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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ethical Writing

Persuasive writing often gains its power to move others because of a moral imperative that we loosely associate with positive moral values.

Because language has this potential power, people who use it well have a responsibility to work from an ethical system.

There are many.

Using language authentically is part of each one.

Using facts honorably is another aspect of ethical writing.

But there are times when you must argue a position, and will rely upon a strategy of presenting your argument that falls into three broad-based categories:   rules-based writing, rights-based writing and utility-based writing.

You probably already know each one represents, but in case the ideas are foggy, here's a quick rundown:

1. Rules-based writing uses a document with rules to justify the logic of the argument.  A company's handbook with the policies in it is an example.  But lawyers rely upon the law and religious folk rely upon their respective holy texts to argue their positions.  Any system of rules that is codified somewhere and is used to justify the position of the writer is considered rules-based ethics.

2.  Rights-based ethics.  In this position, the writer will need to establish a common understanding of what the rights of people are.  These may be referred to in general terms or even assumed. They could even tie-in to different types of rule books where the rights of people are characterized, but the ethics of the position will reflect a respect for human rights.

3.  Utility-based ethics.  Here, the end result, when achieved, justifies the means one takes to reach it.  The profit is the bottom line, and the ethical concern is that you achieved your profit.

Often you are the best judge for whether you are writing ethically or not.  Becoming more aware of your own motivations for writing will help you to judge more accurately if you are arguing ethically.  Respecting your reader will also keep you on the straight and narrow of telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

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