A- locate a technical document from your workplace or from home or the Internet, preferably one that might be found in IT field. Note that Figure 1-1 (Attached Page 2) provides a list of technical communication examples.Using the five goals and features of technical communication listed in the attached (page 4), describe how the document addresses these characteristics. Then, discuss whether or not you feel the document is successful in its overall goal. Provide examples from the document to illustrate.Please share the document by posting a link or a PDF of the sample used.
B- “one cardinal rule governs all on-the-job writing: Write for your reader, not for yourself”. This requires a solid audience analysis. As part of this analysis, you must also consider the audience’s cultural background, particularly in light of today’s global society.
discuss some general reader characteristics and methods for analyzing the readers of various technical and workplace documents.
describe additional considerations you need to make when dealing with a global audience or an audience from a culture different than your own. Feel free to choose a specific country or culture to analyze for this part of your response.
In this chapter, students will
• ¦ Be introduced to the key characteristics of technical communication
• ¦ Learn how workplace writing differs from academic writing
• ¦ Learn the effect of organizational culture on workplace communication
• ¦ Be introduced to communication challenges in the global economy
• ¦ Learn basic ethical principles for use in the workplace
• ¦ Be introduced to the M-Global case that is used throughout the book
Good communication skills are essential in any career you choose. Jobs, promotions, raises, and professional prestige result from your ability to present both written and visual information effectively. With so much at stake, you need a clear road map to direct you toward writing excellence. Technical Communication: A Practical Approach is such a map. Chapters 1–3 ofTechnical Communication: A Practical Approach give you an overview of technical writing and prepare you to complete the assignments in this book. Chapters 4–6 give you a foundation for effective workplace writing. Chapters 7 and 8 introduce basic genres of technical communication documents. Chapters 9–12 discuss the ways that research is usually presented in the workplace, in more complex documents such as reports and proposals. Chapters 13–15 show you how to present information in nonprint formats. The last two chapters, 16 and 17, will help you present a professional image in workplace situations.
This textbook also includes examples and assignments set in the context of M-Global, Inc., an international company that is explained later in the chapter.
Writing in the Workplace
Effective communicators understand the needs of the context in which they are speaking and writing, what Lloyd Bitzer has labeled the “rhetorical situation.”1 This understanding means they must respond to audience expectations about appropriate content, form, and tone for a particular setting. You may have taken other writing courses that taught you how to write for an academic context. Although techniques you learned will help you with workplace writing, there are important differences between writing in academic and workplace contexts. This section highlights features of traditional academic writing on the one hand and workplace communication on the other.
Features of Academic Writing
Academic writing requires that you use words to display your learning to someone who knows more about the subject than you do; thus, the purpose of most academic writing is evaluation of the writer. Because your reader’s job is to evaluate your work, you have what might be called a captive audience. The next section examines a different kind of writing—the kind you will be doing in this course and in your career. Note the similarities to the kind of writing you have been doing in other classes. Planning, drafting, and revising are important, even for short correspondence. Clear organization is essential. Finally, your purpose should be clear, and you should understand your audience, even though the purpose and audience differ considerably from those of academic writing.
1 L. F. Bitzer. (1992). The rhetorical situation. Philosophy and Rhetoric, 1, 1–14.
Features of Workplace Communication
The rules for writing shift somewhat when you begin your career. Employees unprepared for this change often flounder for years, never quite understanding the new rules. Workplace communication is a generic term for all written and oral communications done on the job—whether in business, industry, or other professions. The terms professional writing, business writing, and occupational writing also refer to writing done in your career.
Table 1–1 Features of academic and workplace writing
Features Purpose Writer’s knowledge of topic Audience Criteria for evaluation Graphic elements
Academic writing Communicating what the student knows about the topic, to earn a high grade Less than the teacher who evaluates the writing The teacher who assigned the project Depth, logic, clarity, unity, supporting evidence, and grammar Sometimes used to explain and persuade
Workplace writing Getting something done within an organization Usually more than the reader’s knowledge Often several people with differing professional backgrounds Clear content organization, appropriate to the needs of busy readers Frequently used to help readers find information and understand ideas
Besides projects that involve writing, your career will also bring you speaking responsibilities, such as formal speeches at conferences and informal presentations at meetings. Thus this textbook covers the full range of the writing and speaking formats required to communicate your ideas on the job. Table 1–1 compares common features of academic writing and workplace writing.
