The theme of the April 11 Tech Comm Café was ethics. The conversation was lively, and participants shared many stories and ideas about ethical dilemmas in technical writing.
Working for companies with questionable ethical practices. Financial considerations may force us to compromise our ethics, but some people had quit or refused jobs due to ethical issues. Technical writers can promote change from within an organization. Just as criminal lawyers play a key role in the justice system even though they may defend unsavoury clients, technical writers play a role in ensuring that information is truthful and accurate.
Padding résumés or including misleading information in proposals. Honesty is the best policy. The 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion was in part due to a failure in technical communication. The Vancouver technical writing community is not large, and our choices reflect on our reputation. Technical writers are paid to be meticulous and honest. Sales departments may make unrealistic promises, or an employer may direct a writer to pad a proposal with incomplete or faulty data. Professionalism obliges you to discuss these issues with the employer. Once you discharge that obligation, most people felt that you’d be clear of liability or responsibility for the employer’s actions.
Contracts. Contracts can prevent misunderstanding and ethical dilemmas. A contract can also require the client to be responsible for the accuracy of any material or require the client to make subject-matter experts available to the writer. Technical writers should read clients’ contracts carefully and raise any concerns before signing; clients will often agree to make changes. Some writers have turned down work due to onerous contracts. A detailed contract is essential when working with European clients, although with local clients, a handshake is often enough. Some people insist on a contract for new or unknown clients. The contract protects the client as well; given the chance, some technical writers would abandon a job for a better one.
Employee versus professional corporation. Some companies require technical writers to be set up as professional corporations. Others offer a choice: employee, self-employed contractor, or contracted professional corporation.
Termination. Quitting a job can be tricky. When you leave, the employer should feel that they’ve been treated fairly and with respect. Labour laws state the rights and obligations of employees and employers.
Portfolios. Technical writers should keep their portfolios current throughout their career. Portfolios should showcase design as well as writing samples.
The Tech Comm Café provides networking opportunities, job leads, answers to work-related dilemmas, and a burst of professional energy to keep you motivated. We discuss technical writing tools and techniques, career planning, portfolios, and anything else related to working as a technical communicator.
We welcome anyone who’s interested in technical communication — contractor, in-house, student, long-time tech writer, STC member, non-member, career-changer, or recruiter. We hope to see you at the next meeting!
Next Vancouver-area Tech Comm Café: Wednesday, May 9
If you plan to attend, please RSVP to admin (at) stcwestcoast.ca.
Date: May 9, 2018
Time: 6:30–8:00 pm Pacific Time
Location: Allegro Café, Whole Foods Market, 510 West 8th Avenue at Cambie, Vancouver. The Allegro is the smaller coffee bar on the mezzanine level, with entrance on the Cambie Street side (not the restaurant downstairs in the main store area). Close to Broadway-City Hall Skytrain (Canada Line) and Broadway buses; pay parking on the street or in the Whole Foods underground parkade, entrance on West 8th Ave.
Rick Georg is a technical writer, editor, and educator. He is currently serving as event planner for the STC Canada West Coast chapter. He holds degrees in journalism, communications, and education. He lives in Vancouver.