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.



Legal and Ethical Issues of the Corporate Blogosphere   (members only)

In the increasingly competitive global economy, corporations throughout the world must take advantage of all the marketing and communication tools available to them, including blogging. Blogs allow corporations to connect with their stakeholders in a more personal way and, thus, strengthen their image, brand, and customer loyalty. Instant feedback is available through comments posted on the corporate blog, saving organizations large sums of money otherwise spent on market research. However, entering the blogosphere poses a number of risks for a corporation, such as potential damage to the corporate reputation and customer loyalty as well as legal liability. Conflicts still exist between the rights of bloggers and a corporation's interests. Blogs may be restricted by legal and ethical boundaries, which may differ across countries. This paper presents the benefits and risks associated with corporate blogging around the world and provides some interesting success stories as well as lessons learned. It also offers a compilation of guidelines for effective blogging and suggests topics for future research.

Strother, Judith B., Zohra Fazal and Melinda Millsap. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication (2009). Articles>Business Communication>Blogging>Ethics


Literacy 2.0: Plagiarism in the Internet Age

In an age when students gravitate to online sources for research—and when tremendous amounts of both reputable and questionable information are available online—many have come to regard the Internet itself as a culprit in students' plagiarism. Some teachers go so far as to forbid students from researching online, in the mistaken assumption that if students are working from hard-copy sources only, the problem will disappear. We believe that an approach far different from either warnings and punishment or attempts to curtail online research is warranted.

Howard, Rebecca Moore and Laura J. Davies. Educational Leadership (2009). Articles>Education>Writing>Ethics


Looking for a New Job - Discreetly

Most people change jobs more than they change mates. But no matter how many times you do it, looking for a new position can be tricky.

DeZube, Dona. Dice (2007). Careers>Interviewing>Professionalism>Ethics


Mirror, Mirror

A few months ago, I read with interest an article that indicated that executives are influenced more by the court of public opinion as a catalyst for making positive behavior changes than they are by even a court of law. So what contribution do we make to this discussion, as public relations and media relations practitioners? Do we shove our heads in the sand and say, "It's not up to us to influence the ethical behavior of our internal and external clients"?

Bergman, Eric. Communication World Bulletin (2006). Articles>Business Communication>Public Relations>Ethics


The New Atlantis

The New Atlantis is an effort to clarify the nation’s moral and political understanding of all areas of technology—from stem cells to hydrogen cells to weapons of mass destruction.

New Atlantis, The. Journals>Technology>Cultural Theory>Ethics


The New STC Ethical Guidelines: A Practical Interpretation   (PDF)

Technical communicators with less than 3 years of experience face a special challenge: not only must they continue to assimilate technological change at a dizzying rate, but they must begin to effectively chart a course toward professional growth. Having established (or having faith in) their ability to survive in the profession, new and intermediate communicators must move beyond survival and begin to pursue success. This three-hour workshop is based on the premise that it's not enough to be a good writer with a strong technical background. You must possess multi-disciplinary skills to excel as a technical communicator and as a business person focused on the value you bring to your company.

Benson, Nancy C., Nancy L. Hoft, Janice M. King, Karen A. Steele and Mary Zoll. STC Proceedings (1995). Careers>TC>Ethics


Online Experiments: Ethically Fair or Foul?   (peer-reviewed)

Online experiments may be helping researchers gather more data faster than ever before, but those advantages are coming with greater ethical challenges--threats to participant confidentiality, questions over whether the participants really understand what they're getting into and the possibility that less scrupulous researchers could steal your ideas.

Azar, Beth. Monitor on Psychology (2000). Articles>Research>Ethics>Online


A Peircian Approach to Professional Ethics Instruction   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Registered Professional Engineers (PEs) in most states have a continuing professional development requirement that specifies that in addition to taking a certain number of short courses in their area of technical competence each year, PEs must also take a professional ethics refresher course at least once every two years. Because the PEs in these ethics courses are forced to attend and because the subject matter is often perceived as legalistic, repetitive, and unnecessary, these courses tend to elicit less-than-enthusiastic responses from participants. Furthermore, since the duration of these courses (1 or 2 hours) is so short, it is difficult to give a meaningful treatment of the very broad field of ethics and also apply it to real-world ethical situations in the time frame allotted.

