Professional writing, rhetoric, and ethics are all part of the same communication recipe. Each of these elements is just an ingredient in the art of communication; just as apples are only one ingredient in a delicious and well-formed pie. Professional writers create copy with the intention of reaching an audience and persuading them in some way, and they must use words, context, and ethics to do this effectively.
What is rhetoric?
Rhetoric can be simply defined as the art of communicating. It provides the structure by which a communicator delivers a message. Because professional writers use language to communicate to specific audiences according to parameters that are laid out by the organization, they are using rhetoric to present their messages. Rhetoric gives context to words, and context is an essential piece of the puzzle when writers are crafting communications. Without rhetoric, persuasive communication is unable to truly exist, rendering a professional writer unable to reach a target audience. In short, professional writers need rhetoric to communicate, and rhetoric needs a professional writing to give words their meaning. Silvae Rhetoricae is an excellent resource on rhetoric, its uses, and its history. The more we understand rhetoric, the more effectively we can apply our content to context.
Where do ethics fit into the big picture?
Again, professional writers need rhetoric in order to communicate, and rhetoric needs a professional writer to give words their meaning. Ethics are the motive behind the rhetoric and the content. Ethics can be defined by the accuracy of copy, as well as the intention of the copy. Rhetoric is designed to persuade, the writing provides the content, and the ethics reflect how responsibly the other two worked together to send a message. Professional writers are charged with delivering messages to an audience in an ethical manner.
So what is professional communication, then?
Professional communication is created to affect the thoughts or actions of a particular audience. Ethics ensure that the audience is not being intentionally misled or misinformed. In short, writing, rhetoric, and ethics combine to produce responsibly created and delivered information according to a particular context. The written word, in and of itself, is only one slice of the communication pie.