Ethical Issues in Formal Report Writing

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  • 00:00 Formal Reports
  • 00:53 Research
  • 2:56 Honesty
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Businesses use formal reports for a variety of situations, but they are often fraught with ethical issues. In this lesson, we'll examine the ethics of formal report writing, including ethics when doing research and honesty issues when writing reports.

Formal Reports

Anita is excited. She works for a company that creates apps for children to learn math and reading and she's recently been asked to write a report that summarizes how well the apps are working. In particular, she is supposed to look at the company's latest math app. She needs to study how well it teaches kids math as well as how much the kids like the app. A formal report is a paper that examines specific information and draws conclusions or makes recommendations based on that information. This is what Anita will be writing. She'll be measuring how much children learn math from the app, and how much they like they app, and then writing a formal report to analyze the information she's gathered. Formal reports, like other types of writing, have certain ethical issues that are important to understand. To help Anita make sure that she's writing her report with the highest ethics, let's examine the common ethical issues in formal reports.


To write her report, Anita first has to gather data. In this case, she'll want to conduct a study to see how well children like the app and whether it is effective for them. Sometimes, though, she might just be collecting data or information from other sources, as opposed to gathering data in a study. There are certain ethical issues around the kind of research that Anita is doing. One of them involves the confidentiality of information. In Anita's case, she'll be gathering information on how good children are at math before and after using the app. In addition, she'll likely be collecting data on the children's ages, genders, and perhaps other information, like socio-economic status or race. Anita will want to make sure that all that information is kept confidential. This means that no one will be able to link any data that she collects with a particular child. For example, Anita might give the subjects a math test before and after playing with the app. No one should be able to know how a specific child did on those math tests. Instead, she'll want to give general statistics for the group. And, if she uses information specific to a particular subject, she'll want to change the subject's name and other identifying information. The same is true of data that already exists. Say that Anita was not giving a test herself, but instead using test information from the children's schools. She would still need to make sure that she keeps all information confidential. The other big ethical concern with research involves informed consent, or getting permission from participants (or their parents in the case of minors) after fully explaining all the possible risks and benefits of the research. In Anita's case, she'll want to gather informed consent from the parents of the children she's studying. The risks are relatively minimal in her case. For example, the children may become bored or frustrated while using the app or feel anxiety about taking the test. But in some cases the risks can be much more serious. No matter how trivial Anita thinks the risks are, she needs to fully disclose them and get informed consent to move forward.

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