Organizations depend on writing for clear communication, effective action, and necessary record keeping. Although the forms of written communication are changing rapidly, clear, concise, and accurate writing is essential. With increasing use of electronic communication, employees may even be writing more than they have in the past. As an employee, you may be writing to readers in the following groups:
• ¦ Supervisors and their superiors
• ¦ Colleagues in your own department
• ¦ Subordinates in your department
• ¦ Employees at other departments or branches
• ¦ Clients
• ¦ Subcontractors and vendors
You will write a variety of documents for internal and external audiences. Figure 1–1 lists some typical on-the-job writing assignments. Although not exhaustive, the list does include many of the writing projects you will encounter.
Figure 1–1 Examples of technical communication
Defining Technical Communication
Technical communication is characterized by the following goals and features:
• ¦ Technical communication aims to help people make decisions and perform tasks.
• ¦ Technical communication responds to the needs of the workplace.
• ¦ Technical communication is created by an informed writer conveying information both verbally and visually to a reader who needs the information.
• ¦ Technical communication is read by readers who have specific questions to answer or tasks to accomplish.
• ¦ Technical communication emphasizes techniques of organization and visual cues that help readers find important information as quickly as possible.
Figure 1–2 Short report
See Figure 1–2 for an example of a short technical document. Note that it has the five features of technical communication listed previously.
• 1. It is written to get something done—that is, to evaluate a printer.
• 2. It is sent from someone more knowledgeable about the printer to someone who needs information about it.
• 3. Although the memo is directed to one person, the reader probably will share it with others before making a decision concerning the writer’s recommendation.
• 4. It is organized clearly, moving from data to recommendations and including headings.
• 5. It provides limited data to describe the features of the printer.
Although technical communication plays a key role in the success of all technical professionals and managers, the amount of time you devote to it will depend on your job.
Culture in Organizations
The first part of this section presents three features common to the culture of any organization that may employ you. Then the second part concentrates on the larger context for corporate culture—the business climate.
Elements of an Organization’s Culture
We use the term organization to remind you that in addition to commercial firms, there are many career opportunities in government and even in nonprofit organizations. As noted earlier, the writing you do in an organization differs greatly from the writing you do in college. The stakes on the job are much higher than a grade on your college transcript. Writing directly influences the following:
• ¦ Your performance evaluations
• ¦ Your professional reputation
• ¦ Your organization’s productivity and success in the marketplace
Given these high stakes, let’s look at typical features of the organizations where you may spend your career.
Starting a job is both exciting and, sometimes, a bit intimidating. Although you look forward to practicing skills learned in college, you also wonder just how you will fare in new surroundings. Soon you discover that any organization you join has its own personality. This personality, or culture, can be defined as follows:
Let’s look more closely at three features mentioned in the preceding definition: a firm’s history, its type of business, and its management style.
Organizational culture: The main features of life at a particular organization. An organization’s culture is influenced by the firm’s history, type of business, management style, values, attitude toward customers, and attitude toward its own employees. Taken together, all features of a particular organization’s culture create a definable quality of life within the working world of that organization.
Feature 1: Organization History
A firm’s origin often is central to its culture. For example, the culture of a 100-year-old steel firm depends on accumulated traditions to which most employees are accustomed; in contrast, the culture of a recently established software firm may depend more on the entrepreneurial spirit of its founders. Thus the facts, and even the mythology, of an organization’s origin may be central to its culture, especially if the person starting the firm remained at the helm for a long time.
Feature 2: Type of Business
Culture is greatly influenced by an organization’s type of business. Many computer software firms, for example, are known for their flexible, nontraditional, innovative, and sometimes chaotic culture. Some of the large computer hardware firms, however, have a culture focused more on tradition, formality, and custom.
Feature 3: Management Style
A major component of an organization’s culture is its style of leadership. Some organizations run according to a rigid hierarchy, with all decisions coming from the top. Other organizations involve a wide range of employees in the decision-making process. As you might expect, most organizations have a decision-making culture somewhere between these two extremes.
An organization’s culture influences who is hired and promoted at the firm, how decisions are made, and even how company documents are written and reviewed. Now let’s examine the larger context for an organization’s culture—the business climate.
An organization’s culture is not isolated from the cultures of other organizations, or from the wider culture or cultures in which it is located. Organizations, especially businesses and corporations such as M-Global, must respond to the business climate.
Business climate: The economic and political factors that influence an organization’s priorities, plans, and activities. These factors include competition, investor interests, regulations, and the overall health of the economy.
To compete in today’s global business climate, companies are focusing on quality and efficiency. To improve quality, companies seek to respond quickly to customer needs and to encourage employee interest in the success of the organization through an emphasis on team building and employee input. To improve efficiency, companies work to improve productivity while reducing costs. This climate has resulted in such strategies as just-in-time delivery and improved use of communication technology.
