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The best library assignments are those that use a variety of resources including reference books, circulating books, newspapers and journal articles, and government documents. We encourage you to use all of these sources for this paper. Books should provide some excellent background on your topic. Journal articles, if they are current, give you more up-to-date details. We hope you will take full advantage of the many resources our libraries offer.
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Research that does not support the project idea
In a technical report that contains research, a writer might discover conflicting data which does not support the projects’ goal. For example, your small company continues to have problems with employee morale. Research shows bringing in an outside expert, someone who is unfamiliar with the company and the stakeholders, has the potential to impact the greatest change. You discover, however, that to bring in such an expert is cost prohibitive. You struggle with whether to leave this information out of your report, thereby encouraging your employer to pursue and action that is really not feasible.
Suppressing relevant information
Imagine you are researching a report for a parents’ group that wants to change the policy in the local school district requiring all students to be vaccinated. You collect a handful of sources that support the group’s goal, but then you discover medical evidence that indicates vaccines do more good than potential harm in society. Since you are employed by this parents’ group, should you leave out the medical evidence, or do you have a responsibility to include all research, even some that might sabotage the groups’ goal.
Presenting visual information ethically
Visuals can be useful for communicating data and information efficiently for a reader. They provide data in a concentrated form, often illustrating key facts, statistics or information from the text of the report. When writers present information visually, however, they have to be careful not to misrepresent or misreport the complete picture.
Limited source information in research
Thorough research requires that a writer integrates information from a variety of reliable sources. These sources should demonstrate that the writer has examined the topic from as many angles as possible. This includes scholarly and professional research, not just from a single database or journal, for instance, but from a variety. Using a variety of sources helps the writer avoid potential bias that can occur from relying on only a few experts. If you were writing a report on the real estate market in Central Oregon, you would not collect data from only one broker’s office. While this office might have access to broader data on the real estate market, as a writer you run the risk of looking biased if you only chose materials from this one source. Collecting information from multiple brokers would demonstrate thorough and unbiased research.
A few additional concerns
You might notice that most of these ethics violations could easily happen accidentally. Directly lying is unlikely to be accidental, but even in that case, the writer could persuade her/himself that the lie achieved some “greater good” and was therefore necessary.
Even more common is an ethics violation resulting from the person who is designing the information seeing it as evidence for whatever s/he understands as true and honestly not recognizing the bias in how s/he has presented that information.
Most ethics violations in technical writing are (probably) unintentional, BUT they are still ethics violations. That means a technical writer must consciously identify his/her biases and check to see if a bias has influenced any presentation: whether in charts and graphs, or in discussions of the evidence, or in source use (or, of course, in putting the crucial O ring information where the launch decision makers would realize it was important).
Source: Hamlin, Annemarie, Chris Rubio, Michele DeSilva, and Eleanor Sumpter-Latham. "Ethics in Technical Writing." Technical Writing. Pressbooks, 2015. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.