Course Goals | Required Texts and Technologies | Projects | How to succeed | Grading Policy | Attendance | Dropping the Course | Due Dates and Submissions | Technology Requirements | Plagiarism | ADA and Religious Holiday Statement | Back to Index

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Resources for continued study of ethics

Class Code of Ethics

Determined by class on January 8, 2014 in order to facilitate productive discussion of sensitive subjects.

1. No passive aggressive attacks.

2. No malice.

3. No attacks on character.

3. No degrading your classmates' point(s): All views are worth hearing.

4. Discussion and debate will remain civil and academic.

Schedule for ENGL 4150

Schedule and readings subject to change

Class Week


Class Plan/Readings

Assignment Due

W Jan 8

Introduction to Ethics

Class introduction and policies

General introductions

Discuss a class Code of Ethics


M Jan 13

Introduction to Ethics

Dombrowski 1 & 2 (Introduction & Survey of Ethics in Communication and Rhetoric)

Lecture on basic concepts of ethics


W Jan 15

Introduction to Ethics

Dombrowski 3 (The Ethics Tradition)

Ross, D. G. (2013). Ethics Scenario: Chinese drywallIntercom, January: 37-38.


M Jan 20 MLK JR Day




W Jan 22

Introduction to Ethics

Kernohan 1 & 2 (Introduction to Environmental Ethics, Metaethics)

Lecture on ethics and metaethics


M Jan 27

Introduction to Ethics

Ross, D. G. (2013). Ethics and résumé designIntercom,November/December: 33-34.

Hockenhull, D., Martin, A., Mayhall, V., & Stude, S. (2013). Ethics scenario: Facebook use in the workplace. Intercom, March: 45-46.

Response to Facebook Use ethics case due by class time.

W Jan 29




M Feb 3

Introduction to Ethics

Kernohan 3 & 4 (Ethical Analysis, Ethical Egoism)

TA: Ethical analysis


W Feb 5

Introduction to Ethics

Kernohan 5 & 6 (Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics)



M Feb 10

Introduction to Ethics

Kernohan 7 & 8 (Rights, Justice)


W Feb 12

Records and Obligations

Dombrowski 4 (Nazi records)

Response to Case Two: Freedom (Dombrowski pp. 236 – 237) due by class time.

M Feb 17

Records and Obligations

Kernohan 9 & 10 (Obligations to Distant People & Future Generations)


W Feb 19

Records and Obligations

Kernohan 11 & 12 (Animal Welfare & Animal Rights)


M Feb 24


TA: Mid-Term Review


W Feb 26 – Mid-Semester




M Mar 3

Presentation and Communication

Dombrowski 5 (The Challenger Disaster)


Watch “The Challenger Disaster” (1st ~1/2)


W Mar 5

Presentation and Communication

Watch “The Challenger Disaster” (2nd ~1/2)


Mar 10 – 14 Spring Break




M Mar 17

Presentation and Communication

Dombrowski, P. (2013). A "frank statement" about climate change."

Dombrowski 6 (Big Tobacco)


W Mar 19 ATTW

Presentation and Communication


Essays Due

M Mar 24

Ethics and Society

Trent 1 (Ethics and Education)


W Mar 26

Ethics and Society


Response to Case Four: Buried Information (Dombrowski p. 229) due by class time.

M Mar 31

Ethics and Society

Trent 2 (Ethics and Journalism)


W Apr 2

Ethics and Society

Hearit, K. M. (1995). Mistakes were made: Organizations, apologia, and crises of social legitimacy. Communication Studies, 46(1995), 1-17.


M Apr 7

Ethics and Society

Trent 3 (Ethics and Law)


W Apr 9

Ethics and Society


Response to Case Six: Government Ethics (Dombrowski p. 242) due by class time.

M Apr 14

Ethics and Society

Trent 6 (Ethics, Plagiarism, and Computer Crimes)

In-class excercise


W Apr 16

Ethics and Society


Research Paper Due on Friday the 18th by midnight.