Two practices that are being used more often in the global business climate are outsourcing and offshoring. Outsourcing is the practice of purchasing goods or subcontracting services from an outside company. Both the client company and the company that is providing the goods or services may be in the same country, or they may be in different countries. Offshoring happens when a company moves some of its operations to another country. This practice is often done to reduce labor costs, but it may also help a company work more efficiently by creating offices closer to suppliers or clients. Although both practices are changing the workplace, they also offer opportunities for companies and employees who are prepared for the global marketplace.
The Global Workplace
Very possibly, you will end up working for an organization that does some of its business beyond the borders of its home country. It may even have many international offices, as does M-Global. Such organizations face opportunities and challenges of diversity among employees or customers. They seek out employees who are able to view issues from a perspective outside their own cultural bias, which we all have. This section examines work in the global workplace, with emphasis on suggestions for writing for readers in different cultures.
Communication has entered what might be seen as its newest frontier—intercultural and international communication. More than ever before, industries that depend on good communication have moved beyond their national borders into the global community. Some people criticize internationalism and the so-called shrinking of the planet. They worry about the possible fusion of cultures and loss of national identities and uniqueness; others welcome the move toward globalism. Whatever your personal views, this phenomenon is with us for the foreseeable future. Following are some practical suggestions for dealing with it.
In studying other cultures, we must avoid extremes of focusing exclusively on either the differences or similarities among cultures. On the one hand, emphasizing differences can lead to inaccurate stereotypes; large generalizations about people can be misinformed and thus can impede, rather than help, communication. On the other hand, emphasizing similarities can tend to mask important differences by assuming we are all alike—one big global family. The truth is somewhere in between. All cultures have both common features and distinctive differences that must be studied. Such study helps set the stage for establishing productive ties outside one’s national borders, especially in fields such as technical communication.
Exactly how do we go about studying features of other cultures? Traditionally, there are two ways. One touches only the surface of cultural differences by offering simplistic dos and don’ts, such as the following:
• 1. In Japan, always bow as you greet people.
• 2. In Mexico, be sure to exchange pleasantries with your client before you begin to discuss business.
• 3. In Germany, do not be a minute late for an appointment.
• 4. In China, always bring gifts that are nicely wrapped.
These and hundreds of other such suggestions may be useful in daily interactions, but they do not create cultural understanding and often present inaccurate stereotypes of the way people operate.
The other, more desirable, approach goes below the surface to the deeper structure of culture. It requires that we understand not only what people do, but also why they do it. Although learning another language certainly enhances one’s ability to learn about another culture, linguistic fluency alone does not in and of itself produce cultural fluency. One must go beyond language to grasp one essential point:
• People in different cultures have different ways of thinking, different ways of acting, and different expectations in communication.
To be sure, there are a few basic ethical guidelines evident in most cultures with which you will do business, but other than these core values, differences abound that should be studied by employees of multinational firms. These differences must be reflected in communication with colleagues, vendors, and customers.
One of the ways that differences between cultures can be understood is through the concepts of high-context cultures and low-context cultures. High-context cultures are fairly homogeneous, with the culture providing a high degree of context for communication. Thus, communications may be less explicit because members of the culture share characteristics such as religion, ethnic background, and education. Think about the way that you communicate with members of your family. With a few words, you can tell a whole story, for example: “It’s just like Uncle Bill’s first car.” To outsiders, this means nothing, but members of your family immediately understand the situation. Important characteristics of high-context cultures include
• ¦ Clear distinctions between insiders and outsiders
• ¦ A focus on maintaining relationships, on saving face, and on helping others save face
• ¦ A dependence on internalized cultural norms to govern behavior
Low-context cultures consist of diverse religions, ethnic backgrounds, and educational levels; as a result, communication must be explicit, because members of a group cannot assume that they share knowledge or attitudes. The culture provides a low degree of context for communication. The United States is an example of a low-context culture. Important characteristics that affect communication in low-context cultures include
• ¦ Openness to outsiders
• ¦ A focus on actions and solving problems, with a willingness to disagree openly
• ¦ A dependence on formally established rules to govern behavior
Although these concepts provide a starting point for learning about other cultures, interactions between cultures in the global marketplace can be very complex, as suggested by Nancy Settle-Murphy, a cross-cultural consultant, and summarized by Jan Pejovic in Table 1–2.
The concept of low-context and high-context cultures offers a general way of thinking about how to relate to clients and colleagues in other cultures and countries, but if you find yourself working in a global, intercultural setting, you should understand the specific cultural practices of those you are working with. Companies in the United States can get information about the cultures and business practices of other countries from the U.S. Commercial Service of the Department of Commerce, as well as from organizations like the Society for Intercultural Education, Training, and Research (SIETAR). However, there are some general questions you can ask to prepare you to communicate with people outside your own culture.2 Consider these questions to be a starting point for your journey toward understanding communication in the global workplace.3
Table 1–2 Cultural differences. Table by Nancy Settle-Murphy of Guided Insights.
