Sims, Brenda R. 1993. “Linking Ethics and Language in the Technical Communication Classroom.” Technical Communication Quarterly 2 (3): 285.
This essay combines a literature review with case studies to examine what communication-ethics principles students are learning and to demonstrate how technical communication courses should approach ethics instruction. The author discusses current literature (as of 1993) and suggests that the current pedagogy structures ethics learning around actions, or what I call the industrial approach, instead of by
examining the theory and principles that can contribute to a student’s greater understanding of not only the choices they make (or will make in the workplace) but also how the tools of communication can be used. This model of ethics instruction suggests that the theories are only as useful as they can be applied to a real-world situation and that technical communication instruction should focus on this.
Link between language and ethics
Sims claims that the focus of instruction should be on language and how it can be manipulated and she explains this idea by showing that there is a “link between language and ethics” (Sims 1993, 287). It is important for students to not only recognize that there is a link but also to understand how they influence the communication is produced as a result. Or, in other words, it is important that “they understand that through language and presentation of information they control what information readers see and how they interpret it” (Sims 1993, 287).
How language can be manipulated
The classroom instruction should offer a range of ethical theories and the focus should be on teaching awareness (recognition) and not just what is “ethical” or “unethical” but to let students learn how language (and other forms of presentation) is used. Sims provides examples of how language can be manipulated, either knowingly or unknowingly:
- False impressions: confuse
- Imprecise language: mislead
- Missing or omitted information: mislead because of lack of context
- False or inaccurate: can cause harm
- Suppressing important information: de-emphasizes problems or warnings
- Avoiding responsibility: who “owns” the writing?
If a technical communicator writes and is ultimately responsible for publishing information, he or she should own the ethical implications of the content. This idea is supported in other research on this that I will review and annotate for my research.