needs" refer to the sources of information used, while for other researchers, "information needs" apply to the information content needed by engineers. Still others define "information needs" as the reasons for needing information.

Five types of models were used to examine STI communication in communication research since 1970. These models either:

1. Focus on communication during research and development projects and tasks; or

2. Follow the flow of information between individual engineers; or

3. Track information through its life-cycle; or

4. Examine the amount of information activity and use involved in specific work activities or by specific participants; or

5. Measure the amount and characteristics of information flow between various functions and participants.

It has been well documented over several decades that engineers spend much of their time communicating. This is often done to enhance their professional performance, as there is ample evidence of a correlation between engineers' communication and their work performance. However, the importance given to different types of information (e.g., literature versus interpersonal exchange) being communicated varies among studies. Furthermore, choices from among information sources are often dictated by factors, such as ease of use or cost considerations.

Many studies found that personal and interpersonal information sources are used initially by engineers and that internally published technical reports are favored over externally published documents. For this reason, uses of journal articles, books, and other sources of externally published material were given less emphasis by communication researchers. Later research began to focus on the importance of journal articles and discovered that engineers in universities read scholarly articles a great deal and engineers elsewhere read them less frequently, but value them nevertheless. Research and engineering education also began to focus on the importance of writing, presentation, and other communication skills.

The research on secondary sources of STI during this period was as extensive as that on primary sources. Most of the studies on secondary sources focused on automated bibliographic searching, with little attention on printed indexes or numeric databases. Studies from the 1960s dealt with the quality of output from information retrieval systems. Studies in the 1970s and 1980s of automated bibliographic databases tended to address evaluation or research involving system innovation and on "end-user" searching. Library resources and librarians were shown in the literature to be "under-used" by engineers in the completion of major projects. Libraries often fill a niche in the communication process, however, by providing for special needs, such as identifying and providing access to older or costly material.

There were many extensive reviews of engineering communication and related literature throughout this period. These include chapters in the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (Menzel, 1966b; Herner and Herner; Paisley, 1968; Allen, 1967, 1969; Lipetz, 1970; Crane, 1971a; Lin and Garvey, 1972; Martyn, 1974; Crawford, 1978; Dervin and Nilan, 1986; Hewins, 1990; King and Tenopir, 2000); several books (Pinelli, Barclay, Kennedy, and Bishop, 1997a, b; Griffith, 1980; Kent, 1989; Nelson and Pollock, 1970; Mikhailov, Chernyi, and Giliarevskii, 1984; Williams and Gibson, 1990; Hills, 1980; Katz, 1988; Tenopir and King, 2000a), reports such as those produced by Pinelli and colleagues and King with Casto and Jones; and PhD dissertations such as Raitt.

Studies concerning STI communication often do not make the distinction between scientists and engineers. Authors who discussed the variations between the two groups before 1994 include Gould and Pearce (1991), Blade, Rosenbloom, and Wolek (1967), Allen (1988), and Pinelli (1991). Engineers were found to rely more on informal and interpersonal information sources than of published literature (Rosenbloom and Wolek 1967; Allen 1988) and they also read fewer journal articles and use the library less than scientists (Griffiths, et al.).

Several sustained and exemplary STI communication research projects were performed from the 1960s through the current time. All of these studies have relied heavily upon data collected from statistical surveys of engineers. The first of these studies, by William Garvey and colleagues at The Johns Hopkins University, began in the early 1960s and lasted until the 1970s. Their work had two major foci. First, they were interested in the "flow" of STI through various communication channels such as internal reports, professional meetings, journal articles, and so on. They developed a timeline to show when created information would appear in each of these channels. Second, they examined which sources of information engineers used for completing their work activities.

Thomas Allen and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology performed another series of studies initiated in the mid-1960s which continued into the early 1990s. Their work involved "record analysis" and self-administered questionnaires of engineers, which revealed that there are often individuals in an organization known as "stars" or "gatekeepers" upon whom others heavily rely on as sources for internal and external information. They identified nine basic information channels and determined the extent to which each of these channels are used, the value of these channels, and the factors which lead to their use.

