Part 3 Understanding Field Approaches-Reflection 3

Ethics is a tough topic. It would be easy to think of as “just do the right thing,” but what constitutes the “right thing” is not the same for everyone, thus making it somewhat difficult to pin down. In studying ethics, we have to remember that although legality and ethics are often spoken of together, they do not necessarily have to overlap. Just because something is unethical, does not make it illegal (e.g., failing to offer your seat on a packed bus to a pregnant woman). And there are certain things considered illegal that are not necessarily unethical (for example, the boy stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family; illegal? Yes. Unethical? Not really, but some may disagree). In the book, Johnson-Eilola and Selber make a point that sometimes ethics and legality do overlap: “Sometimes ethical and legal issues overlap, as with the Society for Technical Communication’s (STC’s) principles of providing truthful and accurate communication and respecting the confidentiality of a client’s business-sensitive information,” (Solving Problems in Technical Communication, p. 215).

I found that the book makes two interesting points when speaking on ethics and legality. The first point is that in order to appreciate one’s role as a technical communicator, there has to be an understanding of a technical communicator’s responsibility when generating content. “… Slack, Miller, and Doak (1993) argue for viewing the technical communicator as an active contributor to the meaning-making process as texts circulate across their contexts of production and use. They argue against relegating the technical communicator to the merely instrumental role of transmitter or sender of a fixed message determined by a technical expert such as an engineer, and they even argue that the technical communicator does more than translate an essentially static message to different audiences. Instead, the technical communicator is a full-fledged author who contributes to meaning making along with other producers and users, and who operates within and is constrained by channels of power, such as organizational pressures and cultural protocols” (pp. 216-217). In fulfilling an obligation to generate content, the technical communicator is responsible for what content will best put forward their message. In the example the book uses, Angela faces several challenging obstacles when trying to decide the best decisions to make when trying to work out what would work best for the companies she was working for, while also finding a way to somehow stay true to the intended audience. For example, the instance in which she was being asked to use the potentially misleading photos of patients that were outside the age range approved for the project. Angela has to decide what the best course of action is when deciding to move forward with that project.

The second interesting point I think the book makes is that while there are ethical issues with the decisions that Angela has to make, there can be legal issues for the client as well. “Like ethics, the law has been formed out of various value systems and spheres of influence and is relational and at least somewhat context dependent. …Further, some ethical principles, such as the technical communicator’s duty to instruct and warn, are also legal ones” (p. 218). This is another instance in which a technical communicator’s knowledge must reach further than only writing, or communication. The book discusses there must be a basic legal knowledge that a technical communicator must possess (p. 218) and this is important to protect the technical communicator as well as their client.

4 thoughts on “Part 3 Understanding Field Approaches-Reflection 3

  1. biberbunch93 says:

    Dear Tisha-

    You make an excellent point that unethical does not mean illegal. As a technical communicator, that is a fine line, especially in our society when any issue can turn into a legal one. You close your blog by stating that technical communicators must protect themselves as well as their client. I think it is wise that every decision and every move must be made as if were an open record. I once saw this saying which has really stuck with me, “Dance like no one is watching, email like it may one day be read in a deposition.” So although unethical does not make it illegal, all professionals should embrace an ethical value system that could uphold all scrutiny.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. tsavan01 says:

      It’s funny you should bring up that saying! I was at a paralegal seminar a couple of weeks ago and one of the presenters said that exact saying. It rings true. I agree with your statement that it would be better for everyone if all professionals would adopt an ethical value system.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Allison Styes says:

    I always enjoy reading your perspective as someone who works in the legal world. I previously worked in a position where my team, as technical writers of corporate policy and procedure documentation, reported up through the Legal team. We were always invited to Legal team meetings and trainings, and they always reminded us that our documents needed to be ethical as well as informative so they would hold up if ever presented in a legal arena. It was really the first time I’d ever been asked to be consciously ethical in my writing (although I’d like to think I was always unconsciously ethical) and now I do try to have that approach. I think in general we don’t think of ourselves as having a legal obligation to our audience but like that you focus on its importance and how we need to be mindful of that.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. christijwilliams says:

    “Just because something is unethical, does not make it illegal.” I struggled within myself during the reading this week for just this reason. It is so interesting that our perspectives are shaped by our experiences. In your last sentence you mention that in general we don’t consider legal obligation to our audience. I find this intriguing because as a special education case manager I am considering legal obligation to my audience (my students and my company) routinely when making decisions. Just so interesting when considering how our experience and perspectives bring life to the readings in different ways.

    Liked by 2 people

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