3 – Ethics in Workplace Culture and Research

Presentation of Information

Annemarie Hamlin; Chris Rubio; Michele DeSilva; Eleanor Sumpter-Latham; and Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt

How a writer presents information in a document can affect a reader’s understanding of the relative weight or seriousness of that information. For example, hiding a critical point in the middle of a long paragraph deep in a long document seriously de-emphasizes the information. On the other hand, putting a minor point in a prominent spot (say the first item in a bulleted list in a report’s executive summary) tells your reader that information is crucial.

Sometimes de-emphasizing crucial information can lead to disastrous consequences. A classic example of this occurring is in the memo report NASA engineers wrote about the problem with O-ring seals on the space shuttle Challenger, which exploded seconds after takeoff due to faulty engineering.[1] The crucial information about the O-rings (O-rings provide a seal) was buried in a middle paragraph, while information approving the launch was in prominent beginning and ending spots. Presumably, the engineers were trying to present a full report, including identified problematic components in the Challenger, but the memo’s audience of non-technical managers mistakenly believed the O-ring problem to be inconsequential, even if it happened. The position of information in this document did not help them understand that the problem could be fatal.

Ethical writing thus not only involves being honest, but also presenting information so that your target audience will understand its relative importance and whether a technical fact is a good thing or a bad thing.

This text was derived from

Hamlin, Annemarie, Chris Rubio, and Michele DeSilva, “Presentation of Information,” licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. In Gross, Allison, Annemarie Hamlin, Billy Merck, Chris Rubio, Jodi Naas, Megan Savage, and Michele DeSilva. Technical Writing. Open Oregon Educational Materials, n.d. https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/technicalwriting/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


  1. Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, “Chapter VI: An Accident Routed in History,” in Report to the President (Washington, DC, June 6, 1986). Available at NASA History, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, https://history.nasa.gov/rogersrep/v1ch6.htm.

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Howdy or Hello? Technical and Professional Communication by Annemarie Hamlin; Chris Rubio; Michele DeSilva; Eleanor Sumpter-Latham; and Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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