M Apr 21




W Apr 23




Final Exam April 29 12:00 – 2:30





Course Goals

No matter where you go, or what you do, at some point you are likely to find yourself in an ethical dilemma. As you negotiate your workplace, you may find yourself working with information that you distrust. You may need to make choices regarding the tone and formatting of your writing, or you may simply need to work out the most effective means of achieving an end. These are all—or can be—ethical decisions. In this course we will examine how communication is inherently tied to ethical responsibility, and consider such aspects as exigency and efficiency (is the fastest way always the most desirable way?); plain language (can phrasing save lives?); and rationalism (can inflammatory language really change our world?). As this course progresses, we will take on such challenges as considering the complex interplay of religion in education, objectivity in journalism, corporate business practices, and the ethics of environmentalism. As we do, we’ll engage with real-world case studies, such as Nazi information design, the Challenger explosion, the BP oil spill, Exxon Valdez, and more.

By the end of the course, you should be able to:

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Required Texts and Technologies

Dombrowski, P. (2000). Ethics in technical communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Kernohan, A. (2012). Environmental ethics: An interactive introduction. Broadview.

Trent, M. A. (2005). Ethics in the 21st century. New York, NY: Pearson/Longman.

Numerous research articles

Access to a computer

MS Office Suite or Open Office

A Prezi education account

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ON FORMATTING: All writings in this class should follow APA format. This is not a genre class (one focused on teaching how to write essays, proposals, research papers, etc.). Instead, this class is designed to teach you how to understand, and apply, multiple ethical theories and approaches. It is your responsibility to make sure that you are submitting your work in an appropriate format. For help on APA style please see the APA handbook or the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue.

Responses to formal ethics cases (5 points each)
Over the course of the semester you will create 4 1 – 2 page (~250 – 500 word) responses to ethics cases presented in our course texts. Your responses should be formal, well thought out, include discussion of applicable ethical theories/approaches, and be thoroughly supported with references to the literature. Use APA format for references and citations.

Essay (10 points)
Choose 1 ethical theory (Aristotelian, Kantian, Utilitarian, etc.) and explain it in detail (4 – 5 pages). You should cite outside source material (at least 3 viable sources), and use a well-explained real-world example. Use APA format for references and citations.

Presentation (10 points)
You will deliver a 5 minute presentation to the class on, broadly, the some aspect of the subject of ethics in technical communication. Your presentation should be a synopsis of your research paper and include visual support (Prezi, PowerPoint, Rocketslide, etc.).

Research Paper (25 points)
Your final project for this class will be a 10 – 15 (~3000 – 5000 words) page research paper in APA format which explores some aspect of the subject of ethics in communication and society. Your paper should draw heavily on library research (5 – 10 viable sources), include discussion of real-world examples, and include use of/discussion of at least two ethical theories.

Mid-Term (15 points)
Your midterm will consist primarily of short answer and multiple-choice questions on the different ethical approaches discussed in the first half of the semester. You will also write a response to at least one formal ethics case.

Final (20 points)
Your final exam will consist primarily of short answer and essay questions, and ask you to write reasoned responses to a series of formal ethics cases.

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You will fail the class if you do not attempt and submit ALL major assignments. Late assignments will receive a grade of zero (0).

Grades on assignments will be determined according to the following criteria:

Projects submitted more than 7 days after the due date will not be accepted for a grade (they will receive a zero), though I will be happy to look over the project and offer constructive commentary.

Team Assignments

Team assignments receive grades based on group and individual work. It is possible that unsatisfactory participation in team assignments will result in a lower participation grade or a lower grade on the team assignment itself. You may be called upon to evaluate your own or your team members' performance on group assignments.

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The following policies intend to help you develop and display professional work habits, both in individual and team work. These habits include meeting deadlines, doing required work, and regular attendance. Please read these policies carefully.

How to Succeed in this Course

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Attendance and Tardiness Policy

*While all students should plan to attend every class, graduate students, in particular, should not miss class. Ever.

You are allowed 2 unexcused absences in this class. All unexcused absences beyond 2 will result in a loss of 1 point from your final semester's point total for each absence.

The 2 absences that do not deduct points from your grade are not considered "allowed," "free," or "permitted"-- they only result in no points being deducted from your grade. Any quizzes or participation grades given on a day when you are absent without documentation will result in a grade of zero (0) for that quiz/participation assignment and may not be made up.

Do not show up late to class. If a participation grade or quiz is given during the first 15 minutes and a student arrives late, a grade of zero (0) will be received for that assignment.

A student will be excused from attending classes or other required activities, including examinations, for documented University-approved functions (such as competing in an athletic event), or the observance of a religious holy day and the time necessary to travel for this observance. The student will not be penalized for the absence and will be permitted to take an exam or complete an assignment missed during the excused absence. The policy applies only to the documented University-approved events and official holy days of tax-exempt religious institutions. No prior notification of the instructor is required, though is requested.

