Annual Review of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Volume 2, 2005
THE PROCESS OF DESIGNING AN ESP WRITING COURSE FOR ENGINEERS IN A SAUDI COMPANY.
The aim of this research is to have an overview of the needs and thereby design an English for Special Purposes (ESP) writing
course outline, for a group of engineers working in the Saudi Electrical Company. The key stages in the research are goal-
setting, situation analysis, needs analysis, and course outlines. Having determined the engineers’ needs through the two research
tools I have used, namely a questionnaires and authentic data analysis, discussion took place around my second aim, that of
determining the outline for the technical writing course. The questionnaires were distributed between the targeted group
(engineers) and authentic data analysis was taken from engineers working place.
My decision to investigate these particular writing needs is based on my experience teaching engineers and observing their
enormous needs to develop written English, as within technical field English is used as medium of communication. This does not
imply that other language skills are not important, thus this study could form the basis of future investigations in determining skills
ESP, writing course design, teaching English in a Saudi company.
1.1 The Saudi Electrical Company Training Institute (SECTI)
Generally speaking, in Saudi Arabia, within medicine, science and technology, and technical fields English is the medium
of communication .
The Saudi Electrical Company (SECO) has four training institutes; the Western institute where I used to work was built
in 1985. (SECTI) offers three training programs: the English language program, the computer usages program, and the technical
program. The institute offers an in-service training program to employees currently working for the company, and generally the
in-service training courses target administrators, engineers, and technicians.
At SECTI the English syllabus used in teaching was written in-house by teachers working in the company. The course
books have not been written to meet employees’ needs and this could be attributed to poor or inadequate identification of those
needs or materials at the outset.
Unfortunately, the language program administrators and teachers in SECTI are not familiar with ESP theory and
implementation, and are therefore, inexperienced in ESP course designing procedure.
The aim of this project is to design a writing course outline for a group of engineers working at the Saudi Electrical
Company (SECO). In the first instance, a needs analysis will be used to determine the key components necessary for designing
a writing course. A course outline will then be designed to accommodate these needs.
In fact, for this short paper it won’t be possible to extensively discuss all the necessary procedures required for designing
a course, however I will cover the most important parts of course design.
2.1 What is ESP?
ESP (English for Specific Purposes) is one important branch of the EFL/ESL (English as a Foreign/Second Language)
system that functions as the main branch of English language teaching ELT. Therefore, ESP is not a particular kind of language or
methodology, but rather an approach to language learning whereby the content and method are based on the learner’s particular
needs to learn the language (Hutchinson, and Waters, 1987).To distinguish ESP from EGP (English for General Purposes) we
could say that ESP is more focused . ESP can be divided into two main areas: (EAP), (EOP), Under these two types there are
further divisions for example, (EST) and (EMP) .
2.2 A Needs analysis
In designing an ESP course it is imperative to carryout a needs analysis to determine the specific reasons for learning the
language (Hutchinson, and Waters, 1987,) or to specify exactly, what students need to achieve through the medium of English
(Robinson 1991). According to Nunan “techniques and procedures for collecting information to be used in syllabus design are
referred to as a needs analysis” (Nunan, 1988: 13). In more formal terms a needs analysis is “the process of determining the
needs for which a learner or group of learners requires a language and arranging the needs according to priorities” (Richards,
and Platt, 1992:242).
2.2.1 The target needs
Before designing a course, students should know why they are taking the course and how they will apply that learning.
Also English language teachers should know what kind of tasks and activities learners will be using English for (Kandil, 2003).
Hutchinson, and Waters, 1987 suggested the following questions as a start-point to uncover relevant information.
• Why is the language needed?
• How will the language be used?
• What will the content areas be?
• Who will the learners use the language with?
• When/Where will the language be used?
(Hutchinson, T. and Waters, A 1987, pp 59).
2.2.2 The learning needs
The learning needs refer to the learners’ language difficulties, their learning objectives, their styles of learning etc (Jolly.
and Bolitho.1998). It is the starting point or the route and answers the question. To understand the learning needs we should find
answers for the following questions.
• Why are the learners taking the course?
