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.
Ten to twenty Fellows of the Society share their stories of ethical dilemmas from their collective storehouse of experience. Their experiences come from virtually every major industry, many minor industries, the military and academia. In just two minutes, each speaker will tell of his or her most poignant ethical challenge. Subjects vary from business ethics to communication ethics—see Code for Communicators.
Democracy depends upon trust in public officials; yet, trust in government has been steadily falling as instances of local, state, and federal corruption fill the pages of our newspapers.
Desktop-publishing software and hardware have become affordable, powerful, and relatively user-friendly. Consequently, with reasonable investments in time and money, communications professionals can now manipulate photographs and create visual images relatively easily in their publications. However such images may be used in ways that are, aside from legal concerns, not ethical. Technical-communications professionals need to be able to recognize manipulated images and to explore the ethical implications of creating or being asked to use such images.
Are you aware that the practice of information architecture is riddled with powerful moral dilemmas? Do you realize that decisions about labeling and granularity can save or destroy lives? Have you been designing ethical information architectures?
A researcher needs grit and self-trust to do this kind of work in the first place. Letting someone other than a ghostwriter or a reviewer do it for you will be self-defeating. An unethical deal here will corrupt you, the project, and your employer. You must finish the job in a straightforward accountable manner.
As the profile of the average Internet user changes from academicians, scientists, and computer specialists and hackers to the general populace, the increased usage is beginning to show the weaknesses of the system and the vulnerabilities of its users. An ethical understanding of the issues can help to address concerns. Privacy and access are two main areas that must be explored as new codes of ethics are designed and implemented.
Critical thinking pedagogy offers a supportive environment for teaching ethics in the professional communication classroom. Four important aspects of critical thinking which particularly encourage ethical thought and behavior are identifying and questioning assumptions, seeking a multiplicity of voices and alternatives on a subject, making connections, and fostering active involvement. Focusing on these behaviors allows an ongoing incorporation of ethics into many different aspects of the classroom.
When it comes to truth, my approach is to be candid and honest in formats that live on the web, which I can update on the fly. But when I’m printing hundreds of copies of a guide, which I know will be pinned up on walls, filed in desk drawers, and laminated for long-term reference, I often lie and don’t mention the bugs, hoping that developers will soon fix them and convert my fiction into truth.
A chart’s purpose is usually to help you properly interpret data. But sometimes, it does just the opposite. In the right (or wrong) hands, bar graphs and pie charts can become powerful agents of deception, tricking you into inferring trends that don’t exist, mistaking less for more, and missing alarming facts.
In this ethics case, O'Neill presents a fictional scenario in which a technical communicator is asked to modify copyrighted materials from a training program. Readers are asked to forward their opinions concerning the scenario to be published in a later issue of Intercom.
The work of technical communicators transcends the purely technical—it has implications for real human beings. Located as they are at the critical intersection of technology and humanity, technical communicators direct traffic to avoid human injury and to promote sensitivity to the needs of human beings. When technology fails human beings, it is the ethical obligation of the technical communicator to sustain the humanity of the victims of that failure—to make those victims visible.
Technical writing has a number of moral and ethical standards that a professional technical writer needs to comply with. Violate them at your own peril, by risking the sudden demise of your career. Here are some of these issues.
The ever-increasing complexity and pace of production only adds weight to the argument that the technical communicator of today must be technically competent, ethically bound, critically conscious and situated with enough institutional power to halt the wheels of production when necessary, putting the common good over institutional gain. The 21st century technical communicator must be elevated from mere scribe to negotiator.
Psychologists and ethics researchers say we can take simple steps to align our Want and Should Selves over the three phases of decision making and help keep the Imp of the Perverse in check.
People believe that Facebook and the web in general should be able to protect the information we post online. I argue that this is untrue, because it goes against the fundamental design of Facebook, social media, and the web itself. We should be relying on ourselves for our privacy, and not turning Facebook into our convenient scapegoat.
In this hypothetical dilemma, a senior technical writer at a pharmaceuticals firm must choose between honoring his company's nondisclosure policy or publishing the results of a usability study that could greatly improve patient compliance with written instructions for prescription drugs, thereby saving lives.
As a technical writer, I develop content for the applications I'm supporting. Often that includes designing content, images, and multi-media to provide the best user experience possible. As content developers, however, we have a responsibility (both legal and moral) to ensure that the content we are using is being used properly and legally.
There is much discussion in today’s corporate environment about accountability and responsibility. This rich debate has led me to consider at length the subject of applied or “operationalized” ethics. As lead counselors of senior management, and as the primary liaison to the public, we are in a position of great influence. Our behavior must be credible for our organizations to foster a positive image and reputation.
Google's necessary focus on advertising can teach us a lot about playing the usability game. Specifically, this article will characterize a dilemma that is tied to Google's advice to publishers on how to place advertisements. The dilemma is resolved through usability, which in turn will teach us a lot about how to mix business and the user experience.
This article reports on a collective effort to position ethics policies within the context of a specific discipline – Applied Language Studies (ALS). Through a discussion of challenges to ALS-specific pedagogical and research practices, this article highlights (1) the need for consistency across institutional Research Ethics Boards in the application of general principles of ethics review, and (2) the recognition of local considerations that are informed by disciplinary approaches not envisioned in current ethics policies. Ethics policies that are driven by substantive ethical intent will recognize pedagogical practices, research methodologies, and epistemological values and traditions that mark a discipline.