Other than exceptions related to university-related events and religious circumstances, only a note from a doctor or death notice for an immediate family member will result in an absence being excused. Personal circumstances are not considered acceptable for excusing an absence.

Please see Auburn University's policies for additional materials relating to what constitutes an "excused" absence.

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Dropping the Course

If you drop the course, you must do so in person at the Office of the Registrar. I cannot drop you from the course. It is your responsibility to make yourself aware of the drop dates.

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Due Dates and Submission Technology

You will fail the class if you do not attempt and submit ALL major assignments. Late assignments will receive a grade of zero (0). It is your responsibility to turn in your work on time. Computer-related excuses will not be accepted. In the event of difficulties with our course management system (i.e., Canvas), you may email me your work to get it in on time, though you will still be responsible for submitting it through the appropriate channels when the difficulties are resolved. If you believe you have a legitimate excuse for submitting late work you may submit to me a formal appeal. I reserve the right to reject your appeal.

If you are absent the day a physical assignment is due, I will not accept the work via email. You must make arrangements with me to submit work before the deadline or put your work in my department mailbox. If extenuating circumstances apply (see below), your work will be due the day after your return from your athletic event or the day after you attend the emergency appointment or funeral.

Electronic documents must be saved in the following format: lastname_firstinitial_assignmentname.

Documents saved in the .docx format are generally compatible across systems. However, formatting is a major aspect of this class. To that end, you may wish to save your file as a .pdf to insure that all formatting appears to me exactly as you intended. There are several free options available to you, beyond those offered by most office software suites, including bullzip,pdfill, and cutepdf, among others. The excuse "it didn't look like that on my computer" will not be accepted.

I may give quizzes at any time during the class. These quizzes cover the specified readings, but they may also cover material introduced in previous classes/chapters. I do not offer make-up quizzes for any reason other than absences for university business (and only with proper university documentation), documented illness (a clinic must document the episode of illness if you have a chronic illness), or the death of an immediate family member. Additionally, late homework exercises will not be accepted under any circumstances.

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Basic Technology Requirements


You are expected to be familiar with the day-to-day operation of computers including email (and sending attachments) and standard software. If you are not familiar with basic computing skills, speak to me as soon as possible, so that we can familiarize you with basic procedures.

You are also expected to have regular access to computing technology whether it be your computer at home or the computers provided by the university. The statement, "I don't have access to a computer" is not acceptable.

Hardware and Disk Media Requirements

It is your responsibility to ensure that the computer(s) and disk(s) you use are functional and that you have, in the case of technological failure, backed up your data. Bring a USB drive to class, keep your work on it, and keep your work updated.

Email Requirement

You are required to have a viable email account.

When sending email to me, your instructor, or to your classmates, please ensure the subject line is formatted as:

RE: ENGL 7030- [Your Last Name]

Identifying emails from students is difficult, especially when sent from accounts outside of the university. If you do not include a valid subject line it may go straight to junk mail, or I may delete your email myself.

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Plagiarism includes any use of words or ideas of another writer that would allow readers unfamiliar with the source to assume that the words or ideas originated with you. THIS INCLUDES USE OF IMAGES. Policy does not allow me to judge whether an instance of plagiarism is accidental or deliberate. If I find in your work 1) another writer's work inserted without quotation marks or acknowledgment, 2) a close, unacknowledged paraphrase of someone else's writing, or 3) another writer's research or analysis presented without acknowledgment, then I will treat it like a plagiarized assignment and deal with it appropriately. Sanctions range from failing the assignment to expulsion from the university. I take the issue of plagiarism very seriously, and will enforce the university's plagiarism policies to their full extent.

Please see Auburn University's policies relating to plagiarism and penalties.

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Special Needs

Auburn University makes reasonable accommodations for people with documented disabilities. I will adapt methods, materials, or testing for equitable participation. During the first week of class, set up a meeting with me. Bring the Accommodation Memo and Instructor Verification Form to the meeting and discuss what you need for equitable participation in this class. If you do not have an Accommodation Memo but need special accommodations, make an appointment with the Program for Students with Disabilities (Haley Center 1244; 334-844-2096; or All communication between a student, the Program for Students with Disabilities, and his or her professor is confidential.

Religious Holidays

Students requiring to miss class due to the observance of an officially recognized religious holy day are asked to consult with me in advance so we can schedule missed work accordingly.