Technical writing, like any area of business, involves an increasingly meticulous consideration of ethical and moral principles. According to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, the term ethics encompasses the “well-founded standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues” (Velasquez et al.).
The concept of ethics is as important in technical writing as it is in a company’s varied business operations, and issues can arise in any stage of the writing process when ethical principles are disregarded.
The following are five major ethical issues important to technical writing.
1. Being truthful
When researching for and preparing technical documents, the writer must provide information that is truthful. He or she must not lie about the company they are representing, the company’s products, the competitor, and so on, even when asked to do so by a superior.
2. Addressing problems ethically
Oftentimes, problems related to various parts of a business arise and need attention from the company. Addressing these problems ethically means clearly, thoughtfully, and conscientiously communicating the details of the problem, the source of the problem, and the solution(s).
The researcher, compiler, or author of a technical document must take care to acknowledge the sources of information used as well as the collaborators that took part in the process.
4. Misleading readers
A misleading technical document presents information in a way that makes it likely that a reader will reach incorrect conclusions. According to the Technical Communication textbook, misleading techniques often used in technical communication include false implications, exaggerations, legalistic constructions, and euphemisms (Markel and Selber 38).
5. Discriminationatory language
The audience for technical documents will likely include different individuals from a wide variety of cultural and social backgrounds. For that reason, language that discriminates against the religion, race, sex, orientation, and abilities of people must be avoided.
Considering these important ethical issues, people must address them appropriately. Niel Hamilton, in his discussion of technical communication ethics in the legal context, mentions that “[a]ccuracy in the recording and use of evidence and non-falsification are simply so fundamental as to be assumed in the common understanding of ‘intellectual honesty‘ and ‘best scholarly [and ethical] standards’” (Hamilton 1049). Ethical issues related to writing are generally addressed, for many people, early in grade school and continue to be stressed throughout high school and college. In the workplace, employee education and a professional code of ethics can address ethical issues related to technical writing. The article “The Evil in Technical Communication” describes Aristotle’s view that people must not “advocate evil” when communicating. According to the article, Craig and Carol Kallendorf determined in their study of Aristotle and business communication ethics that advocating evil means ‘”any effort to manipulate the audience’ which includes stirring ‘up emotions inappropriate to the circumstances’ or concealing ‘motivations and intentions'” (Boedy 215). Govindasamy Agoramoorthy also describes an “ethical crisis” that is becoming widespread in the writing of scholarly articles; the crisis is based on giving credit to multiple authors of and contributors to an article (Agoramoorthy 626).
The ethical issues in technical writing are highly connected to the workplace by the ethical obligations described in Technical Writing. These include obligations to one’s employer, the public, and the environment (Markel and Selber 21). When a business is providing the public with information, the representative of the business is obligated to consider the ethical issues in their technical writing.
Agoramoorthy, Govindasamy. “Multiple First Authors as Equal Contributors: Is It Ethical?” Science & Engineering Ethics, vol. 23, no. 2, Apr. 2017, pp. 625–627. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s11948-016-9794-x.
Boedy, Matthew. “The Evil in Technical Communication: Katz, Ward, Moore, and Overnaming.” Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, vol. 45, no. 3, July 2015, pp. 213–225. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/0047281615578844.
Hamilton, Neil. “Legal Scholars’ Ethical Responsibilities Concerning Neutrality and Objectivity, Candor and Exhaustiveness.” Marquette Law Review, vol. 101, no. 4, Summer 2018, pp. 1045–1061.
Markle, Mike and Stuart A. Selber. Technical Communication. 12th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018.
Velasquez, Manuel, et al. What is Ethics? Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, https://www.scu.edu/ethics/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/what-is-ethics/. Accessed 13 Oct. 2018.