Ethics in technical writing
Every career field has a code of ethics or code of conduct for their specific area. And we're defining our own code of conduct for this website.
Even if you do not work in the medical field, you are probably familiar with the rule "Primum non nocere" or "First, do no harm." This is a well-known part of the Hippocratic Oath in medicine, a long-established part of the code of ethics in the medical field that doctors should avoid any practice or application that might harm a patient in their care.
Every career field has a code of ethics or code of conduct for their specific area. Usually, these codes are defined by a professional organization. A key reason these organizations establish codes of conduct or codes of ethics for professional conduct is usually to maintain trust in that field of endeavor. If the public loses trust in a field, even because of a few bad actors, it can be a difficult undertaking to regain that trust.
Ethics in technical writing
In technical writing and technical editing, the Society for Technical Communication (STC) established their Ethical Principles in 1998 to codify these values:
For example, when describing the rule for Honest, the STC writes, "We seek to promote the public good in our activities. To the best of our ability, we provide truthful and accurate communications." As an industry, it is important for technical communicators to write honest and correct documentation; it would be wrong to intentionally create a false document or to misrepresent facts in a technical document.
Similarly, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)—which includes IEEE Procomm, a professional organization dedicated to technical and professional communication—also codified their values in a Code of Ethics:
- To uphold the highest standards of integrity, responsible behavior, and ethical conduct in professional activities
- To treat all persons fairly and with respect, to not engage in harassment or discrimination, and to avoid injuring others
- To strive to ensure this code is upheld by colleagues and co-workers
While this is written differently than the STC Ethical Principles statement, the IEEE Code of Ethics aims for the same target: to maintain and preserve trust in the professional activities undertaken by IEEE members, including technical communication. Note the echoes of legality, honesty, quality, and professionalism in their admonition to maintain "the highest standards of integrity, responsible behavior, and ethical conduct in professional activities."
Defining ethics for Technically We Write
Every career field has a code of ethics or code of conduct for their specific area. And we're defining our own code of conduct for this website. It's important to draw a line under what we do on the website and how we interact with our community. Like other professional organizations, we want to preserve and maintain trust our readers have in the website.
We continue to refine this code of conduct, but at a high level we anticipate these rules:
We want Technically We Write to be a community of real people. To maintain that, we ask that you do not use ChatGPT to write entire articles about topics. Where an AI is the primary or sole author, we believe it's not ethical to publish the article under your name. Articles that are entirely written by AI will be rejected.
But AI co-authors can be powerful tools when leveraged in the appropriate setting, such as repetitive writing tasks, or creating sample content. That's why articles about ChatGPT and other AI co-authoring tools will always be welcome. Our audience wants to learn about how to use ChatGPT.
Like IEEE and STC, we expect that articles submitted to Technically We Write will be honest, truthful, and free of errors and omissions. We encourage contributors to write about personal experience and provide helpful "how-to" articles based on that experience. Our readers want to learn new skills, and the best way to do that is to share what you know.
Technically We Write is an open community of technical writers, technical editors, web content creators, SEO specialists, and anyone else who works in technical and professional communication. That definition intentionally casts a wide net; everyone is welcome to contribute an article to Technically We Write.
Students are also welcome to contribute to Technically We Write. Writing articles is a great way to gain experience in technical writing. For any students who are planning a career in technical communication, having a few published articles on your resume can help you to stand out in a job application or an interview.
Everyone is welcome to participate in our community! Remember, you don't have to have "technical writer" in your job title to do technical and professional communication work. Everyone does some level of technical and professional communication, regardless of their career. That's why everyone is welcome to share.