3 – Ethics in Workplace Culture and Research

Applying Ethics in Technical and Professional Communication

Matt McKinney

As Chapter 2: The Rhetorical Situation details, effective technical and professional communicators analyze and respond to context, genre conventions, deliverer-audience relationships, and other rhetorical elements. Understanding the variables and dynamics of specific rhetorical situations ensures that documents and presentations fulfill their purposes effectively, and that all parties are as satisfied as possible. However, rhetorical elements are not the only factors technical and professional communicators need to consider.

Beyond responding to their audiences and demonstrating mastery of genre conventions, technical and professional communicators must also make sure that they are communicating and behaving ethically. Broadly speaking, ethics refers to principles of right and wrong that govern your behavior and actions.

It is difficult to overstate the potential damage unethical professional communication can cause, including the theft of intellectual property, creating unsafe or toxic working conditions, upholding systems of oppression, and even causing environmental destruction. As daunting it as seems, this range of consequences also illustrates the power you have as a professional and the good you can do when you practice ethical communication and ensure that others do so as well.

As a professional, ethics applies to the way you conduct yourself on the job, the way you engage with colleagues, clients, subordinates, and superiors, and the way you utilize company time and resources. As a writer and speaker, ethics applies to how you present, arrange, and emphasize your ideas and others’. Ethics also applies to the information you omit or suppress in a document, as well as how well you recognize and manage your biases when communicating and presenting ideas. This chapter will guide you through these applications of ethics, providing you with general strategies to apply to specific and often complex situations.

McKinney, Matt, Kalani Pattison, Sarah LeMire, Kathy Anders, and Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt, eds. Howdy or Hello?: Technical and Professional Communication. 2nd edition. College Station: Texas A&M University, 2022. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.