RE: An ethical question

Subject: RE: An ethical question
From: "Ed Manley" <edmanley -at- bellsouth -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2002 17:47:06 -0700

I did this sort of thing once, in fact it is how I got started as a
contractor in technical communications.

I was hired by a publishing company to write reviews of software and related
products for medical professionals.

Some of the products were produced by my employer, although most were not.

In either event I had to get the product, install it, learn it, drive it
around awhile and then write about it. I teamed with a scientist expert in
the subject matter to write the review - I wrote about installation, ease of
use, how well (or otherwise) I could find information, the database
interface, etc., and my partner wrote about the accuracy and quality of the
information presented.

In the case of my employer's products, these were papers and publications
from sources such as JAMA, written to CD and made usable by a proprietary
search engine and a filing-cabinet style software.

I found the pressure to say nice things great but not intolerable, and was
never placed in a spot where I had to either lie about a product or walk. I
did, however, have a keen realization (and constant reminders from marketing
types) that the product I was reviewing was my employer's lifeblood, and
that my opinions mattered, but especially when I liked something!

Interestingly, I found that this interest in positive reviews was about the
same whether my employer produced the product being reviewed or we were
reviewing someone else's product. No publisher wants to publish negative
reviews - there's no future in it. Even the folks at Consumer Reviews deal
with this will rarely if ever see CR slam a product. Some
publisher's will publish only positive reviews - if they can't say something
good they will choose not to review it. I personally wouldn't bother reading

Publishing reviews in a forum in which you need the continuing support of
the producers of that which is reviewed will always be a tightrope act. In
our case, we often were paid by the producer to review their product. We
wanted them to continue paying for our reviews, to advertise in our
publications, etc. We found that honest reviews occasionally cost us
customers, but we profited far more by building a readership willing to pay
for our reviews because they trusted us to tell the truth - all of it, every

Anyhoo - these guys eventually folded up shop, mainly due to the
difficulties technical communicators still face today with communicating,
publishing and managing voluminous information online. XML might have saved
these guys - but who knew? (See the thread "Out of Work Tech Writers -
Unite" on this list for more on that topic.)

My advice, for what it is worth, is to have a ball with this. Make your
reviews detailed, enlightening and entertaining, but mostly honest. Ethics
calls for you to identify any relationships you have with the vendor of
whatever you are reviewing, so tell the reader who you work for, then tell
them both the good and the bad about the product.

The key to success here is that you absolutely must have the reader's trust
that you can work for this company and still call it as you see it, and your
employer's trust that you will make these products look as good as they

Good luck,

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An ethical question: From: Bruce Byfield

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