Category Cultural differences
Big picture vs. details People from “high-context” cultures tend to derive their most valuable information from the context that surrounds words rather than the actual words. Precise details may be less important than the broader context.
People from “low-context” cultures pay more attention to the words and details than to the overall context. They see the trees but may not always see the forest.
Order vs. chaos “Monochronic” cultures are more comfortable taking one thing at a time. Following the correct order or using the right process can seem almost as important as achieving the desired outcome. Unstructured conversations and interruptions can be unsettling.
“Polychronic” cultures cope well with simultaneous activities and see interruptions as a necessary and natural way of doing business.
Formal vs. informal Some cultures have a more compartmentalized communications flow, where information is parceled out on a need-to-know basis, usually top-down.
In other cultures, people share information more freely among all levels, back and forth and up and down, and maintain multiple channels of communications, both formal and informal.
Motivations and rewards In some cultures, achieving personal recognition or widespread popularity may be the chief motivators.
People from other cultures may be more motivated by their contributions toward building a stronger company or a more harmonious organization. Financial rewards are less important to some than to others.
Quality vs. quantity of decisions People from certain cultures like to make decisions only after they have carefully solicited input and gained buy-in from multiple perspectives. Such a methodical process may take more time up front, but once decisions are made, results are usually achieved quickly.
For others, speed trumps quality, even if it means that hurried decisions are eventually revisited and work must be redone.
Giving and receiving feedback People from some cultures seek constant validation for the quality of their work, and may assume that the absence of feedback signals at least mild disappointment. These same people tend to provide frequent unsolicited feedback.
Others assume that unless they hear otherwise, the quality of their work is just fine. Some feel a need to lead with the positive before delving into the negative when giving feedback, while others regard “sugarcoating” as confusing and unnecessary.
Expressing opinions In some cultures, people tend to break in frequently to ask questions, pose challenges, or openly disagree, while others prefer to maintain group harmony by never openly disagreeing, especially in front of a group.
Some tend to allow others to speak before voicing their own opinions, while others speak over others’ voices if that’s what it takes to get heard.
Some need silence to think (and to translate into their native language and back again), and others are uncomfortable with silence, rushing in to fill a pause.
Role of managers In cultures where egalitarianism is prized, team members tend to have equal say when making decisions and setting priorities, regardless of seniority. Managers are seen as organizers and enablers, helping to set strategy, remove roadblocks, and otherwise grease the skids for moving in the right direction.
In cultures where hierarchy is important, managers typically make decisions and pass them down to team members, who implement the decisions and report back to management.
Willingness to sacrifice personal time Some cultures abhor the notion of giving up personal time for work. Weeknights, weekends, holidays, and vacations are sacrosanct.
People from other cultures quite frequently, though not necessarily happily, forgo personal time if needed.
• Question 1 Work: What are their views about work and work rules?
• Question 2 Time: What is their approach to time, especially with regard to starting and ending times for meetings, being on time for appointments, expected response time for action requests, hours of the regular workday, and so on?
• Question 3 Beliefs: What are the dominant religious and philosophical belief systems in the culture, and how do they affect the workplace?
• Question 4 Gender: What are their views of equality of men and women in the workplace, and how do these views affect their actions?
• Question 5 Personal Relationships: What degree of value is placed on close personal relationships among people doing business with each other?
• Question 6 Teams: What part does teamwork have in their business, and, accordingly, how is individual initiative viewed?
• Question 7 Communication Preferences: What types of business communication are valued most—formal writing, informal writing, formal presentations, casual meetings, e-mail, phone conversations?
• Question 8 Negotiating: What are their expectations for the negotiation process, and, more specifically, how do they convey negative information?
• Question 9 Body Language: What types of body language are most common in the culture, and how do they differ from your own?
• Question 10 Writing Options: What writing conventions are most important to them, especially in prose style and the organization of information? How important is the design of the document in relationship to content and organization?
To be sure, asking these questions does not mean we bow to attitudes that conflict with our own ethical values, as in the equal treatment of women in the workplace. It only means that we first seek to comprehend cultures with which we are dealing before we operate within them. Intercultural knowledge translates into power in the international workplace. If we are aware of diversity, then we are best prepared to act.
