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 August 17, 2015 in order to facilitate productive discussion of sensitive subjects.

1. Listen to comprehend, not to respond.

2. Learn to interrupt respectfully.

3. Consider every opinion as valuable. Some opinions are based in moral outrage, some on education, but a fairly offered opinion should be fairly considered.

4. Be able to entertain a thought without neccessarly agreeing with it.

5. Avoid ad hominem attacks, and do not make assumptions about each other based on our in-class discussions.

6. Class disagreements end at the doorway--take the the ideas away, not the outrage.

7. If it's a personal story told to make a point (or ask a question), leave it in the classroom.

Schedule for ENGL 7030

Schedule and readings subject to change

Class Week/Date


Class Plan/Readings

Assignment Due

Aug. 17

Introduction to Ethics

Class introduction and policies

General introductions

Lecture on Basic Concepts of Ethics

Dombrowski 1 – 3

Ross, "Why Ethics"


Aug. 24

Introduction to Ethics

Kernohan 1 – 4 (Introduction to Environmental Ethics, Metaethics, Ethical Analysis, and Ethical Egoism)

Geirson & Holmgren 1 (Ethical Relativism)

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

Overview lecture on ethics and metaethics


Aug. 31

Introduction to Ethics

Kernohan 5 – 8
(Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics, Rights, Justice)

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.

Sep. 7

Labor Day

No class


Sep. 14

Ethics, Divine Right, and Informational Origins

Dombrowski 4 (Nazi Records)

Geirson & Holmgren 2 (Divine Right)

Katz, S. B. (1992). The ethic of expediency: Classical rhetoric, technology, and the Holocaust, 54(3), 255–275.

Bazelon, E. (2013). The Nazi anatomists.


Sep. 21

Ethics and Rule

Ethics and the Environment I

Geirson & Holmgren 4 (Consequentialism)

Kernohan 9 – 12 (Obligations to Distant People, Future Generations, Animal Welfare, Animal Rights)

Atkins-Sayre, W. (2010). Articulating Identity: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the
Animal/Human Divide. Western Journal of Communication, 74(3), 309-328.

Obligations and the Future

Animal Rights

Class Leading: Group 1

Formal Ethics Cases Due

Sep. 28

Ethics and the Environment II

Geirson & Holmgren 6 (Moral Pluralism)

Abbey, E. (1981). Science with a Human Face.

The Land Ethic (1949) in
Leopold, A. (1968). A Sand County almanac and sketches here and there. London: Oxford University Press, pp. 201 – 226.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas 


Oct. 5

Ethics and the Environment III

Kernohan 13 – 16 (Biocentric Ethics, Ecocentric Ethics, Ecofeminism, Deep Ecology)

Geirson & Holmgren 9 (Feminist Ethics)

GUEST LECTURE/DISCUSSION: Alicia Carroll on ecofeminism.

Marion Parks on working with Women's Resources Group.

Responses to Class Ethics Cases Due

Oct. 12

Ethics and Engineering Communication

Class Leading: Group 2

Dombrowski 5 (The Challenger Disaster)

Watch “The Challenger Disaster”


Oct. 19

Ethics and Business

Kernohan 17 – 20 (Ethics and Economics, Free-Market Environmentalism, External Costs and Public Goods, Cost-Benefit Analysis)

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

Dombrowski 6 (Big Tobacco)

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

Oct. 26


Kernohan 21 – 24 (Precautionary Principles, Pollution Control, Sustainable Development, The Market Worldview)

Ward, M. (2010). The ethic of exigence: Information design, postmodern ethics, and the holocaust. Journal Of Business And Technical Communication, 24(1), 60–90.

Geirson & Holmgren 8 (virtue Ethics)

Brief Proposal Due

WEDNESDAY afternoon (Oct. 28)

Nov. 2

Ethics and Information Design

Discuss Final Paper

Geirson & Holmgren 5 (Deontology)

Willerton, R. (2013). Plain language as an ethical tool: Reconsidering ethics and audiencesIntercom, June: 29-30.

