What is Ethical Writing?______________________________________                      

Ethical writing means doing what is right and fair. Some common phrases used reflect public trust, equal opportunity employer, core values, honest advertising, full disclosure, fair trade and social responsibility.

Ethics has mainly been thought of as something that is related to someone’s personal life. Conversely, it does apply to the business side of things. In the workplace, having ethics may be frowned upon because business is looked at doing what is right for the bottom line and not doing what is right for the company.

There is really no differentiation between personal ethics and workplace ethics. In the end, ethics is all about making choices that may not always feel good or benefit you. Regardless of individual values, ethical principles in the workplace set common workplace values. Ethical decisions are considered to be the right decisions and great examples to live by daily. By having this mutual understanding helps to create greater efficiency and productivity.



Ethical Requirements on the Job___________________________________________

  • Respect co-workers, and customers in conduct that avoids bullying, discrimination, or other unprofessional actions.
  • Wording that avoids false claim
  • Refuse to use language that makes false claims or tries to deceive readers.
  • Avoid language that excludes others on the basis of gender, race, national original, religion, age, physical ability, or sexual orientation.
  • Maintain accurate and current records at work.
  • Comply with all local, state and federal regulations to insure a safe, healthy work environment, products, and services.
  • Adhere to your professions code or standards of ethics.
  • Follow your company’s policies and procedures.
  • Respect all copyright obligations and privileges.


Ethical Conduct_________________________________________________________

ethicsEthical conduct in the workplace encourages a culture of making decisions on ethics. It helps enhance accountability and transparency when undertaking any business decisions. During hard times, a strong ethical culture will guide businesses in managing such conflicts by making the right moves. Ethical conduct within the business alleviates the staff on how to act consistently even in difficult times. Examples of reaching ethical decisions include:

  • Following your conscience and being true to yourself.
  • Be suspicious of convenient and false appeals that go against your beliefs.
  • Meet your obligations to your employer, co-workers, your customers, and the global community.
  • Take responsibility for your actions.
  • Honor confidentiality at work.
  • Document your work completely, carefully and honestly.
  • Keep others in the loop.
  • Treat company property respectfully.
  • Think green
  • Weigh all sides before committing to a conclusion.


Ethical writing is a reflection of ethical practice. It’s clear, accurate, fair and honest. In today’s fast-paced world, many employees rely on emails and text messages to get their professionalism and personality across. The briefest written exchange may appeal or harm the other person, and could also create or rupture a personal relationship. Everyone is their own referee for whether they are writing ethically or not. Writers becoming more aware of their own motivations for writing will help them accurately evaluate if they are writing ethically.

Success in the Online Environment – It’s All About Routine

For some of us in the Masters of Professional Writing program here at Chatham, this academic endeavor is beginning years after we have last taken a class. One of the great things about this program is that it’s offered online, so you can work at attaining this degree from anywhere with an Internet connection, and you can go to class at any time. But, fitting an online graduate program into your life requires hard work, dedication, and the ability to manage your own time wisely. My intentions with this post are to offer advice based on my experience thus far as a full-time graduate student and a full-time employee, to perhaps make the transition easier for a prospective MPW student.

When I first began the program, I mentioned my concerns about not having the time to be able to meet deadlines or participate in discussions in an introductory discussion post. My fellow classmates who already had a few courses under their belt were quick to try and ease my worries. “It’s all about making and sticking to a routine,” they said. It may sound simple, but it’s the best advice I could pass on – routine will undoubtedly make this transition easier.

Establish a Routine

Many of us may find it difficult to stick to a routine, with hectic schedules and unplanned situations every day. But, if you write things down, week-by-week, you will eventually fall into a productive schedule. Invest in a planner that you can take with you wherever you go, to stay on track. Every Sunday, I look at assignment sheets for the following week and write down what is due on what day, so I can look at the week as a whole and evaluate how much time needs to be devoted to school each day. In addition, every day, I take a piece of paper and write down what exactly I am aiming to work on that evening. I find it’s nice to make lists like that, so when you cross something off you feel good.