• How do the learners learn?
• What resources are available?
• Who are the learners?
• When/Where will the course take place?
The new educational pedagogy emphasizes the importance of the learners and their attitudes to learning (Hutchinson, and
Waters, 1987, pp 59). Satisfying learner’s needs and interests has an important influence on the learners’ motivation and
therefore achievements. Moreover, this approach gives learners the opportunity to participate in the syllabus design. In a context
where the nature of the work changes, and the linguistic needs change too, the importance of this approach increases. As
Mackay and Mountford (1978) stated, adults who need English for academic or professional purposes are more aware of what
they want to use English for.
In fact, the results of a needs analysis are not absolute but relative. There are a number of factors that could affect the
outcomes: for instance: who to ask; what the questions are; and how the responses are interpreted (Dudley-Evans and St. John
2.3 The Information Gathering Process
To create a strong overall needs analysis a combination of two information gathering process procedures had been used:
• Questionnaires: to determine the learners’ purpose for learning the language (Nunan, D. 1989).
• Authentic data analysis: to determine the features of the genre of the text required for the ESP context.
3. Authentic data analysis
To have a comprehensive analysis I intend to apply the three known language analysis approaches . In the main, I will
adopt the framework suggested by Ellis and Johnson 1994 (see appendix1). In the next section I will demonstrate how this
framework was used to analyse extracts of the engineers’ work. Interestingly, these extracts highlighted the present level of the
engineers’ understanding of English and helped in determining their weaknesses or areas for development. Below is the
Table 1: adaptation of framework suggested by Ellis and Johnson
This framework incorporates elements of the three approaches to language analysis as outlined in the previous section.
The genre approach is evident in section 1, 2, and 3. The rhetorical approach occurs mainly in section 3. The register approach
is evident in section 4.
3.1 Collecting the authentic documents
In order to obtain these documents, I phoned one of the engineers (Abdullah) working for SECO. After explaining the
aim of the study, he agreed to e-mail me some extracts of engineers’ authentic written documents. I emphasised the importance
of having at least one copy of each type of document
3.2 Report writing
In fact report writing is considered to be one of the most common activities engaged in by engineers, especially given that
there are many different types of reports for instance: inspection or trip reports, laboratory report, and progress report (Beer,
and McMurrey 1997).
According to Beer, and McMurrey, all reports are similar in that all start with a prologue and end with a conclusion. In
fact, this is not always the case, as the reports in this study will show. However, Beer, and McMurrey state that the bodies of
different reports are likely to vary, as demonstrated in the table below.
Table 2: different types of reports’ functions
(Beer, and McMurrey 1997).
3.2 Types of documents in SECO
The different types of documents that SECO engineers write are reports that differ in their purpose and organization.
Based on what Beer and McMurrey (1997) suggested above, I have categorized these reports as follows:
1- Short reports such as maintenance reports, and shift reports.
2- Long reports such as major inspection reports
3-Job descriptions for external company contractors
4-Work permit, and work order
Due to words limit, a sample of a maintenance report analysis is attached to the appendixes section (see appendix 2).
3.3 Summary of findings from the authentic data documents
Analysing samples of the engineers written work revealed that all documents collected were written only in English, and
that all these documents were reports.
The documents appeared to suffer from language problems, specifically with organization, sentence structure, and
grammar. However, these problems seem not to be so fundamental that a short course could not help rectify them.
The table below summarises the most important features of these documents and will indicate the framework required for a
course of study in writing.
Table 3: shows the implantation of the suggested framework by Ellis and Johnson
For most of my investigation the collected data was complementary: some of the information in the questionnaire
supported the information emerging from the language analysis. However, at the same time there was some contradiction
between the resultant data .
Questionnaires are more efficient for gathering information on a large scale than any other approach (Brown1995).
As can be seen in (Appendix 1) the questionnaire is divided into five sections. Each section will be looked at separately with a
brief discussion around the questions within that section.
It is significant to note that the purpose of this questionnaire is not to determine the importance of writing. This is a
foregone conclusion since all their reports are in English. The aim is to support my needs analysis findings, and therefore help me
to determine what elements to include in the writing course.
