A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.


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In recent years, technical communicators have examined ethics, or the moral implications of their work, in increasing detail. Since the 1970s, when ethics first became a major topic of consideration in technical communication journals, more articles have appeared on the subject each year. With writers in the discipline expressing this pessimistic point of view, it is little wonder that practicing technical communicators tend not look to the discipline for ethical guidance.



Dilbert™ Goes Corporate...or How to Navigate the Thorny Thickets of Corporate America without Selling Your Soul: Featuring Lockheed Martin's Acclaimed 'The Ethics Challenge'   (PDF)

This unique and lively workshop is based on an ingenious board game developed by the Office of Ethics and Business Conduct for the Lockheed Martin Corporation, under a special copyright agreement with Scott Adams. It uses the famous characters in the cartoon strip, including celebrated ethicist Dogbert™, to inject a spirit of fun into the heavy debate that often swirls around the thorny ethical dilemmas we confront in the workplace. Here, teams of technical communicators will compete to see who can best balance ethical values with business realities and come out with practical, honest solutions. While the vehicle is rather lighthearted, the content is anything but. The case histories are carefully designed to cut to the moral chase. There are no right or wrong answers—only good, better, best, not so good, and Dogbert™. Yes, there's an answer key, but that, too, is controversial. What? No clear answers? Of course not. That's the whole point.

Voss, Daniel W. STC Proceedings (1999). Careers>Workplace>Ethics


Distortion and the Politics of Pain Relief: A Habermasian Analysis of Medicine in the Media   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article invokes Habermas's ideal speech situation to analyze the controversy surrounding a recent study of pain relief for women in labor. Using Habermas's concepts, the authors argue that distortion of scientific and medical information originated in the New England Journal of Medicine article that first reported the study's results. Thus, their analysis aims to complicate the assumption that such distortion starts only with public reporting and to expose the ways that scientific or medical research from the beginning can be reported to either facilitate or preclude public debate and understanding of complex issues.

Koerber, Amy, E. Jonathan Arnett and Tamra Cumbie. Journal of Business and Technical Communication (2008). Articles>Publishing>Biomedical>Ethics


Documentation Honesty and Poor User Interfaces — An Ethical Dilemma?

We’ve all run in to situations where we have to document poor user interfaces. As much as we complain and suggest improvements, the project manager decides to go ahead with the interface as is because redesigning it is too costly. When I run into these situations, rather than insult the interface in straightforward talk in the documentation, I euphemize the language (against my better desires) in order to maintain the consistency of the company voice. It just doesn’t sound right to be so frank.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2008). Articles>Documentation>Ethics


Editorial Ethics: The Role of the Editor Before Peer Review

Editors who work with authors before a manuscript is sent for review face certain challenges. Since we’re often the first to see a manuscript, we sometimes encounter problems we must help solve before they come back to bite the author. These problems fall into a variety of categories, of which I see three repeatedly in my work. In this article, I’ll discuss the nature of these problems, provide examples from my own career as a science editor, and suggest how similar problems might arise in other types of editing.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Corrigo (2008). Articles>Editing>Scientific Communication>Ethics


Embracing Left and Right: Image Repair and Crisis Communication in a Polarized Ideological Milieu   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The author explores how a tobacco firm in crisis engaged in crisis communication and image repair work in a highly polarized ideological milieu. Through an analysis of the tobacco firm's public statements produced in the aftermath of a 1997 lawsuit, the author demonstrates how the firm dealt with its milieu by exploiting and embracing both of the ambient ideological poles. By embracing these poles, the firm turned critique and opposition into discursive resources for its crisis communication. The author argues that political-ideological framing of organizational communication and discursive appropriation of critique and opposition serve as critical foci for organizational communication scholarship.

