Who cares about ethics? (clarification)

Subject: Who cares about ethics? (clarification)
From: Dawn Whitlock <dawn -dot- whitlock -at- tait -dot- co -dot- nz>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2003 08:13:19 +1200

A clarification on my post. Thanks to all who responded -- I certainly didn't expect
so many people to reply!

The purpose of my essay was to argue that making the right ethical choice is not
always obvious because ethics are, by definition, subjective. (The essay is not
intended for publication, and was handed in a few hours after my post and before I
read any of the replies. I am not writing an article for the STC and it was not
intended as a comment on the STC.)

A few points to begin with:

* The title of my post was designed to grab your attention, but unfortunately it
influenced how people read the statement, and so people inferred that I was implying
that technical communicators don't care about ethics. Which was not my intention at

* My statement was a sweeping statement (of my own creation) designed to be
provactive and to get a discussion going (which it did). Yes, it was out of context
and yes, I would have got more insightful replies if I had made it clearer, but it
was a hastly written message posted on the spur of the moment. Nevertheless some
people understood what I was getting at, others didn't.

My statement said that tech writers "ignore the subject of ethics". I didn't say
that people are unethical, but that mostly they ignore the *subject*, by which I
meant that people are (generally) unlikely to *actively* read about ethics, discuss
it, or even read the codes of ethics which some people, as members of professional
societies, such as the STC and the like, are bound by. In fact, "practising
professionals typically ignore guidelines and theoretical discussions, preferring
books and magazines that identify specific strategies for success on the job" (Bryan
(1992), cited in Dragga (1996), "Is This Ethical?" A Survey of Opinion on Principles
and Practices of Document Design. Technical Communication, 43:3. 255-265).

The thrust of my argument in my essay is that:

* Making the right ethical choice is not always obvious because ethics are, by
definition, subjective.

* People's philosophical views are different. Moreover, their judgements may be less
or more lenient depending on their gender, meaning that psychological and social
issues play an important part in a person's ethical choice. (see link below)

* While it is important to have guidelines or codes of conduct for professional
technical communicators to follow, ultimately it is more important for technical
communicators to participate in ongoing and regular discussions on relevant ethical
issues so that we can flex our ethical muscles. Only through continued exposure to
discussions on ethical dilemmas can we become better at making the correct ethical
choices. As Dragga (1996, p.264) says, "Quite possibly the most ethical thing we can
do as a profession is to nourish the ongoing discussion of ethical issues."

Thanks to everyone who responded. Read Dragga's article -- it's very interesting!

(See also http://www.ethicsandbusiness.org/toolbox/ethicalstyles.htm -- it's a
questionnaire designed to demonstrate which style of ethics (ethic of justice or
ethic of care) you favour the most.)


Dawn Whitlock
Senior Technical Author
Tait Electronics Ltd
Christchurch, New Zealand
Extn. 8709

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