Article Review: 350-word summary of “A Question of Ethics: Lessons from Technical Communicators on the Job”

Dragga, Sam. 1997. “A Question of Ethics: Lessons from Technical Communicators on the Job.” Technical Communication Quarterly 6 (2): 161–178.

The questions of how useful, desirable, or effective ethics instructions is for professional technical communicators has been visited and revisited for decades. Most of the literature concerning ethics instruction focuses on the analytical perspective rather than on narratives. In this article, Dragga offers a claim based in part on his analysis of the current (1997) literature pertaining to ethics in technical communication along with the results—and his subsequent interpretation—of a qualitative study he conducted using surveys (through interviews).

Analytic, reflective, or immediate ethical deliberations

The claim central to this paper is that technical communicators rely on their personal beliefs stemming from the lifelong development of a moral code of ethics or on the opinions of their immediate coworkers and organizations. They can be offered instruction in ethics from different perspectives but if they ultimately dismiss these in favor of immediate narrative perspective, then academia should reevaluate the emphasis—or lack thereof—of effective ethics instruction.

This study offers important, and timeless, research questions from the perspective of academia:

[1] But how desirable or profitable is this new emphasis on ethics?

[2] Is it [the new emphasis] sufficient?

[3] Does it adequately prepare students for the ethical issues they might encounter on the job?

[4]Does it offer students effective guidance for navigating ethical disputes?

Academic ‘theory’ meets the workplace ‘actual’

Dragga’s data from the technical communicators he interviewed (sample of convenience) offers a glimpse into how the academic perspective pervades (or does not) the workplace. At the least, the findings—although admittedly limited by the author—provide reasonable motivation to continue investigating this seeming disconnect between the time Professional and Technical Communication programs take in ethics instruction and the actual usefulness of that time/instruction.

Although it is unstated or implied in this paper, what Dragga is asking is,

What is the best pedagogy to help develop the character of a technical communicator?

Based on Dragga’s analysis, interpretations, and findings in this article, using the case study (narrative) method is the best selection.  The narrative approach reinforces the method of “instruction” that working technical communicators value and rely on to make ethical decisions in the workplace.

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Filed under Article Reviews, Rhetoric, Technical Writing

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