Chambers, Terrence L. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication (2001). Articles>Education>Ethics


Persuasion or Deception

When Ryanair and KPN designed their forms they could have designed them any way they wanted. So why did they choose for these specific options? In terms of transparancy there are solutions that are more clear. They do it because they want to change Paul’s behavior. Ryanair tries to trick him into buying a travel insurance and KPN does the same for 90 minutes WiFi. I think they are crossing an ethical line here.

Wobben, Stefan. StefanWobben.com (2010). Articles>Web Design>Forms>Ethics



Plagiarism is defined in the Ohio University Student Handbook as 'presenting the ideas or writing of someone else as one's own'. It is a form of academic misconduct. Even if you change a few words of someone else's sentence, it is still plagiarism if the same idea is presented in essentially the same style. Plagiarism by students is often unintentional, but still unacceptable.

Young, V.L. and K.J. Sampson. Ohio University (2004). Articles>Writing>Ethics>Plagiarism


Presenter's Code of Ethics   (PDF)

At many conferences we encounter speakers whose sole reason in presenting is to entice customers for their products or services. The goal is not, in itself, a bad one -- except when the speaker presents information that is biased.

William Horton Consulting (2001). Articles>Presentations>Ethics


Presenters Who Play In The Gray Risk Their Reputations

We all bend the rules and shade the truth in various ways. Presenters do it for all sorts of reasons: to inflate the importance of their work, to get people to like them, to make a story funnier. Tad Simons suggests there's a line in there somewhere that may not be wise to cross.

Simons, Tad. Presentations (2002). Articles>Presentations>Ethics


Professional Ethics

An online resource for publication and discussion of ethical cases, appropriate for integrating ethics issues into the classroom.

Professional Ethics (2003). Resources>Education>Ethics>Blogs


Promoting Ethical Practices within Institutions of Higher Education   (PDF)

The public is continually bombarded with cases of wrongful practices in the work environment. As a result, the public has lost confidence in the ability of corporations and institutions of higher education to train individuals to behave in an ethical manner. Ethical practices in corporate America have resulted in institutions of higher education revisiting their ethical practices, which includes creating a learning environment where students develop the necessary skills to become ethical leaders and citizens. Many colleges and universities have adopted codes of ethics that emphasize core ethical principles and standards for their employees.

Weegar, Mary Anne. Association for Business Communication (2007). Articles>Education>Ethics


Recognizing and Avoiding Plagiarism

Avoiding plagiarism is an increasingly important requirement for student writing. This document therefore defines plagiarism, both intentional and accidental; gives the imperatives for avoiding it; shows citation examples; and demonstrates how paraphrase can replace plagiarism by means of an interactive exercise. Coverage of the plagiarism issues will be more complete if you use this document in conjunction with Copyright and Electronic Publishing: Citation and with the Template for Taking Notes on Research Articles, both found in the Cain Project resources.

conneXions (2008). Articles>Intellectual Property>Ethics>Plagiarism


Remember Enron and Andersen!

You work for a mid-sized company that has about 700 employees. It is Wednesday afternoon. You learn from a reliable source that your company has just been bought out, but the public announcement will not be made until Friday afternoon. The company’s stock is currently selling at $15 per share. It will certainly jump to $20 within hours of the announcement. You and your spouse have been saving over the past year to buy a house, and have a sizable nest egg of nearly $20,000 in the bank. Your company already has over 20 million shares of its stock outstanding, and tens of thousands of shares are traded every day. No one is likely to notice if an employee were to buy 1000 shares. What do you do? Explain your actions and reasons in writing.