King Research performed statistical descriptions of STI from the 1970s to the 1990s. Under National Science Foundation (NSF) contracts, King Research performed a series of studies to develop statistical indicators of STI. This research provided trends and projections for STI literature, libraries, authorship and information use by scientists and engineers, and STI expenditures in the United States. One finding debunked the myth of an "information explosion." Rather, growth in the literature merely reflected a growth in the number of scientists and engineers, a fact that holds true today. In 1976, they began research on the feasibility of electronic publishing of journal articles and concluded that the short-term future would have a two-tier system of dissemination (print and electronic). Results from the journal studies led to a book (King, McDonald, and Roderer, 1981) in which the entire journal system is described in detail. They then started research in 1981 to explore the use, usefulness, and value of STI and the contribution that STI services make to these outcomes. From the 1980s to the late 1990s, King Research performed numerous proprietary studies in various organizations to determine the communication activities of professionals (including scientists and engineers). Their work found that engineers and scientists spend a majority of their time communicating. They also found that engineers and scientists use a variety of information sources with choices being dictated by economics among other factors (new analyses from these studies and more recent comparative data are included in several chapters in this book). A continuation of these studies is being continued at the University of Tennessee (Tenopir under SLA, EIF, and other sponsorship), Drexel University, and University of Pittsburgh.

From 1977 to 1981, Hedvah Shuchman and colleagues of The Futures Group conducted surveys of engineers employed at 89 firms. Sponsored by the NSF, these surveys examined the steps used in locating information needed to solve a project or task. The most important steps were personal stores of technical information, informal discussions with colleagues, and discussions with supervisors. They also found a discrepancy between the sources of information used and sources of information produced.

Beginning in the early 1980s and continuing into the 1990s, Thomas Pinelli, John Kennedy, Rebecca Barclay and their colleagues examined the diffusion of knowledge through the aerospace industry. Their work was undertaken as the NASA/DOD Aerospace Knowledge Diffusion Research Project and was done in collaboration with the NASA Langley Research Center, the Indiana University Center for Survey Research, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The project tracked the flow of STI at the individual, organizational, national, and international levels and examined the communication channels in which STI flows and the social system of knowledge diffusion. More information on the NASA/DOD Aerospace Knowledge Diffusion Research Project can be found in Chapter 12, which is dedicated entirely to this extensive research.

The data for this book are derived from many sources. A primary source is from readership surveys performed by King Research and the University of Tennessee School of Information Sciences, totaling results from over 15,000 scientists. Conducted since 1974, these surveys looked primarily at journal readership, although use of library and other information services was also considered. Data also came from the tracking of 715 scientific journals over a 40-year period and numerous cost studies of scientists' activities, library services, publishing, and other processes relevant to the journal system.


In Chapter 2, we describe a few of the many models that depict engineering communication. The principal models presented here attempt to illustrate the complexity of communication processes, which consist of many interpersonal or oral channels (e.g., informal and formal discussions, presentations, lectures, etc.) and written or recorded channels (e.g., letters and e-mail, electronic engineering handbooks and manuals, documentation of work, conference proceedings, articles, books, patents, etc.). Multiple channels exist because each serves specific information needs and requirements. Some information passes through a multitude of channels over time and a model is presented describing the "life" of information through these channels. Some channels, such as those found in the literature, involve many important system-like functions and the participants who perform these functions. These relationships and the life cycle of information through the journal channel form the basis for other communication models that are changing with new technologies.

Chapter 3 discusses the interrelationships among the engineering professions and work performed, resources used to perform engineering activities, and the output from those work activities. Information, of course, is an essential input resource to the work process, as well as a tangible output from the work process. We emphasize that receiving and using information requires substantial amounts of engineers' time, as well as, the use of information seeking tools such as technologies and library resources. The same is true in information outputs such as in preparing presentations and documents.

Chapter 4 deals with the engineering profession and how engineers go about their work.


Excerpted from Communication Patterns of Engineers by Carol Tenopir Donald W. King Copyright © 2004 by Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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