2 A good overview of this subject can be found in E. A. Thrush. (2001). High-context and low-context cultures: How much communication is too much? In D. S. Bosley (ed.), Global contexts: Case studies in international communication(pp. 27–41). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
3 The questions in this section are drawn from information in two excellent sources for the student of international communication: I. Varner & L. Beamer. (1995). Intercultural communication in the global workplace. Chicago: Irvin; and D. P. Victor. (1992). International business communication. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
It might help to see how some of these issues were addressed by Sarah Logan, a marketing specialist who transferred to M-Global’s Tokyo office three years ago. In her effort to find new clients for M-Global’s services, she discovered much about the Japanese culture that helped her and her colleagues do business in Japan. For example, she learned that Japanese workers at all levels depend more on their identification with a group than on their individual identity. Thus Sarah’s marketing prospects in Japan felt most comfortable discussing their work as a corporate department or team, rather than their individual interests or accomplishments—at least until a personal relationship was established.
Sarah learned that an essential goal of Japanese employees is what they call wa—harmony among members of a group and, for that matter, between the firm and those doing business with it. Accordingly, her negotiations with the Japanese often took an indirect path. Personal relationships usually were established and social customs usually observed before any sign of business occurred. A notable exception, she discovered, occurred among the smaller, more entrepreneurial Japanese firms, where employees often displayed a more Western predisposition toward getting right down to business.
She also discovered that Japanese business is dominated by men more than in her own culture, and that there tends to be more separation of men and women in social contexts. Although this cultural feature occasionally frustrated her, she tried to focus on understanding behavior rather than judging it from her own perspective. Moreover, she knew Japan is making changes in the role of women. Indeed, her own considerable success in getting business for M-Global suggested that Japanese value ability and hard work most of all.
Like Sarah Logan, you should enter every intercultural experience with a mind open to learning about those with whom you will work. Adjust your communication strategies so that you have the best chance of succeeding in the international marketplace. Intercultural awareness does not require that you jettison your own ethics, customs, or standards; instead, it provides you with a wonderful opportunity to learn about, empathize with, and show respect for the views of others.
This section includes guidelines for writing and designing English-language documents so that multinational readers can understand and translate them more easily.
When writing documents for other cultures, remember that your work will not be read in the cultural context in which it was written. For that matter, you may lose control of the document altogether if it is translated into a language that you do not know. In order to help solve this problem, organizations such as Intecom and the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe have worked to develop and promote Simplified English, also known as Controlled English. (See Chapter 17 for more information about Simplified English style.) The goal of Simplified English is to eliminate ambiguity, improve translation, and make reading English easier for nonnative English speakers. Following are some basic guidelines to reduce the risk of misunderstanding:
• 1. Simplify grammar and style rules. It is best to write in clear language—with relatively simple syntax and short sentences—so that ideas cannot be misunderstood.
• 2. Use simple verb tenses and verb constructions. For example, constructions like gerunds and the progressive can have multiple meanings, and some languages don’t have an equivalent to the passive voice.
• 3. Limit vocabulary to words with clear meanings. Compound words or phrases used as subjects of sentences can be confusing and difficult to translate. The European Association of Aerospace Industries (AECMA) identifies a list of approved words. AECMA’s guidelines can be found at http://www.techscribe.co.uk/ta/aecma-simplified-english.pdf.
• 4. Use language and terminology consistently. Texts are easier to read and translate if they follow this rule: “one meaning per word and one word per meaning.”
• 5. Define technical terms. All good technical writing includes well-defined terminology, but this feature is especially important in international writing. A glossary remains an effective tool for helping international readers.
• 6. Avoid slang terms and idioms. A nonnative speaker or someone from outside the United States may be unfamiliar with phrases you use every day. The ever-popular sports metaphors such as “ballpark estimate,” “hitting a home run,” and “let’s punt on this” present obvious obstacles for some readers. Use phrasing that requires little cultural context.
• 7. Include visuals. Graphics are a universal language that allows readers entry into the meaning of your document, even if they have difficulty with the text.
Ethics in the Workplace
This section outlines the ethical context in which all workers do their jobs. The goals are (1) to present six related guidelines for the workplace, and (2) to show how ethical guidelines can be applied to a specific activity—writing. At the end of this chapter and throughout the book are assignments in which your own ethical decisions play an important role.
Ethical Guidelines for Work
As in your personal life, your professional life holds many opportunities for demonstrating your views of what is right or wrong. There is no way to escape these ethical challenges. Most occur daily and without much fanfare, but cumulatively they compose our personal approach to morality. Thus our belief systems, or lack thereof, are revealed by how we respond to this continuous barrage of ethical dilemmas.
Obviously, not everyone in the same organization—let alone the same industry or profession—has the same ethical beliefs, nor should they. After all, each person’s understanding of right and wrong flows from individual experiences, upbringing, religious beliefs, and cultural values. Some ethical relativists even argue that ethics only makes sense as a descriptive study of what people do believe, not a prescriptive study of what they should believe. Yet there are some basic ethical guidelines that, in our view, should be part of the decision-making process in every organization. These guidelines apply to small employers, just as they apply to large multinational organizations. Although they may be displayed in different ways in different cultures, they should transcend national identity, cultural background, and family beliefs. In other words, these guidelines represent what, ideally, should be the core values for employees at international companies.
