Relationship between ethics and technical writing

Technical Writing - Ethics

relationship between ethics and technical writing

Ethics—or moral philosophy as it is also called—has been the subject of technical writers, but also on those manufacturers who produce products that technical writers . Internet connection needed whenever instructions are sought manual with a usable index would add no more than $10 to the cost of the product (or. Technical and Professional Communication Graduate Programs. By .. to perceive a connection between ethics and technical communication. Ethics and Technical Communication . While this may not always seem easy, a good writer with a bad motive can twist words to make something sound like it.

We will also discuss applications both within the readings and from our own real or potential experience. We will strive to understand the complexity and diversity of possible opinion on these theories and applications, though also affirm the need to come to definite decisions personally in real situations.

It is hoped that these discussions will allow each of us to clarify his or her own thinking and ethical judgment, to gain greater confidence in the how and why of judging ethical dilemmas, and to articulate our judgments more effectively. There are several basic assumptions we will be operating from throughout this course.

While you might disagree with some of these assumptions, they will nevertheless be assumed in the course.

relationship between ethics and technical writing

Ethics cannot be taught in the sense of making one ethical, but it can be talked about in a way that foster taking ethical responsibility. We personally can gain insights into ethical responsibility from thinkers of the past and thinkers of the present such as fellow class-members. Open discussion with others helps us to see the complexity of ethical issues and helps to clarify our own judgments.

Ethics can be both an individual and a social matter, and these two bases can sometimes clash. In a sense we are all individual authorities on ethics, and collectively too. Differences of opinion, values, and judgment will be respected.

Ethics is different from the law yet related to it, so our primary focus will not be on the law. Ethical judgment is innately difficult and problematic. Much of what we will talk about has to do with writing and words but also with oral and visual communication.

Texts Dombrowski, Paul M. Ethics in Technical Communication. Rhetorical Ethics and Internetworked Writing.

relationship between ethics and technical writing

A collection of reading materials on reserve at the UCF library, and occasional handouts. Like Pirsig's classicists, they cared mostly about such matters as design and function.

In terms of Aristotle's triangle, these folks thought only of logos, content and reasoning. Did their writing therefore escape the claims of pathos and ethos? The pathos dimension could be summed up in the sentence, "If you're smart enough to understand this, fine; if not, too bad.

relationship between ethics and technical writing

The perils of the objectivist model are summed up well in a book written for technical specialists, ironically with a point of view that objectivizes its readers: The greatest mistake in the preparing of reports is that the technician does not put himself in the place of the audience or the readers, and does not give them what they want. He sees the subject too much from his own point of view, not enough from their point of view. This comes from being too close to the subject and from lack of imagination.

This criticism can scarcely be repeated too often. It is exceedingly important. Thus began technical communication as a discipline. Sometimes these writers were technical folks themselves, perhaps engineers who did some reading outside their own field and who had a knack but not a heuristic for writing pretty well.

Others were liberal arts majors who had the interest and patience to understand and explain technical matters, but who also lacked a heuristic since rhetoric had largely disappeared from college curricula around I was one of the latter: As the field gained momentum, two complementary things happened, both on the pathos corner of the triangle.

First, books on technical writing, such as Houp and Pearsall's [7] and Mathes and Stevenson's [8], began stressing audience needs and ways to analyze them; such books, used in college technical writing courses, began to chip away at the "objectivist" model. Second, with the growing use of computer software, the field of usability testing developed.

Ethos: Character and Ethics in Technical WritingEthos: Character and Ethics (Abstract)

Bringing the audience into the design phase brought much new and productive thinking about how documents should be organized, text chunked for easy access, and graphics used for information and access. Last October at the annual meeting of the Council of Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication, one of the discussions surfaced some feelings that there is by now a "tyranny of audience" brought about by too much attention to what the audience wants and too little to what the audience needs, the latter question involving the ethos dimension.

relationship between ethics and technical writing

This is the situation described in Figure 3. The tyranny of audience may be seen most clearly in the current fashion of considering it as "users.

Ethics in scientific and technical communication

How this tyranny might be undermined has been shown humorously by Marilyn Cooper [9], who put together a short manual conflating cartoons from Michael Paul McLester's Beset by Demons--a bloated spider singing, "Every blade of grass you see, every flower and every tree. Everything belongs to ME! Cooper's "manual" makes it hard for the user to be a spectator: In purchasing and using this chain saw, you have chosen to participate in this effort.

Never allow any part of your body to touch the rotating chain. You know chain saws are dangerous. You've seen chain saw massacre movies.

It's an ethos situated within the cultural context of the late 20th century in America, not floating disembodied outside time and place. Cicero sometimes used persona in Latin, "mask" to translate ethos because Latin has no exact synonym. Thus, according to Sharon Crowley, "Roman rhetoricians who relied on Greek rhetorical theory sometimes confused ethos with pathos. This lack of a technical term is not surprising, because the requirement of having a respectable character was built into the very fabric of Roman oratory"[10, p.

