Re: Ethics in Technical Writing

Subject: Re: Ethics in Technical Writing
From: Lauren <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 2 May 2017 13:18:11 -0700

Nice segue. So back to my questions. Do technical writer have an ethical duty to validate accuracy of instruction? Why are technical writing ethics never discussed?

There are many cases of defective instructions that lead to litigation in strict product liability claims. Sometimes, the documentation that accompanies a product lacks adequate warnings and sometimes the instructions are written in a way that leads to improper use. Grammar “corrections” that lead to a missing comma have resulted in many multi-million dollar claims. Changing a formula for calibration of sensitive equipment to correct the grammar in an instruction can lead to a misuse of a product that could result in damages.

It is unreasonable to assume that all technical writers have an equal sense of ethical duty to make certain that an instruction is accurate. So, in the general sense, do technical writers have an ethical duty to make sure an instruction is accurate? Or is the matter of accuracy a personal preference?

I think that this discussion is great for learning about how litigation may arise from defective instructions. I thought my legal education would lead me down a path to help people working in technical communications but now I think it may be better fodder for product liability litigation.


On 5/2/2017 8:50 AM, Gene Kim-Eng wrote:

Ethical issues in technical writing arise when your employer or client wants you to put things in documents that you know are false, like safety certifications for products you know haven't had their safety evaluated, or to leave out critical items like hazard warnings.

Worrying about about questions of correct grammar vs jargon in noncritical verbiage that doesn't impact actual usage may be a little bit pedantic, but being a little bit pedantic is one of the things technical writers are paid to do. Being VERY pedantic and conflating pedantic matters with "ethics" is one reason why many people regard technical writers as crybabies.

Gene Kim-Eng

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Follow-Ups:

References:
Re: Ethics in Technical Writing: From: Lauren
Re: Ethics in Technical Writing: From: Robert Lauriston
Re: Ethics in Technical Writing: From: Gene Kim-Eng

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