Ten Ethical Scenarios for Professional Writing

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Gardner_Jun23_206-300x210.jpgLast week, I proposed a compass-based activity for Discussing Ethics Scenarios in Professional Writing classes. This week I’m sharing ten scenarios to use with last week’s ethical compass. Most of the scenarios have alternative solutions or choices that you can discuss beyond the simple choice of where the situation falls on the ethical compass.

Ten Ethical Scenarios

    1. You need an illustration for a pamphlet you are designing. You have saved the perfect image of the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, but you cannot remember the source and do not know whether the image is free to use under Creative Commons or in the public domain. You decide to use it anyway and hope for the best. Is the choice right?
    2. Your colleague has written a progress report that indicates the project is on schedule and on budget. The report does not mention that the colleague has been substituting cheaper, generic supplies, rather than ordering the brand of supplies that the client requested to avoid going over budget. The supplies meet safety requirements, and it’s likely that the client will not notice the change. Is the colleague doing the right thing?
    3. The marketing department has asked your supervisor for screenshots to illustrate the forthcoming features that will be added to the app you are developing. When you tell your supervisor that the features are not programmed yet, he tells you to fake something in PhotoShop. Is your supervisor choosing the right solution?
    4. The disposable knives, spoons, and forks that your company manufactures are not recyclable. Though they are made with 10% recycled materials, they go to the landfill, not the recycling bin. A customer has asked on your company Facebook page whether the spoons are eco-friendly, and the social media manager has replied that they are. Has he made the right choice?
    5. Your department has just learned of a significant security flaw in the shopping cart software the company markets. The director of software development is not releasing details on the flaw to the public, leaving millions of users’ personal information at risk. She wants to avoid giving hackers information that could lead to security breaches. Your team is working overtime to fix the flaw, and the director plans to send out a press release on the flaw when the fix is ready. Has she made the right decision?
    6. You are writing specifications for a project your engineering firm is designing. You confess to your supervisor that you are behind schedule, and he suggests that you copy several sections from a similar specification that a colleague in the office wrote for another project. Is the supervisor suggesting the right solution?
    7. You are preparing a resume for an entry-level job. Your friend tells you to change the details on your active membership in the military reserves to suggest that you are no longer serving. He explains that some employers may be concerned about your military service causing you to miss work. You know it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of military service, and you are proud of your service. You include the information against your friend’s advice. Did you make the right choice?
    8. An intern who worked in your department has asked you to fill out a recommendation form for a scholarship application. You agree, but when you review the form, you notice questions about the intern’s religious affiliation and her commitment to her faith. You do not feel it’s appropriate to answer these questions, so you write, “I do not have enough information to answer this question” in that section of the form. Did you make the right decision?
    9. Your company has been taking shortcuts with quality control, resulting in the manufacture of food products that barely meet health and safety requirements. You create anonymous accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and you post evidence of the quality control issues on the accounts, tagging the corporate accounts. Was your action right?
    10. You wrote an extensive manual for using petroleum drilling equipment that your company manufactures. To save money, an editor pared down the manual, removing 2 pages of information overall. You review the changes and restore half of the information, which consisted primarily of important safety warnings. Your supervisor is unhappy about the cost, but you stand firm that the information must remain in the manual. Have you made the right decision?

Because I am teaching online, I plan on using the scenarios throughout the term, posting two or three each week on our online discussion forum for students to respond to. I’ll try beginning with an anonymous poll on each scenario to gauge where the class stands before discussing the nuances of the situation and possible alternative responses. In the face-to-face classroom, I think I’d have students work in groups to propose ways to deal with the situation and then as a class work to a solution we all feel ethically deals with the scenario.

This activity grew from conversations during the Pathways Summer Institute, sponsored by the Virginia Tech Office of General Education. Where do you find your ethical discussion starters? Do you have resources to share? Let me hear from you. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

[Photo: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument by Kevin Dooley, on Flickr]

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.