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Joyce scholar advanced field of technical writing

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Erwin R. Steinberg, retired Carnegie Mellon University professor, died Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. He taught at CMU for more than 60 years.

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By Bill Vidonic
Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Erwin R. Steinberg was an expert in two genres of the written word that could be considered polar opposites: James Joyce and technical writing.

“Nobody could figure out how he could be an expert in the most complicated and complex stylist of the 20th century, and at the same time improve plain language practices in the workplace of the 20th century,” said David Kaufer, professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University.

Erwin R. Steinberg of Mt. Lebanon, who taught at CMU for 60 years, died of pneumonia on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, in St. Clair Hospital, Mt. Lebanon. He was 91.

Mr. Steinberg joined Carnegie Institute of Technology, which would become CMU, in 1946, where he “invented the field of technical writing,” Kaufer said.

He served as dean from 1960 to 1973 at Margaret Morrison Carnegie College, Carnegie Tech's school for women. Mr. Steinberg created a technical writing program “so that women could have a practical outlet for working, for staying creative and earning income after they graduated and often times got married,” Kaufer said.

Mr. Steinberg served as dean of CMU's College of Humanities and Social Sciences from 1965 to 1975. From 1979 to 1981, he was director of Carnegie Mellon's Communications Design Center, founded after a push by President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s to make government documents understandable to the average citizen.

Kaufer said Mr. Steinberg created a master's program in professional writing and a doctorate in rhetoric.

From 1991 to 1996, Mr. Steinberg served as vice provost of education. A James Joyce scholar, he retired in 2007.

“He was a straight shooter, a no-nonsense guy,” Kaufer said. “Everybody who got to know him knew he had a sweet and generous heart, but on the surface he was very professional and very task-oriented.”

Alan Steinberg,a lawyer from Forest Hills, said his father encouraged him and his brother, Marc, now a sociology professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.

“He was a taskmaster, but it wasn't as if he had to keep on us or push hard. We just knew if we didn't try our best or do well, he would be unhappy. That certainly drove me,” Steinberg said.

In addition to his sons and daughter-in-law, Patty Mooney, Mr. Steinberg is survived by his wife, Beverly Steinberg of Mt. Lebanon; and grandson Jared Steinberg, also of Forest Hills.

Per Mr. Steinberg's wishes, services and interment will be private. Contributions can be made to Family Hospice and Palliative Care, 50 Moffett St., Pittsburgh, PA 15243.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at 412-380-5621or

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