Lannon, John M. Pearson Education (2003). Academic>Course Materials>Ethics


Replay TV

You've all heard of TiVo. Sure you have. TiVo is the hard-disk video recorder that automatically records all of your favorite shows. Then there's ReplayTV, the other leading brand. Late fall 2001, ReplayTV crossed over a line that should never have been crossed, one that threatened the future of consumer products.

Tognazzini, Bruce. Nielsen Norman Group (2002). Articles>User Interface>Ethics>Assessment


A Response To Patrick Moore's 'Questioning The Motives Of Technical Communication and Rhetoric: Steven Katz's 'Ethic Of Expediency''   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

In my 1992 College English article 'The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust' [1], I looked at the implications of a Nazi memo whose sole purpose was to improve the efficiency of the gassing vans, in order to begin to try to understand and discuss the negative uses and ethical abuses to which technical communication, and deliberative rhetoric generally, could be taken by the powerful and unscrupulous. In 'Questioning the Motives of Technical Communication and Rhetoric: Steven Katz's 'Ethic of Expediency'' [2], Patrick Moore accuses me of ignoring alternate translations, citing out of context, and focusing on the negative meaning of words to make my case. The point at issue in these charges, I believe, is whether (and to what degree) Aristotle meant to base deliberative discourse on 'expediency.' I will take each of these charges up one at a time to explore them more thoroughly, discuss their interrelations, and then conclude with a few observations of my own.

Katz, Steven B. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2006). Articles>Business Communication>Ethics>Theory


Responses to 'Following the Doctor's Orders'   (PDF)

This article presents reader responses to a hypothetical dilemma published in the February 2000 issue of Intercom.

Intercom (2000). Articles>Workplace>Ethics


Responses to 'In the Company of Lawyers'   (PDF)

This article presents reader responses to an ethics case published in the March 2002 issue of Intercom.

Bryan, John G. Intercom (2002). Articles>Workplace>Ethics


Responses to 'In the Gyres'   (PDF)

In the September/October 2000 issue, Intercom printed a hypothetical dilemma entitled 'In the Gyres.' A summary of this story is reproduced, followed by reader responses.

Bryan, John G. Intercom (2000). Articles>Workplace>Ethics


Responses to 'Who's Policing the Policy Makers?'   (PDF)

This article features reader responses to a hypothetical dilemma printed in the April 2001 issue of Intercom.

Wiles, Debbie. Intercom (2001). Articles>Workplace>Ethics


The Samples Conundrum   (PDF)

Olive examines the ethical and practical problems associated with providing writing samples to potential employers and suggests possible solutions to these problems.

Olive, Eric G. Intercom (2001). Careers>Interviewing>Ethics


Shades of Gray: Using Value Analysis and Ten Core Values to Resolve Ethical Conflicts in Technical Communication   (PDF)

Ethical conflicts often defy black-and-white solutions. But gray can be slippery. This workshop demonstrates how to use value analysis to clarify ethical conflicts in technical communication. The presenters identify 10 core values that underlie technical communication and show how these values can be used to support objective analysis and resolve ethical conflicts. Participants explore ethical dilemmas 'hands-on' through small-group discussions and role-playing vignettes on selected conflict scenarios. This session follows up the 'Grayscale' workshop conducted at the 43rd STC conference-with all new scenarios!

Voss, Daniel W. and Lori A. Allen. STC Proceedings (1997). Articles>TC>Ethics


A Slippery Slope: Using Value Analysis to Resolve Ethical Conflicts in Technical Communication   (PDF)

Increasingly, technical communicators are confronting ethical issues in the workplace. Conflicts arise that appear to defy black-and-white solutions. To render every verdict as 'gray,' however, begs the question. Clear direction in the face of thorny ethical dilemmas requires objective value analysis, to logically reduce such dilemmas to clearly defined value conflicts. Once these conflicts are understood, the proper ethical path can more readily be discerned. This paper addresses the need for specific, real-world ethical guidelines for technical communicators. It also explores the possibility of developing a value analysis model to establish such guidelines. A typical model is applied to four representative ethical conflicts.

Voss, Daniel W. STC Proceedings (1993). Articles>TC>Ethics>Assessment



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