Role of Ethics in Technical Instructions

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  • 0:01 Technical Instructions
  • 1:00 Legality
  • 2:30 Honesty & Fairness
  • 4:34 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.

It might seem like writing technical instructions is a pretty clear process with no real ethical implications. But the truth is, there are many ethical considerations when writing technical manuals. Watch this lesson to find out more.

Technical Instructions

Sumi is a technical writer. Companies hire her to write technical instructions, or communication about how to use a technology product. For example, she has a new client that has invented a mattress that allows people to control the position, firmness, and temperature of the mattress from their smartphones.

The purpose of technical instructions is to solve problems that customers might experience when using a product. For example, Sumi will want her instructions to include information on how people can change the temperature of the mattress. That way, if a consumer discovers that the bed is too warm or too cold, he or she can change the temperature using Sumi's instructions.

As with most forms of writing, there are certain ethics that come into play when writing technical instructions. Let's examine some of the ethical issues in technical writing and what Sumi can do to make sure she's applying ethics to her writing process.


Sumi knows that the purpose of her instructions is to offer consumers guidance on how to use their new mattresses, and she knows there are some ethical principles that she needs to follow. But, she may be surprised to find that there are also legal requirements that her writing must meet.

First, of course, Sumi must adhere to the terms of her contract with the company. If her contract says that she will write all the instructions, then she shouldn't write half of the instructions and then just quit. Likewise, if her contract specifies that she will finish the instructions by a specific date, she should do everything she can to meet that date.

Besides the terms of her legal contract, there are other legal issues that Sumi must keep in mind when writing technical instructions. Specifically, she should be aware of any safety warnings she is mandated to include. For example, some states require that instruction manuals for mattresses (and items like them) include safety warnings about fire hazards. Sumi will want to include fire safety information, including the things that could cause a fire.

The federal government also requires that instruction manuals include safety warnings for any reasonably foreseeable danger. For example, the mattress is plugged in. If water or other liquid is spilled on the mattress plug, and the plug is then plugged in, this could cause electrical shock or a fire. Sumi will want to include a warning about that.

Honesty & Fairness

Sumi understands that there are legal issues at play with her technical instructions. But, that's not all she needs to worry about when it comes to ethics. Two other major ethical categories that she should make sure her instructions abide by are honesty and fairness.

Honesty can include several different issues. One of them involves plagiarism, or copying from another piece without giving credit. For example, if Sumi copies part of her instructions from another instruction manual, then she has plagiarized. This is a serious breach of ethics.

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