The guidelines in this section are common in many professional codes of ethics. These are general guidelines and provide a good foundation for ethical behavior in the workplace. However, you should also become familiar with the ethical guidelines specific to your employer and professional organizations.
Ethics Guideline 1: Be Honest
First, you should relate information accurately and on time—to your colleagues, to customers, and to outside parties, such as government regulators. This guideline also means you should not mislead listeners or readers by leaving out important information that relates to a situation, product, or service, including information about any conflicts of interest. You should interpret data carefully and present estimates as accurately as possible. In other words, give those with whom you communicate the same information that you would want presented to you.
Ethics Guideline 2: Be Fair
You should treat those around you fairly, regardless of differences in race, religion, disability, age, or gender. You should also be aware of, and respect, differences in culture. This is especially important as business becomes more global.
Ethics Guideline 3: Be Professional
When you are working, you represent your profession. Therefore, you should act in an honorable manner and meet deadlines with quality work. You also should keep current on developments in your field, join a professional organization like the Association of Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on the Design of Communication (ACM SIGDOC), read journal and magazine articles in your field, and participate in continuing-education activities.
Ethics Guideline 4: Honor Intellectual Property Rights
Of course you should follow copyright and patent laws, but you should also respect the work that others have put into developing and presenting their ideas. Credit others for ideas, text, or images that you have used. When collaborating with others, show appreciation for their contributions, and welcome their input. Offer and accept feedback that will make the final product stronger.
Ethics Guideline 5: Respect Confidentiality
Remember that you are acting on the part of both your employer and your clients. Disclose sensitive information only with permission, and obtain written releases before you share materials. This guideline is especially important for contract and freelance workers, who must have a portfolio of accomplishments to share with prospective clients. If you share confidential information with a prospective client, you show that you cannot be trusted with sensitive material.
Ethics Guideline 6: Do No Harm
Technical communicators often work in fields that affect public health and safety. You should avoid practices, inaccuracies, or mistakes that can harm people or property. You should also support a positive and constructive work atmosphere. One way to achieve such a working environment is to avoid words or actions calculated to harm others. For example, avoid negative, rumor-laden conversations that hurt feelings, spread unsupported information, or waste time.
Now let’s examine the manner in which ethical considerations play a part in the writing responsibilities in organizations.
Ethics and Legal Issues in Writing
In your career, you should develop and apply your own code of ethics, making certain it follows the six guidelines already noted. Writing—whether on paper, audiotape, videotape, or computer screen—presents a special ethical challenge for demonstrating your personal code of ethics. Along with speaking, there may be no more important way you display your beliefs during your career. The following section (1) lists some ethical questions related to specific documents and (2) provides responses based on the ethical guidelines noted earlier.
• ¦ Be honest
• ¦ Do no harm
• ¦ Be fair
• ¦ Honor intellectual property rights
• ¦ Respect confidentiality
• ¦ Be professional
Being honest, fair, and professional; honoring intellectual property; respecting confidentiality; and doing no harm—all six of these ethical guidelines apply to written communication. Following are some typical examples from the working world, followed by some discussion of your legal obligations in writing.
Sample Ethics Questions in the Workplace
Each of the six situations that follow presents an ethical dilemma regarding a specific document, followed by an answer to each problem.
• Lab report: Should you mention a small, possibly insignificant percentage of the data that was collected but that doesn’t support your conclusions?
o Answer: Yes. Readers deserve to see all the data, even (and perhaps especially) any information that doesn’t support your conclusion. They need a true picture of the lab study so that they can draw their own conclusions.
• Trip report: Should you mention the fact that one client you visited expressed dissatisfaction with the service he received from your team?
o Answer: Yes. Assuming that your report is supposed to present an accurate reflection of your activities, your reader deserves to hear about all your client contacts—good news and bad news. You can counter any critical comments by indicating how your team plans to remedy the problem.
• Proposal: Should you include cost information, even though cost is not a strong point in your proposal?
o Answer: Yes. Most clients expect complete and clear cost data in a proposal. It is best to be forthright about costs, even if they are not your selling point. Then you can highlight features that are exemplary about your firm so that the customer is encouraged to look beyond costs to matters of quality, qualifications, scheduling, experience, and so on.
• Feasibility study: Should you list all the criteria you used in comparing three products, even though one criterion could not be applied adequately in your study?
o Answer: Yes. It is unethical to adjust criteria after the fact to accommodate your inability to apply them consistently. Besides, information about a project dead end may be useful to the reader.