That is, character was conceived in social terms--who you were, and thus your built-in credibility as a speaker, had to do with your station in society as well as your living up to the expectations of that role. This is a point to which I shall return shortly.

In late Roman times, and again after the rhetorical reforms of Peter Ramus in the sixteenth century, when rhetoric became reduced mostly to questions of style, style became the means of creating persona--of giving the prose personality.

Merrill Whitburn wrote an article almost twenty years ago [11] that discussed personality in technical writing. Rickard in his Guide to Technical Writing [12], Whitburn was mainly interested in improving technical documents by better prose style. Style and authorial voice are strongly linked, but strong persona is not necessarily a plus in technical writing. For example, humor might not be appreciated by the harried computer user as she consults "help" to figure out why a program function isn't working, and it seems almost unimaginable in an operating manual for a nuclear power plant.

Ethos is not, however, at all the same thing as persona, described thus in the last two editions of the venerable Reporting Technical Information by Houp and Pearsall: Writers make important decisions about content and style based upon consideration of the audience and the persona the writer wants to project. Persona refers to the role the writer has or assumes when writing. It relates to, among other things, the position of the writer and his or her relationship to the audience and the situation.

This fungibility is also implicit in the egocentric method of audience analysis used by Mathes and Stevenson [8, pp.

The audience as analyzed has individuals with particular "operational," "objective" and "personal" characteristics, and the writer has a purpose: But the fungibility remains implicit, because the writer remains a black box, an unknown--a spectator.

And from fields like advertising and public relations, we're all too aware of the possibility of using persona in ways that are ethically dubious. Aristotle too treats ethos and pathos as fungible, and character as something that can be crafted for particular audiences and situations: Since all people receive favorably speeches spoken in their own character and by persons like themselves, it is not unclear how both speakers and speeches may seem to be of this sort through use of words.

Here, however, the fungibility of ethos and pathos comes from the fact that in Aristotle's time, ethos did not correspond to what we would now call personality, but rather was more like the public reputation one acquired by habitually acting in a particular societal role.

In modern terms, ethos is the public image one acquires, say, from acting habitually as an engineer among engineers, or as a banker among bankers. What I am describing as fungibility strongly resembles Kenneth Burke's principles of identification and consubstantiality [14]. As one works as an engineer or a banker, one identifies his or her interests to a large extent with those of the group, and through habituation acquires the group ethos. Consubstantiality comes into play when the engineer, while remaining an engineer, becomes "substantially one" with a banker in creating a common sphere of interest through a business proposal.

Or does in successful proposals. To the extent, then, that one is not born a banker or an engineer, the ethos one has is partly acquired and partly invented. Under the circumstances shown in Figures 2 and 3, ethos in technical prose was largely unconscious. Yet, as James S. Baumlin notes, "More than an expression of individual psychology or an intersection of social forces, ethos is, as Aristotle himself suggests, quintessentially a linguistic phenomenon" [15]. Such a view of ethos seems to justify Houp, Pearsall, and Tebeaux's treating, in the passage quoted earlier, the relation of persona and audience as something that can be done consciously--that is, one can invent a persona appropriate to a particular document's intended audience.

Now, there's a virtual industry that depends on persona.

Ethics in Technical Writing

It provides software instruction to the uninitiated by writing in a breezy, you-oriented style with humorous authorial asides. An example chosen at random [16]: Killingsworth and Gilbertson summarize well the relatively few articles on the primary character in technical writing, which, they say, follow three general theoretical trends: They confound the concepts of ethos and persona.

They recommend the adoption of personae, but without being clear about the ethical responsibilities of the author or the general relation of writer to reader. They recommend an aggressively personal approach to ethos without being clear about the technical means or possible outcomes of such an approach. In reading literature we are used to filtering "truth" out of the utterances of unreliable, self-serving, or incompetent narrators, fully aware that the narrative voice is a fiction, a construction, and that the ethical probity of the narrator need not reflect that of the author.

But in technical writing, the narrative voice is also a construction, not just a transparent window on truth.

  • General Principles

I suggested something of the sort in an earlier article on engineering style [18]. It is even more obviously a construction, in that it is likely to be either a corporate or a generic voice. Killingsworth and Gilbertson [17] assert that the poststructuralist notion of an author submerged in a network of intertextuality applies even better to technical writing than to literary works.

That is, text is the medium by which ideas are mediated and compromises reached.

relationship between ethics and technical writing

The narrative voice of corporate documents, how they are developed and maintained and how they sustain a corporate ethos, is a subject worthy of study in itself. Construction of ethos is the flip side of writers' constructing audiences.