Willerton Chapters 1 - 4


Nov. 9

Ethics and Information Design

Willerton Chapters 5 - 10

Dr. Willerton Skype in at 4:30

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

Nov. 16


Class Leading: Group 3

McDonnell, A. (2015). Ethics of visual rhetoric and photo manipulation. Xchanges, 11(1).

Discuss presentations and paper

Review readbility tools (sent by Dr. Willerton)

Review class


Nov. 23

Thanksgiving Break

No Class



Nov. 30






Final Research Papers due by Monday, December 7


Course Goals

The role of the technical communicator is increasingly expanding from information transmitter to information designer. Technical communicators build complex information infrastructures, research and develop content, and design and edit documents, all with the goal of communicating complex information to specific audiences. Because working with information involves so many variables, such as determining the origin of information, the intent of the communicated information, and the way information ultimately impacts society, an understanding of ethical theories, principles, and practices is increasingly important. In this course we will examine how technical 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 we examine different ethical theories, such as relativism, consequentialism, and feminist ethics, 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.

Geirsson, H., & Holmgren, M. R. (2010). Ethical theory: A concise anthology. Buffalo, NY: Broadview Press.

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

Willerton, R. (2015). Plain Language and Ethical Action: A Dialogic Approach to Technical Content in the 21st Century. Routledge.

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.

Class-leading Exercise (10 points)
Three times this semester class will be led by a 4 person group. Your goal is to summarize the readings and lessons leading up to your presentation, and lead the class in discussions and activities which help solidify these concepts. Your discussion should include a presentation with visuals (Prezi, PowerPoint, Rocketslide, etc.), and thorough class handouts. Your presentation—including extensive class discussion and activities—should last a minimum of 60 minutes, but may go the full class time if neccessary/as discussion permits.

Ethics Case (15 points)
Develop a 4 – 5 page (~1000-1500) word ethics case or discussion + micro-case suitable for publication in Intercom: The magazine of the Society for Technical Communication. You should develop a genuine ethical dilemma for a technical communicator. Treat this as the development of a story, where a protagonist, or group, must make an ethics-based decision. Both the theoretical and real-world elements of your story should be well-researched, and adequately supported with references in APA format. Your case should conclude with communication-based ethics questions. Your case will be submitted in a shared discussion space, and made available to the class.

Responses to class- created ethics cases (10 points total)
Write a 2 – 3 page (~500 word) response to 2 of your classmate’s ethics cases (2 individual responses, ~1000 words total). Your responses will be submitted in a shared discussion space, and made available to the class. 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. Please submit both of your responses as a single file in the allocated Canvas space, and paste the text of each of your responses in the appropriate discussion thread for the class to see.

Responses to formal ethics cases (15 points total)
Over the course of the semester you will create three (3) 2 – 3 page (~500 – 700 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.

Presentation (20 points)
You will deliver a 10 minute presentation to the class on, broadly, the some aspect of the subject of ethics in technical communication. Your presentation will be an early presentation of the work you are doing for your final research paper project in this class. Your presentation should include visuals (Prezi, PowerPoint, Rocketslide, etc.) and informative handouts, and consider both the practical (case-related) and theoretical (concepts and issues) elements surrounding your chosen subject matter.

Proposal (5 points) and Research Paper (25 points)
Your final project for this class will be a 15 – 20 (~5000 words) page research paper in APA format which explores some aspect of the subject of ethics in technical communication. Your paper should draw heavily on library research (at least 10 viable sources), and include discussion of real-world example(s). Your paper must clearly identify and discuss at least 1 major ethical theory in detail (e.g., Relativism, Deontology, Egoism, Consequentialism, etc.) as the focal point for your discussion. If you wish, you may identify and discuss more than one theory/approach as a way to offer contrasting arguments.

Your paper and presentation will be preceded by a ~1 page (~250 – 400) word proposal, in which you identify a topic, ethical theories to be addressed, relevance to technical communication, and list at least 5 of your required 10 sources.

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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.