Section 1 English in general
In this section I attempt to establish an overview of the importance of English in general and each skill in particular. I also
attempt to discern individual candidate’s own assessment of their language skills.
This question is designed especially to measure the students’ motivation. According to Lightbown and Spada (1999),
motivation is affected by the learners’ attitude toward learning the language. For instance learners’ motivation will be affected
negatively, if they think that English is not important for their communicative needs.
Section 2 Writing in English
This section focuses specifically on the writing skills, with the first question being designed to discover whether it is
obligatory or not to write in English. The next two questions were designed to determine the candidates’ level and frequency of
using different writing activities
Section 3 Using writing for communication
This section is intended to determine more about the people whom the participants usually address, and the form of
writing used. One aim was to discover the percentage of employees who are native Arabic speakers.
Section 4 Quality of writing
This section is designed specifically to assess the level of accuracy that is acquired. In addition, I asked if they are satisfied
with their level of accuracy and if not, did they wish to improve. This is important for the evaluation of their writing during the
course and for setting an achievable standard.
Section 5 The writing course
This section is designed to obtain a general idea of the amount of time participants can give to a course of study, and also,
to ascertain what they consider to be the most important elements, which should be included in a course. All the questions
except the last one are closed The only open-ended question is the one which gives engineers an opportunity to express their
needs as they perceive them.
In fact, engineers were the only participant group whose written documents I analysed, and then designed a questionnaire
for. Eighty engineers were involved in the study, most of whom work in maintenance, or instruments and control departments.
Different nationalities were involved in this study. In addition to Saudis there were some Egyptians, Pakistanis, and Indians.
4.2 Summary of the findings from the questionnaire
The findings and analysis of the questionnaire are interpreted and presented in three main categories as follows:
-the needs, in which I will look at the engineers and their work needs;
-the present level and the target level;
-the suggested type of course.
Firstly, the questionnaire established that it is necessary for engineers to write in English and the majority of engineers
considered English to be highly important in carrying out their work successfully and efficiently. Furthermore, all the reports
collected were written in English; I would therefore like to suggest that the need for designing an ESP course to develop writing
skills for these people is imperative. The questionnaire responses clearly demonstrate that report writing is the most common
activity of engineers in communications. In the open-ended question, engineers continually emphasized, their need to learn how
to express themselves in reports. In addition most engineers stated that it is their managers to whom they write, whilst 62.5%
said that this communication was of a more formal nature. This explains the necessity of having a good level of language
Secondly, the questionnaire, as completed by the engineers, gave an indication of their level of writing skills. It
demonstrated that half were happy, whilst most (80%) saw themselves as either good or very good at writing. On the other
hand, the questionnaire elicited the response that writing is the second most important skill that engineers are anxious about or
need to improve. In actual fact, if we look at this issue carefully, it could be said that although the engineers are presently
satisfied, they certainly would like the opportunity to improve their level of accuracy. The table in question 17 See Results and
discussion supports my point. It shows that most of the engineers want to improve different accuracy skills such as linking ideas,
and summarising ideas. It is important to note that within Saudi culture it is not acceptable for highly educated people to admit
weaknesses in any skill, even if the skill is unrelated to their field of study. Furthermore, all the Saudi Engineers who participated
in this questionnaire said they wished to improve their writing skills. This might explain the language variation in reports written by
these engineers, where some of the reports which were written by non-Saudis have very accurate use of language. Also, it needs
to be stated that in question 12 concerning accuracy levels, 85% of candidates said they were content with 80% or less
Thirdly, analysis of the questionnaire has provided me useful information for designing a course. According to the
questionnaire, the majority of engineers prefer short courses between 2 and 6 weeks.