Svensson, Peter. Management Communication Quarterly (2009). Articles>Business Communication>Crisis Communication>Ethics


The Ethic of Exigence: Information Design, Postmodern Ethics, and the Holocaust   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Compared to ethics in technical writing, ethics in design has received less attention. This lack of attention grows more apparent as document design becomes ‘‘information design.’’ Since Katz discerned an ‘‘ethic of expediency’’ in Nazi technical writing, scholars have often framed technical communication ethics in categorical terms. Yet analyses of information design must consider why arrangements of text and graphics have symbolic potency for given cultures. An ‘‘ethic of exigence’’ can be seen in an example of Nazi information design, a 1935 racial-education poster that illustrates how designers and users co-constructed a communally validated meaning. This example supports the postmodern view that ethics must account for naturalized authority as well as individual actions.

Ward, Mark. Journal of Business and Technical Communication (2010). Articles>Information Design>History>Ethics


The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology,and the Holocaust   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)

Argues that blindly following guidelines and working for efficiency or expediency while not being critical of what one writes for organizations can be dangerous.

Katz, Steven B. College English (1992). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Ethics


Ethical and Legal Aspects of Human Subjects Research on the Internet   (PDF)

Many IRBs recognize their unfamiliarity with the nature of Internet research and their lack of technical expertise needed to review related research protocols. To both protect human subjects and promote innovative and scientifically sound research, it is important to consider the ethical, legal, and technical issues associated with this burgeoning area of research.

AAAS (1999). Articles>Research>Ethics>Online


Ethical Aspects of Writer-Client Relationships   (PDF)

Experts in the field have defined the essential criteria of ethical behavior in a number of fields. This presentation attempts to translate those criteria to the typical working environment of full-time writers. It examines these criteria in terms of the skills, task, and responsibilities of those individuals who create the documentation and directives by which America does its work.

Vaughan, David K. STC Proceedings (1994). Presentations>Writing>Ethics


An Ethical Gamble   (PDF)

Are the ethical issues affected by a vendor's status as an offshore operation? By the prospect of Internet gambling becoming illegal in the U.S. (bill pending in the U.S. House of Representatives)? By the presumption of shady morals in the gambling industry? Should one's choices be affected by his/her rocky employment history?

Bryan, John G. Intercom (2004). Articles>Business Communication>Ethics


Ethical Implications of Intercultural Audiences

Argues that it is crucial that technical writing courses raise the awareness of the implications of intercultural communication, and specifically, how to include the translator as the target audience.

Heitzman, Lisa. Orange Journal, The (2005). Articles>Language>Ethics>Rhetoric


Ethical Insights on XML and Single Sourcing   (PDF)

Newer, more efficient technology for developing and disseminating information is rolling our way at a rapid pace. And, as always, we’re ready and eager to give new technology a try. Today, we’re investing in XML. But what is the ethical impact of this investment? And how should it aid the quest to align processes with technical capability? This paper focuses on the ethical accountability inherent in XML deployment and proposes an ethical platform for investing in this new technology.

Wiles, Debbie. STC Proceedings (2001). Presentations>Content Management>Ethics>XML


Ethical Lessons Learned from Computer Science

In this article, we will address the question 'How can computer science methods help us to better understand ethics?'

Bergmair, Richard. ACM Crossroads (2004). Articles>Technology>Ethics


Ethical or Unethical Persuasion? The Rhetoric of Offers to Participate in Clinical Trials   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Based on a sample of 22 oncology encounters, this article presents a discourse analysis of positive, neutral, or negative valence in the presentation of three elements of informed consent—purpose, benefits, and risks—in offers to participate in clinical trials. It is found that physicians regularly present these key elements of consent with a positive valence, perhaps blurring the distinction between clinical care and clinical research in trial offers. The authors argue that the rhetoric of trial offers constructs and reflects the complex relationships of two competing ethical frameworks—contemporary bioethics and professional medical ethics—both aimed at governing the discourse of trial offers. The authors consider the status of ethical or unethical persuasion within each framework, proposing what is called the best-option principle as the ethical principle governing trial offers within professional medical ethics.

Barton, Ellen and Susan Eggly. Written Communication (2009). Articles>Scientific Communication>Biomedical>Ethics


Ethics and Etiquette of Internet Resources

This document tracks online materials relevant to ethics and etiquette of the use and development of networked information resources.

