Week 12 Ethics


Ethics in scientific and technical communication

Operators manual in use and in court

Discussion questions


You are editing the online help for software. As with any system, failure to follow some instructions can result in loss of information. You made some editorial recommendations to place WARNING in these places to flag the major problem areas. Your manager objects to the emphasis because it makes the product look deficient. The legal department confirms that is no legal issue if the warnings are not used. How do you proceed? What are the ethical issues here? What sort of policies might help to resolve the problem as you move forward with other products.


User manuals for many types of equipment frequently have a page or two of warnings at the beginning of the manual. Depending on the equipment, there may be a few dozen warnings. What is the effectiveness and ethical significance of grouping multiple warnings at the front of the manual? How do these balance against the legal and managerial reasons for doing so?

Check some user manuals for appliances or power tools that you own to see how the manufacturers have met their duty to instruct consumers in safe use and to warn them of dangers. Evaluate whether or not they did a good job or if they only meet the law's requirements. If you were editing the document, how would you recommend it be changed.


Editors are suppose to be concerned with meeting the audience needs---adjusting the content, style, and design of the document to fit the needs and background of the readers. This can also be considered as giving the clients what they want. However, often the client desires are at odds with the user's needs. How can you resolve the ethical issues that can arise when the client wants something that is not in the user's best interests? Be sure to define client, user, and how they differ.