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>So what are some examples of truly unethical tech writing? Have any of you
>been asked to do something in your writing you knew was wrong? What was it,
>and how did you handle it?
Two incidents pop to mind, neither of which I could do much about.
A product I was documenting had made a claim in the marketing
materials that the developers were unable to make good on. It was a
significant selling point and featured highly in the promotional
I felt strongly that the marketing material should be pulled. In the
absence of that I felt that the documentation should be clear that the
program did not actually do what we claimed. I was overruled by the
"powers-that-be" who said that a fix would follow within weeks that
would make it work as claimed.
I disagreed, but under direct orders left the bogus material in place.
Within a week of release the developers found that it was not possible
to make the program do what we claimed, and that the fix would never
I was able to make changes to the electronic documentation and
produced an erratum document and an addition to the read me and
release notes before moving to another product.
Three months later I found that the changes I had made had been ...
shall we say ... ignored and left unimplemented.
Perhaps not unethical but really unsavory is the following:
Another product I worked on was meant to control certain processes on
individual machines throughout an entire enterprise network. I work on
products by running them in a real world environment, so I hooked the
program into our enterprise network which was huge.
I then populated the database only to find that all the desk tops were
listed individually by machine name with no way to sort by user name,
primary server or anything else. To find a machine I had to try to
figure out what the randomly assigned names of each of more than 4,000
machines related to. It was a critical programming oversight
especially since our major customers were running tens of thousands of
Making things worse, there was no time to fix it. I had been moved
into the project at the last minute to speed up doc production for
release within 2 weeks. The product was approved and ready to go and
NOBODY had seen the problem since all the tests had been conducted in
a lab with a small number of machines with controlled naming protocol.
When I talked to the project lead he literally turned green. The work
around was hideous. In the documentation we revised our installation
procedures to say that the program had to be installed and pointed at
a specific server. then installed again and pointed at another, and so
on. All of a sudden an enterprise solution turned into a LAN solution.
What made it worse was that the licensing setup meant that each
iteration of the program had to be purchased separately. I was not
allowed to mention this in the documentation. Since the product sold
for several thousand dollars, they ended up having to subvert the
licensing when users found out about the problem post-sale.
My part in this fiasco was relatively ethical but it still left a bad
Sometimes you just have to do your best and pray.
David W Lettvin
The VerText Company
South Hamilton, MA
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