• Technical article: Should you acknowledge ideas you derived from another article, even though you quoted no information from the piece?
o Answer: Yes. Your reliance on all borrowed ideas should be noted, whether the ideas are quoted, paraphrased, or summarized. The exception is common knowledge, which is general information that is found in many sources. Such common knowledge need not be footnoted.
• Statement of qualifications (SOQ): Should you feel obligated to mention technical areas in which your firm does not have extensive experience?
o Answer: Probably not, as long as you believe the customer is not expecting such information in the statement of qualifications. Ethical guidelines do not require you to tell everything about your firm, especially in a marketing document like an SOQ (Statement of Qualifications). They require only that you provide the information that the client requests or expects.
Of course, many other types of technical writing require careful ethical evaluation. You might even consider performing an ethical review during the final process of drafting a document. Other parts of this book cover topics that apply to specific stages of such an ethical review, as well as to ethics in spoken communication. For ethics in definition and description, see Chapter 7; for ethics in instructions and process explanations, see Chapter 8; for ethics in the research process, see Chapter 9; for ethics in the use of graphics, see Chapter 13; and for ethics in negotiation, see Chapter 16.
Legal Issues in Writing
Some countries, such as the United States, have a fairly well-developed legal context for writing, which means you must pay great attention to detail as you apply ethical principles to the writing process. This section highlights some common guidelines.
• ¦ Acknowledge Sources for Information Other Than Common Knowledge As noted in the technical article example in the previous section, you are obligated to provide sources for any information other than common knowledge. Common knowledge is usually considered to be factual and nonjudgmental information that could be found in general sources about a subject. The sources for any other types of information beyond this definition must be cited in your document. Chapter 9 offers more detail about avoiding plagiarism and the format for citing sources.
• ¦ Seek Written Permission Before Borrowing Extensive Text Generally, it is best to seek written permission for borrowing more than a few hundred words from a source, especially if the purpose of your document is profit. This so-called fair use is, unfortunately, not clearly defined and subject to varying interpretations. It is best (1) to consult a reference librarian or other expert for an up-to-date interpretation of the application of fair use to your situation, and (2) to err on the side of conservatism by asking permission to use information, if you have any doubt. This probably hasn’t been an issue in papers you have written for school because they were for educational use and were not going to be published. However, this issue should be addressed in any writing you do outside of school.
• ¦ Seek Written Permission Before Borrowing Graphics Again, you probably haven’t been concerned about this issue in projects you have created in school, but you must seek permission for any graphics you borrow for projects created outside of school. This guideline applies to any nontextual element, whether it is borrowed directly from the original or adapted by you from the source. Even if the graphic is not copyrighted, such as one appearing in an annual report from a city or county, you should seek permission for its use.
• ¦ Seek Legal Advice When You Cannot Resolve Complex Questions Some questions, such as the use of trademarks and copyright, fall far outside the expertise of most of us. In such cases it is best to consult an attorney who specializes in such law. Remember that the phrase “Ignorance is bliss” has led many a writer into problems that could have been prevented by seeking advice when it was relatively cheap—at the beginning. Concerning U.S. copyrights in particular, you might first want to consult free information provided by the U.S. Copyright Office at its Web site (www.copyright.gov).
In the final analysis, acting ethically on the job means thinking constantly about how other people are influenced by what you do, say, and write. Also, remember that what you write could have a very long shelf life, perhaps to be used later as a reference for legal proceedings. Always write as if your professional reputation could depend on it, because it just might.
The M-Global Case
This book uses the fictional company M-Global, Inc., to provide a context for examples, models, and assignments. Even though workplace documents such as procedures or reports follow general conventions for organization, writers must also consider the context in which their documents are created and will be read. Effective writers make rhetorical choices to appeal to specific audiences, to clearly communicate information, and to present a professional image for themselves and the organizations that they represent. (Chapter 2 discusses these rhetorical concerns in greater detail.) The M-Global case provides a rich context for analyzing model documents and responding to writing assignments.
To complete the M-Global assignments, you will be asked to assume a role in the organization. The many M-Global examples and assignments give you a purpose, an audience, and an organizational context that simulate what you will face in your career. Model 1–1 (pp. 25–34) introduces the organization in a booklet that is part of new-employee orientation at M-Global. The Communication Challenges and Assignments at the end of each chapter include the additional information that you will need to analyze your rhetorical situation and create the documents that you have been assigned.
The use of M-Global, Inc., in this textbook is intended to yield two main benefits for you as a student:
• ¦ Real-world context: M-Global provides you with an extended case study in modern technical communication. By placing you in actual working roles, the text prepares you for writing and speaking tasks ahead in your career.