Immerse Yourself

Because the majority of classes are discussion-based, and we’re not meeting face to face to talk, it’s important to make significant time in your schedule for being present in these discussions and offering your ideas. It’s easy to make your post and forget about it, but I advise you to return to the discussion boards after you’ve made your comments to see what others had to say about your ideas. After all, that’s mostly how we are going to learn in this environment.

Make Time for Yourself, Too

You may have a job that keeps you at a desk, on a computer, for the entire day. I find it’s difficult to want to log right into classes once I get home, to sit at the computer for another few hours. So, allow yourself some time to do something you enjoy every day, whether it’s cooking, yoga, or taking a walk. You will feel more refreshed when you return to the computer to do some more work.

Be Curious

Another piece of advice I can offer is to get to know your fellow classmates. We may be miles away from one another and not meet face-to-face, but I find a positive in online discussion is that everybody has to talk, as opposed to the regular classroom environment where you can get by without opening your mouth all year. We all have different backgrounds and different things to offer to one another’s learning experience, and you can really learn a lot from those in your class.

I am sure I am not alone in having concerns about online study. I hope that what I’ve offered will diminish some of your concerns, and instead make you eager to begin the program – no matter what other jobs, hobbies, or time-consuming commitments you may have in your life. A little effort in establishing a routine, making time for discussions, and making time for yourself will set you up for success.

“All I’m Going to Do is Edit Telephone Books” and Other Lies About Technical Communication

Technical writing, otherwise known as technical communication, is often seen as a career where you need to be the smartest of the smart and only available to a few people. I hope to dispel this myth, as well as a few others. The most important part of being a technical writer is: being a good communicator.

Myth titles borrowed from Technical Writing Is Boring, and 5 Other Misconceptions About This $100K Career. Content is my own.

1. “Technical writers only write about highly technical, scientific, technological, medical, or systematic topics.”

  • Not always. Technical writing includes more than just writing about highly technical, involved, and complicated topics. At its simplest, in its essence, technical writing is breaking down and/or creating content to communicate ideas to your audience. That audience could be technical personnel (such as engineers) or could easily be non-technical (such as end-users or customers).

2. “Technical writing is boring and lacks creativity.”

  • Technical writing is more than just “writing,” it’s a profession often referred to now-a-days as technical “communication.” The professional organization for technical writers is even called the “Society for Technical Communication.” Individuals with the skills of a technical writer/communicator can also hold various other positions to include: content manager, information architect, instructional designer, usability specialist, corporate blogger and many others.
  • Technical writers also create content other than just highly technical written documents. This includes multimedia content such as videos/screencasts, podcasts, Web pages (using HTML, CSS), blogs, illustrations (ex. Visio diagrams, flash files, etc.), and e-Learning content, in addition to text based content such as aides, guides, and help documents. You can even have a combination! A blog that I’ve recently become a fan of is I’d Rather Be Writing by Tom Johnson, a technical writing by profession, currently focusing on developer documentation. In his free time, he manages his own blog/Web site, where he often uses podcasts to describe different facets or ideas in the technical writing profession. I eagerly encourage you to review his podcast (and accompanying presentation) for his Debunking the Boredom Myth of Technical Writing post.

3. “Technical writers are not paid well.”

  • Not only is technical writing a career where you can make a nice living, it is a career with growing opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, technical writers have median annual salary of $65,500. This is a great salary, especially considering the median pay for all professions is $34,750. Additionally, this occupation is expected to grow 15% between 2012 and 2022. A rate higher than the average growth rate for all occupations (11%).

4. “Technical writers need a technical background.”

  • As discussed in the first myth, your audience could be technical personnel (i.e. engineers) or non-technical (i.e. end-users or customers). Sometimes, with more technical audiences, you may need a technical background. However, the most important things are being good at audience analysis and information architecture, though it is rare you will need to have Ph.D. in rocket science. Just look at the description of a few technical writing positions on, they do not all require you to have a degree in some technical field.