The questionnaire revealed that most of the engineers edit as they write before producing a fair copy. In other
words,engineers usually have time to correct their work and perhaps invite someone to read and comment. In this respect, I
refer to approaches in teaching writing which I will discuses in the teaching methodology section. The process-genre approach
gives engineers an opportunity to practice writing in a real social context. It also allows learners to exchange their written work
with colleagues in order to read, improve and learn from each other (see
5. Limitation of the Study
Despite some of the limitations this project has, I believe the results of the study will help in establishing the key
components necessary for designing a writing course outline. Firstly, this study looked only at the engineers’ needs, whilst there
were other people who should have been involved in the needs analysis. According to Brown, administrators and teachers are
two important sources for information, in addition to the target group (Brown, 1995). Unfortunately, due to word limitation in
this project, other groups were not addressed.
Secondly, questionnaire and document analysis alone were not enough to carry out a credible needs analysis
(McDonough and McDonough, 1997). Interviews and observations offer direct interaction with the participants, where
questionnaire and language analysis do not. Also, an analyst can clarify some detailed points through chatting with participants or
observing them (McDonough and McDonough, 1997). Geographical distance precluded me from interviewing or observing
participants in this study.
6. Teaching Methodology
There are three main approaches relative to the teaching of writing: the product approach, the process approach, and the
genre approach (Badger, R. and White G 2000).
6.1 Process Genre Approach
Since each of these approaches has its strengths and weaknesses this has led to the development of an effective method,
which engages both process and genre. This approach aims to look at each approach and tries to adapt it for a particular
situation (Key, and Dudley-Evans, 1997). For example
6.2 Principles for teaching writing
To sum up it is important to emphasize the main principles to be taken into consideration when designing an ESP writing
1. Conduct a needs analysis to determine the learners’ purpose for learning the language (Nunan, D. 1989).
2. Conduct a language analysis of authentic data e.g. reports, to determine the features of the genre of the text required for the
3. Decide on an approach to the teaching of writing which will suit the learners’ writing purpose and text type.
4. Ensure that the overall activities focus on promoting the type of writing outlined in the information gathering process.
Having finish with the first three steps towards course design I will use the outcome data to summarize the propose course
7. Course outline
Having determined the engineers’ needs through the two research tools I have used, namely a questionnaire and authentic
data analysis, the discussion will take place around, determining the outline for the technical writing course
7.1 Aims and objectives
As a result of the needs analysis as a whole and by combining the findings of the documents and questionnaires, I have
drawn up the following points:
The Aims of the course will be
• To promote engineers’ ability to write different types of reports
1. Inspection reports
2. Specification reports
3. Instruction reports
The objectives of the course will be as follows:
• Recognise the organisation of different report genre.
• Use appropriate grammatical structures, and functions.
• Write a full report with 80% accuracy.
• Assess each other’s writing.
• Use the appropriate technical and semi-technical vocabulary.
• Use appropriate layout and punctuation.
• Employ the process of editing and drafting.
• Using linking devices, where appropriate, to produce cohesive text.
• Express a variety of functions in writing.
• Promoting writing fluency
By looking at the findings of the authentic documents analysis, it is possible to decide the content of the course. Hence,
thecourse content should include the most frequent functions, structures, and lexis, and it should also specify the type of genre,
By the end of the course the engineers should be able to:
• Describe the condition of something, e.g. piece of equipment.
• Give instructions or orders.
• Suggest actions to be taken.
• Clarify actions that have been taken.
These functions, as mentioned earlier, are in themselves course objectives.
The engineers should be able to use the following structures with a fair degree of accuracy:
• Present continuous
• Present simple
• Modals (shall, should)
• Modals + passive infinitive
• Simple present passive
• Past simple
• Simple past passive
The course will cover technical and semi-technical vocabulary. There will be specific vocabulary input such as areas that
may be problematic or unknown to the engineers e.g. spelling, multi-word verbs, and compound nouns.
7.3 The suggested organisation
The suggested course will be a four week program running from Saturday to Wednesday, from 9 am to 1 pm. The course
consists of 80 hours (across that period), divided into 20 hours a week. Each day has three sections and two breaks. The first
class will be from 9 am to 10:30, the second class will be from 10:45 am to 11:45 pm, and the last class will be from 12 pm to 1
pm. The group number should not be more than 10 participants with at least two trainers working in the group.
