Thursday, October 3, 2013

Interview with Dr. Peter Liu

In an effort to encourage campus-wide conversation on writing, we have interviewed various faculty members on its importance in their various disciplines.  For the third installment of our interview series, I sat down to discuss the intersection of technology and writing with Dr. Peter Liu of the Graduate Studies in Technology department.  Dr. Liu had excellent insights on both technical writing and the challenges of writing in a second language.

Can you describe the role of writing in your field?

In general in technology we write a lot of reports.  In research there are a lot of required proposals.  Those are the two major, major applications.

What would you say is unique to technical writing?

My personal emphasis is accuracy.  The number two would be something I would call readability, because our purpose is to carry information so that other individuals receive the information and then take action.

What would you say characterizes successful writing?

If it is accurate then you have credibility.  People trust you.  Otherwise no one cares what you write.  As engineers you know we like to speak on behalf of the fact.

Would you mind sharing a personal struggle with writing?

The struggle actually happened when I was a student, because I had to write a big paper, a dissertation.  The main struggle is to choose different vocabulary.  For instance, we must paraphrase other people’s work, but we may not plagiarize.  We understand the ideas, but then if we want to express them in different ways, we must paraphrase.  But the vocabulary is not easy for us to choose.

What are some dangers of poor written communication in technical occupations?

Look at the consequence, the critical nature.  It could be the safety of our customers, of the public.  So that could be the consequence if we do not convey the message in a clear fashion.

What writing skills do you see as lacking in those entering college for technology-based studies?

I came to EIU twenty two years ago.  I was trained in China with my Masters degree, and then spent four years at Iowa State before I came here.  I came as a foreigner, and my native language was not English.  But what I observed was that I was shocked.  The writing skills of students— I should not say the students.  The writing skills of half of the students were not up to par. 

What do you say to the technology major who says, “I am out of high school.  I am in college.  I don’t have to worry about writing anymore”?

Twenty years ago when I started teaching here, there were undergraduate students, and I just had to encourage them this is important.  I have to say to them you may not want to be an (entry level) engineer all your life, so that so can make a bigger impact.  In order to do that, writing is an essential skill.

What roles might a humanities or English major play in a technology-oriented business?

As a university we always want to lead our next generation.  We want the younger generation to lead our society.  In order to do that the university formed CENCERE (Center for Clean Energy Research and Education).  It was an interdisciplinary effort across the entire campus.  As a result we formed a program called the Masters of Science in Sustainable Energy.  This new degree program is a collective effort from ten disciplines across the entire campus, including [the English] department.  EIU is more liberal arts focused, so our niche is not, say, providing bench scientists.  Our students are more well-rounded.  We know the technical aspects as well as the human side.  To be an effective leader or manager, they’ve got to have communication skills. 


  1. Hmm....
    Steve, it appears you have approached the edge of your knowledge here, and have crossed over into brilliance.

  2. Great interview. Dr. Liu imparts important points about technical writing. I'm going to share this interview with my professional writing and editing class.