Re: Ethics in Technical Writing

Subject: Re: Ethics in Technical Writing
From: "Elisa R. Sawyer" <elisawyer -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: Lauren <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net>
Date: Wed, 3 May 2017 10:07:18 -0700

Lauren asked:

Do technical writer have an ethical duty to validate accuracy of
instruction? Why are technical writing ethics never discussed?


I think that we have an ethical duty to verify that someone is validating
the accuracy of instruction or to indicate that the accuracy is in question
if there has not bee adequate validation.

As an example, some of the APIs that I document for innovative products
might not have been tested in all possible deployment scenarios. Early
adopters (my audience in those cases) often know that they are using these
APIs in situations that might cause problems, and giving them accurate
information about what has been tested and how those tests were conducted
will help them. I might not be the person who provides them with that
information because a professional services staff is involved.

I values discussions about ethics that I've had with my brother-in-;aw, who
is a talented mechanical engineer and inventor and who has over 80 patents
in his name. He gets pushed by management on a regular basis and he manages
this by clearly stating the risks that he sees if they release a product
too quickly. Even though his environment is radically different from mine,
the forces exerted on him sound familiar.

So, in some situations, I think that I have have an ethical duty to make
concerns known to management. If I have communicated concerns to management
and they make decisions with which I disagree, they are the responsible
party.

-Elisa

On Tue, May 2, 2017 at 1:18 PM, Lauren <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net> wrote:

> 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
> âcorrectionsâ 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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--
Elisa Rood Sawyer
~~~~~^~~~~~
Technical and Creative Writer
"Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today." Mark Twain
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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
Re: Ethics in Technical Writing: From: Lauren

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