Broadly speaking, ethics refers to principles of right and wrong that govern your behaviour and actions. It is difficult to understate 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 as this range of consequences seem, however, it also illustrates the power you have as a professional and the good you can do when you practice ethical writing 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, 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.
Whenever you join an organization, institution, or professional community, you should always familiarize yourself with their code(s) of conduct. Learning the expectations for your position will help you establish habits that reinforce your skills and practice as an ethical communicator.
Professional Code Of Ethics in Writing
- Legality: Are you aware of the laws and regulations relevant to your discipline and/or institution? Are you aware of the laws that apply to the scale of your project, study, or business, from local to international, and do you follow them in good faith?
- Honesty: Do you communicate honestly, both orally and in communication? Do you actively strive to provide clarity when your meaning might be misconstrued by your audience, intentionally or not? Do you give credit to the work and ideas of others who made substantial contributions? Do you respect your employers’ time and resources, and avoid taking advantage of either for your own purposes?
- Confidentiality: Do you respect the privacy of your clients, colleagues, students, employees, employers, and/or organization? Do you only share private information when legally obliged or with appropriate prior consent from involved parties?
- Quality: Do your written documents and oral presentations reflect your best work as a writer? Do you promote transparency and realistic expectations when you communicate, so that you can meet your audience’s needs and perform ethically?
- Fairness: Do you recognize and honour diversity in your organization? Do you ensure that your clients’ and other stakeholders’ interests are served in alignment with the public good? Do you avoid and/or disclose potential conflicts of interest when engaging in professional activities?
- Professionalism: Do you constantly seek to refine your practice and skills as a technical communicator? Do you demonstrate empathy, respect, and constructive criticism when engaging with others and their technical communication skills? Do you make yourself an asset to the professional and communicative growth of others in your field or organization? Examples of Professionalism: establishing clear values and guidelines for technical communication in your organization; reinforcing those guidelines and values for colleagues and subordinates through your own communication; participating in (or organizing) professional workshops, seminars, and conferences on improving technical communication skills.