• ¦ Continuity: The use of M-Global material lends continuity to class assignments and discussions throughout the term. Your use of this international organization in assignments and class emphasizes the connections among all on-the-job assignments.
• ¦ Technical communication refers to the many kinds of writing and speaking you will do in your career.
• ¦ In contrast to academic writing, technical communication aims to get something done (not just to demonstrate knowledge), relays information from someone more knowledgeable about a topic to a reader who is less knowledgeable about it, and presents ideas clearly and simply.
• ¦ Organizations develop their own personality, or culture, which can be influenced by many features, including their history, type of business, and management style.
• ¦ With the growth of the global economy, organizations are becoming more sensitive to differences in cultural communication practices.
• ¦ Companies and their employees should follow some basic ethical guidelines in all their work, including communication with colleagues and customers.
• ¦ This book uses the fictional firm of M-Global, Inc., to lend realism to your study of technical writing.
Communication Challenge Employee Orientation and Training: Global Dilemmas
This case study explores cultural issues faced by M-Global, Inc., as it embraces the global marketplace. It ends with questions and comments for discussion and an assignment for a written response to the Challenge. For more information about M-Global, see Model 1–1 (pp. 25–34).
Recently, M-Global’s management has decided to emphasize the global nature of the organization through a change management initiative. The goal of this initiative is to create a global, yet cohesive, company culture. To help achieve this goal, Human Resources has been asked to create employee orientation and training materials to be presented at all 16 branches. These training materials could take the form of information on the company intranet, messages from M-Global executives to their employees, and PowerPoint® presentations and brochures used during training sessions conducted by Human Resources personnel for M-Global departments and branches.
Karrie Camp, the Vice-President for Human Resources, has been with M-Global for 30 years and is serious about the “resources” part of Human Resources. She believes that ensuring that employees work efficiently and effectively for the good of M-Global is an important part of her job. She believes that a clear, companywide policy guide promotes efficiency in a large organization like M-Global. The M-Global policy guide is quite specific about issues such as work hours (whether regular or flextime), vacation time, equal opportunity, office dress, required training, and safety. Karrie sees these policies as the foundation of the “new” company culture. She wants to use as much existing material as possible in creating the new orientation and training materials.
Assume the role of a new employee in the Human Resources office who has been assigned the task of gathering, comparing, and analyzing all of the current materials used for employee training. Although some branches in the United States share training materials, others—especially those in more isolated offices, such as Tokyo and Nairobi—have their own materials. Some smaller offices have no formal materials, relying instead on branch managers to design their own training programs. Your goal is to identify current materials that can be used to support M-Global’s international company culture and to recommend new materials for the training and orientation sessions.
Global Issues in Human Resources Policies
Because some countries have specific laws governing vacations and holidays, some orientation materials are much more specific than others. However, some policies and practices that you might take for granted can, in fact, be problematic; for example, it is important to remember that not only is the Dammam, Saudi Arabia, office in a different time zone, but the Saudi workweek is Saturday through Wednesday. You will need to address these issues in your recommendations to Karrie.
One problem you do not have to worry about is reading the existing training materials—the organization has always had a policy that all internal documents would be written in English, and M-Global plans to keep this policy. However, some overseas branch managers have taken the opportunity presented by this new project to complain about the English-only policy. They see no reason why they cannot write internal memos, reports, procedures, and other documents in the language of the country in which the office is located. Although most M-Global employees have a fair reading and writing knowledge of English, there is the issue of pride at work, and some employees at lower levels have weak English skills. Moreover, these branch managers argue, if M-Global is going embrace multiple cultures, why shouldn’t it embrace multiple languages?
Questions and Comments for Discussion
Answer the following questions from your own point of view. Before doing so, however, make sure you have carefully considered the perspective of the home office and the branch managers.
• 1. Is M-Global’s English-only policy justified? Is there any compromise that would satisfy the overseas branch managers and the executive management?
• 2. Elaborate on some of the general language problems multinational firms can face.
• 3. The use of English does not by itself break down communication barriers with colleagues and customers at global firms—that is, English is spoken around the world by people from many different cultures. Its use does not mean that people necessarily think, write, or speak by the same conventions. Examine this view. Think about how using the same language across aninternational organization may even mask differences. How can one’s culture and national background affect the use of English in writing and speaking?
• 4. Some of the personnel issues at M-Global are the result of having branches in both low-context and high-context cultures. What differences in work rules might you expect in each type of culture? How can the conflicting and confusing work rules be addressed? Give your opinion on the degree to which common work rules and practices are important at M-Global’s domestic offices, as well as at its international branches.
• 5. Identify the recommendations that your supervisor, Karrie Camp, may not be enthusiastic about. Which issues would you argue strongly for, and which issues would you decide not to include in your recommendations? How would you support your arguments for changes?