This project has been concerned with ESP and the importance of a needs analysis at an early stage of designing a course. We
also looked at the different methods for gathering information. In addition, attention focused on the teaching of writing in an ESP
context, paying special attention to the importance of teaching report writing skills. In the last section I tried to put together all the
results and findings to come up with a reliable writing course.
I. Within these fields most people are required to use English because of
the wide-ranging variety of
mother-tongue languages working together. For instance, a Philippine nurse uses English to communicate with an Indian Physician or a Saudi patient; whilst the physician uses English to communicate with the patient. That is why English, and not Arabic is used by most expatriates as a medium of communication whilst they live and work in Saudi Arabia.
II. According to Orr
“EGP is presented as a linguistic system to a wide range of learners for application in the most
general of potential circumstances, whereas ESP is taught as a tailor-made language package to
specific communities of learners with highly specialized language needs”.
III. English for Academic Purposes (EAP), English for Occupational Purposes (EOP), English for Science and Technology (EST), English for Medical Purposes (EMP).
IV. According to Robinson (1991) analysts involved in the needs analysis
will bring their own beliefs to the process. Another problem, mentioned by
Brown (1995) is that after conducting a needs analysis, we could end up with a
long and cumbersome list of needs. He suggested that to counteract this, only
important and pressing needs must be given priority.
V. 1. Register analysis: reflects the level of formality or informality of a particular text.
2. Rhetorical analysis: focus on the text and how meaning is generated between sentences
3. Genre analysis: focus on the communicative purpose, gives more attention to the different texts’
style and content.
VI. Whilst most of the engineers write to their bosses and, as 62.5% of them said in a formal register, in contradiction most of their documents do not appear to be formal. Reports written to external company contractors are the only type that seem to be formal. In view of this, I believe that the authentic data is more reliable. In fact, I can attribute this contradiction to the engineers’ language proficiency in that they may have misunderstood what is meant by the word formal, thinking it means just writing to people in positions superior to them, e.g. bosses, managers, etc whether or not that which is written has a very ordered or formal style.
In addition, in response to the questionnaire, the engineers mentioned that they use different types of writing, but their documents show that report writing is the only type used for their work. This contradiction may have occurred because the engineers were unable to differentiate the writing activities. For instance, they might have considered some types of short reports as memos or form filling.
In consideration of my research findings and understanding of the context, I am now in a position to interpret the research and apply it to the practical process of course design. As suggested earlier, my main focus is on content, although I shall comment briefly on the methodology; that is the techniques and the exercises to be used in developing the new material (Brown 1995). In this section, these two concepts will be used to describe the course, beginning with an outline of the aims and objectives
VII. 1-Product Approach: there are sequential stages in teaching product
writing which often begin with controlled writing and gradually move towards
free writing .
2-Process Approach: involves four stages: pre-writing, composing/drafting, revising, and editing. However, these stages may appear more than once and in different sequences
3- Genre Approach: looks at language in terms of its use, emphasizes that writing differs depending on the social purpose for which it is produced.
VIII. In an ESP class, where students have to learn report writing, the teacher might ask students to report on a visit they conducted to a firm or institution, in order to give a framework for the ‘report’. The aim of this exercise is to give students practice of report writing in an authentic social context. The teacher may ask students to work in pairs to produce one report and then ask them to exchange their report with another pair to read and evaluate. The teacher may also provide students with input when it is needed (Brookes, and Grundy, 1990). This example shows the incorporation of the thr
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Table 9.1: Functions for expressing ideas-structural and vocabulary components
There is a special form that is used for maintenance reports. This form is divided into two parts, the first part describes the problem or the work to be carried out, the second part is for describing the work which has been performed or action to be taken.
A needs analysis questionnaire for SECTI engineers.
About the author
Saeed Abu-Rizaizah has a BA from Umm Al-Qura University, Saudi Arabia (1995-1999); a Med in TESOL from Exeter University, UK (2002-2003); he has worked as an ESP teacher in the Saudi Electrical Company (2000-20004). Currently, he is studying for a PhD degree in University of Newcastle upon Tyne, his research interests are ESP course design, programs evaluation, and language teaching methodology.