RE: The ethics of tech writing

Subject: RE: The ethics of tech writing
From: Damien Braniff <Damien -dot- Braniff -at- asg -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 4 Jun 2013 08:01:11 +0100

There are a couple of problems with ethics and our responses.

While we can (probably!) agree there are 'general' areas we can agree on (killing is wrong etc) there are few, if any, that are black and white - lots of grey, with the shade varying from person to person. I'd say that on any given ethical position we all have a line in the sand but it's a moveable line... Taking military as an example - if I'm of independent means I may say ANYTHING in the military line is out, if it pays the bills the line might be at weapons (generally), if I've been unemployed for months with a family to keep/feed the line might be drawn at nuclear weapons, with biological weapons as the 'no way' position... It's not fixed - we all have our own start/end point and in between that circumstances dictate the amount of give in our position.

There's also a fear/don't get involved factor. Sometimes we know something is wrong but is it worth speaking out or doing something. Again it's not black and white - you see a woman having her handbag stolen. Do you do nothing ('property crime')?Intervene yourself? Call the police? What you do will depend on your own experiences, maybe the area (other support likely?) etc. You see a woman being attacked - wrong again but your response may well be different.

Often in our profession the ethics problems we encounter are fairly minimal but if it's something serious what do we do?

Product can cause harm to user. Here I feel we don't really have a choice; the problem has to be raised internally and, if not remedied, externally for a couple of reasons - one it's morally wrong and if somebody died we would be responsible (in part) and two (if the moral aspect didn't move us to act) we'd be legally liable!

If it's something like padding costs then it's up to us to decide where we draw the line...

There is (was?) as series (what if situations..) on ethics in the STC journal which was quite interesting - you just had to read them to see that your own 'line' could vary greatly from situation to situation. :-)

Damien Braniff
Sr. Technical Writer
damienb -at- asg -dot- com
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