Ciolek, T. Matthew. Ciolek.com. Resources>Directories>Ethics


Ethics and Information   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article gives a detailed encyclopedic overview of the many areas and concepts that fall within the domain of information ethics. Thus, it offers brief synoptic remarks on, for example, privacy and peer review, rather than in-depth discussions of these topics, many of which have generated thousands of studies, articles, and monographic treatments.

Hauptman, Robert. Business Information Review (2008). Articles>Information Design>Privacy>Ethics


Ethics and Rationality in Information-Enriched Decisions: A Model for Technical Communication   (PDF)

Although experienced decision makers depend on valid and reliable information, exactly how information plays into decisions is not always clear. Because decision making is an information function, technical communicators can make important contributions in decision-support roles. Decisions that are effective, efficient, and ethical must be rational. That is, we must be able to determine and present good reasons for our actions. Information relates to good reasoning and thereby affects the best decisions.

Carlson, Patricia A., Susan B. Dressel and M. Jimmie Killingsworth. STC Proceedings (1994). Articles>Management>Ethics


Ethics and Technical Communication: The Past Quarter Century   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Ethics as a topic in technical communication has grown in interest in the past quarter century as the field itself has matured. We now understand technical communication as involved in communicating not only technical information but also values, ethics, and tacit assumptions represented in goals. It also is involved in accommodating the values and ethics of its many audiences. This understanding is linked to an awareness of the social nature of all discourse and the root interconnectedness of rhetoric and ethics. This article presents an introduction and annotated bibliography of articles from technical writing and communication journals over this period, arranged in categories of professional, academic, and systematic approaches. Ethics is broadly conceived to include not only particular theories but also systems of values and principles.

Dombrowski, Paul M. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2000). Articles>TC>Ethics>History


Ethics and the Internet

As the Internet permeates ever more domains of social and political, and even personal, life, and as its technological capabilities expand, the problem of Internet ethics will become ever more central, perhaps even more so than in 'ordinary' life.  The potential for abuse grows with use, as well as with technological power.

Ornatowski, Cezar M. Lore (2002). Articles>Web Design>Ethics


Ethics and the Internet   (PDF)

Twenty million people worldwide are using the Internet, which began as as computer network service for the United States military. By 1998, more than 100 million are projected to be using the Internet. From TuppNet (where you can e-mail in your Tupperware order) to alt,flame, where its readers will abuse you us a matter of course, the Internet offers people information on almost any topic. However a number of issues have come to the forefront of Internet discourse. In this discussion, we will address some of these issues and how they can affect technical communicators and companies using the Internet. Topics to be discussed include courtesy; bandwidth use; marketing and advertising; copyright; and privacy, confidentiality, and censorship.

Adams, Rae, Stephanie S. Babbitt and Susan Farrell. STC Proceedings (1995). Articles>Internet>Ethics


Ethics du Jour: A Model for Ethical Decision Making in Technical Communication   (PDF)

The purpose of this presentation is to introduce general guidelines or rules that technical communicators can use to deal with their specific ethical situations.

Slaughter, George. STC Proceedings (2001). Presentations>TC>Ethics


Ethics in Scientific and Technical Communication

Discusses many ethical issues including: taking personal responsibility for one's actions, Behaviour toward colleagues, subordinates and others,Dealing with experimental subjects, interviewees, etc, Telling the 'truth', and choosing between advocacy and objectivity.

Weber, Jean Hollis. WISENET Journal (1998). Careers>Advice>Ethics


Ethics in Technical Communication   (PowerPoint)

The key to ethical action is to behave with integrity that is based on sound core of personal values.

Gokhale, Sunil. STC India (2003). Articles>TC>Ethics


Ethics in Technical Communication: A Consensus?   (PDF)

Ethics within Technical Communication, as found in the literature, is discussed to determine whether a meaningful code of ethics exists or can exist within STC. Authorities are cited to support a tentative conclusion to this question.

LaBara, Ann Marie and Russell B. Stoner. STC Proceedings (1993). Articles>TC>Ethics


Ethics in Technical Communication: Copyleft and the Open Source Movement

A collection of resources about open-source software, innovation in copyright, and their implications for technical communicators.

Lannon, John M. Pearson Education. Resources>Intellectual Property>Ethics>Open Source



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