Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Sarah L. Liggett


The specific goal of this field study was to develop an empirically-based description of engineering proposals as they are developed and used in their natural context; this goal was designed to provide a data base for further study addressing the general research interest of why the descriptions of proposals in technical writing textbooks vary so significantly from the types of proposals produced and used in an nonacacemic environment, specifically engineering. Using strategies borrowed and adapted from sociological and anthropological research methodologies, the study focused on collecting field-based data through interviews, field notes, questionnaires, and artifacts about the form, content, structure, and use of proposals by an engineering firm in state, federal, and municipal projects. Analysis of the data confirmed the discrepancy between the characterization of proposals in textbooks and the configuration and function of proposals in the study's context. The staging framework, taxonomy, and lexicon developed for the proposals used by the firm highlighted four major focuses for further study: (1) a correlation between textbook and practice to develop more empirically-based guidelines for instruction; (2) a re-evaluation of the concept of audience as a fluid term that should be partitioned into more meaningful sub-categories such as user, use, function, or purpose in a specific context; (3) an analysis of the function of language in academic and nonacademic contexts to avoid arbitrary, meaningless, or unilateral labels; (4) a longitudinal study to analyze the evolution of content as controlled by form, use, and context.