Life Lesson: MIT undergraduates are
required to take one course in communications every year. Professor Jane
Dunphy is helping them develop the skills they will need to effectively
communicate their technical breakthroughs once they're out in the real
A self-proclaimed foe of obfuscation, Professor Jane Dunphy is aiming to eradicate bad writing in business by teaching engineering students how to be better communicators.
Present position: Director of English Language Studies, Department of Foreign Language and Literature, and Lecturer in Communications Sloan School of Management at MIT
Degrees: B.A., University of Calgary; M.Ed. in Education, Boston University
It's been said that engineers are lousy communicators. Is that true? To tell the truth, I think social scientists are every bit as dreadful at expressing themselves! Seriously, the methods of getting information across are just as important as the information itself.
How you describe your work when out at a cocktail party: I say that I teach communications, including making a persuasive presentation, handling questions on the fly, and writing reports.
What is the most common mistake in writing? A lot of writing is excessively wordy, and not reader friendly. People often think that their writing will sound more professional if they do the things that Scott Adams does in Dilbert, such as using the word "utilize" instead of "use." Adams is satirizing. But it's often difficult to convince students that simple, straightforward writing is much more compelling than dense prose. (Check out Dunphy's "Seven Tips for Reader-Friendly Writing" on our website at www.designnews.com/writingtips.)
Secrets of an effective presentation? Forget about yourself and focus on your audience and what they need.
Thumbs up or down on PowerPoint? It's just a tool that can be used badly or used well. You can't blame a software package for a lousy presentation.
Best resource on writing for engineers? "How to Write and Publish Engineering Papers and Reports, by Herbert Michaelson," published by Oryx Press.
Jane Dunphy teaches seminars on communications for professionals. Contact her atDunphy@mit.edu.