The examples above are examples of different possibilities in the technical writing/communication field. In the off chance that you somehow (someway) end up editing telephone books or some other equally boring job, there are plenty of other things you can do. You can use your design skills in Web development, show off your presentation or discussion skills with a podcast, flex your creative muscles by creating illustrations, or combine everything to create e-Learning content. The possibilities are seemingly limitless!

Professional writing is not like academic writing (and that’s good!)

papereditingIn theory, my English major is enough education for a professional writing job.  After all, I’ve always been good with words, and I always got A’s on my soundly argued, logically constructed, and perfectly cited essays.  Oh, and I’m a creative writer!  Words are my craft!  Perfect, right?

Not quite… but not to worry!

Continue reading

All Aboard the S.S. Career Change

Some of you are probably in the same boat that I’m in: transitioning from one career focus to another. Let me welcome you to the S.S. Career Change; here’s a life jacket.

My professional writing experience so far is limited to few public relations internships I had in undergrad. The bulk of my career has been in customer service: I’m making the move from a decade of public library work to technical writing with this program. So, something I’ve been slowly working through is how do I make the things I’ve been doing for the last ten years work for me going forward? What skills and experiences make sense to highlight and build on? While the typical self-evaluations we do at work can be a bit trying, this kind of personal assessment can help identify where you excel and what gaps you need to fill as you move through the program and toward a new career.

Who Are You?

When I started taking stock of things, one of my first stops was to re-take the Myers-Briggs personality test. The benefit of this? Not only are you beginning to really think about how you work and why, you can use the personality keywords from the results to start building your ‘professional brand.’ My results landed me soundly as an ISFJ, which means I can feel confident using words like organized, practical, conscientious, and meticulous in my elevator pitch.



Whether you’re logical INTJ or a spontaneous ESFP, the results can give you a better understanding of how you handle work situations, for better or worse (I know that as a sensitive and detailed person, I can get in my own way a bit).

What Do You Do?

Another resource that I’ve found helpful is looking at what skill sets a potential employer is going to want. The PA Department of Labor’s Career Coach website give a fairly broad jumping off point to consider:


Click for a larger version.

Writing seems to be a given in our profession; we have that covered. But are there ways you can bring out your critical thinking or judgment/decision-making experiences? With my current job, I have to constantly figure out how to best serve a customer while following library policies. My judgment call can allow someone computer access to search for a job, but it can also mean the library loses money on a missing book. Negotiation and reasoning are both abilities that we need to possess, regardless of occupation. How about active learning? I’ve started learning some code basics on my own after a classmate suggested CodeAcademy. Employers are always looking for people willing to take the initiative in learning new skills.

Another great source is the Occupation Information Network. They offer a more concise breakdown of the tasks, skills, and abilities that we need to be successful professional writers. There is also a skills inventory to explore – this list will get you thinking about the social, management, and technical areas that are also important to professional writing positions. Don’t forget to explore current job openings for ideas, too!

How Do You Sell It?

That, of course, brings us to putting it all together in new and improved cover letters and resumes. Use these documents to sell the unique things that you bring to the table! Your cover letter is especially valuable in this respect since you can build a bit of a narrative about why you’re making a career change and what strengths will translate to a new setting. This could be a good opportunity to experiment with a functional resume, too – you want to continue emphasizing specific skills and experiences, not necessarily past positions.

Here’s what I’ve learned and have begun to incorporate into my job searching:My customer service experience shows that I can be used to build relationships and navigate difficult situations – I can be a team player between departments or work well with clients.

  • My customer service experience shows that I can be used to build relationships and navigate difficult situations – I can be a team player between departments or work well with clients.
  • My committee work shows that I have corporate writing experience – I can create documents from progress reports to instructional procedures to strategic plans.
  • My experience with answering reference questions shows that I have finely honed research skills – I can find good answers quickly, using databases and reliable web sources.

