Ethics of posting samples?

Subject: Ethics of posting samples?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Nancy Allison <maker -at- verizon -dot- net>
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2007 12:07:26 -0500

Nancy Allison wondered: <<I'm considering creating a web page with links to pdfs of various docs I've written. Then, I can simply point potential clients to the page and they can look at whatever type of sample they want. What do you think of the issue of posting unedited excerpts? Product names, etc., would pop up here and there. I'm guessing I need to edit out product names and other identifying terms. What would you do?>>

There are two main ethical considerations: First, do you have the right to use the material you're planning to post? Second, will you be taking steps to protect the reputation or confidential information of your clients?

In terms of rights, it never hurts to ask. Some folks will be quite pleased to have you show off work that they're proud of, and will be glad that you asked. Others will say no, in which case you can't use their stuff -- most often, this is treated as a work for hire, and they own the copyright once they've paid you. (Unless your contract states that you own the rights, it's safer to assume that you don't.) If you don't hold copyright or other rights, that in no way stops you from creating something (using the same skills you used for that client's work) that shows your skills, how you used them, and the results. In effect, you create something fictional based on the same strategies you used to produce the real McCoy.

In terms of embarrassment, you need to be very careful not to make your clients look like fools. Apart from any legal implications, a potential client who sees your published example of "this is crap, but look how good a job I did fixing it" may find themselves wondering whether they'll be subjected to the same public humiliation at some future date. So be very respectful of the client, even if you have <ahem> issues with the quality of their product before you applied your magic touch. In terms of confidentiallity, it's never a simple question of deleting company or product names; unless the client has lots of cookie-cutter-lookalike competitors, a canny reader can quickly figure out who you're talking about.

A non-ethical (as opposed to "unethical") consideration would be how to present something that makes someone want to hire you. Simply presenting a before and after doesn't accomplish that very well because that approach forces clients to figure out what you did; that's a lot of work, and clients are every bit as lazy as we are. So if you present samples, try accompanying them with a description of the problem you were trying to solve, the approach you adopted to solve that problem, and the results. Explain what you did and why and how, don't just show it. And show only the important bits, not the whole thing: why make them read the entire manual when they could instead read just the good bits?

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca

(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)

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Ethics of posting samples?: From: Nancy Allison

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