One of the best things about our slightly rambling career paths is that, despite having similar skills as someone else already in the industry, those dissimilar experiences will offer potential employers a new perspective. By starting to think about these unique attributes now, the process may be a little easier as you go and it will help you get everything you need from this program.

3 Easy Time Management Tricks for Even the Laziest Grad Student

When I started the MPW program, I knew I would have to adjust to the demands of an online class structure, but I really had no idea what I was in for, especially four years removed from my undergrad degree and traditional classes. Being exceedingly Type B with a dash of ADHD thrown in didn’t help matters, but I finally found what works for me, and hopefully these tips and tricks help you!

Get a Planner

A good planner. One with lots of room to write on, preferably one that shows an entire week at once. I’m partial to the Moleskine weekly planners. 2015 is the first year in over 10 years that I haven’t used one, only because I waited too long and everywhere was sold out by the first of the year! Tough times, I know. This year I’m using a Quo Vadis “Scholar” weekly planner, and I’m shocked to say I like it more than my Moleskines. Any planner will do in a pinch, though! My personal plan of attack is to sit down every Sunday night and write in my upcoming due dates in all of my classes for the week. Then I like to write everything down on a note card (or on my white board during assignment-heavy weeks) so I can cross assignments off as I go along. I know. It’s weird. Why write assignments in two places? I have no idea, but it works for me.


An example of my homework list. Pay no attention to the doodles and notes from my little cousin.

Online Calendars

For the more Type A among us, I’ve had many friends in undergrad who swore by making a Google calendar scheduling out basically every hour of the week. If you can stick to that, more power to you! It absolutely works for some people. Personally, I find myself spending more time picking out colors for my various calendars than I do actually following the schedule. Since Chatham’s email is based in Outlook, you could also use Outlook’s calendar system for the same thing and just keep all of your school-related stuff in the same place.


The Pomodoro Technique has saved my life. Basically, set a timer for 25 minutes and just work. Don’t look at Facebook. Don’t watch “The Walking Dead.” Just work. When your timer goes off, take a short break (five minutes or so. Sometimes I do 10!) and then do another chunk of 25. After four sets of 25, take a longer break. Say, 30 minutes or so. You can adjust the times as you need to, of course, but I’ve found that 20/10 usually works for me. There are several apps and websites that will provide a countdown for you, but you can just as easily set your countdown clock on your smartphone for the time you need. Personally, I’m easily distracted, and knowing I’ll get a break if I work for a short period of time is the only way I can get things done sometimes. (For example: This blog post!)

“I don’t need no stinkin’ time management!”

No, you do. Really. Listen to me. My first term was a mess because I was under the impression I could just skate through like I did in my traditional undergrad classes. Wrong-o. Without a system to keep your assignments on track, you’re going to end up completely behind and rushing to do everything on Saturday night. And don’t get me wrong. I still do that from time to time even though I know better, and it’s always a result of not adequately planning out my week.

Taking online classes may seem a bit daunting to those of us who are laid-back and so very not Type-A people, but we can do it! What are some of your favorite tips and tricks for getting stuff done?

What’s In a Name? The Writer vs. Communicator Debate

Writers write, right? You think of a professional writer, and you probably imagine someone at a desk with pen and paper or an open laptop, diligently working to create whatever copy is needed for the day’s project. Because that’s what a writer does—writes. But, the role of a professional writer in the workplace has grown, transformed, and expanded to include more than traditional writing, such as extensive work with multimedia (video, audio, graphics, web sites etc.), usability testing, and even tasks associated with employee training. The professional writer does so much more than writing in today’s workforce that many (read: Martin, STC, and O’Sullivan and Vazquez) no longer like referring to themselves as writers, but rather they prefer the title of communicator.

A Changing Role

Technology has undoubtedly changed the world in which we live. The rise of technology has led to changes in the workplace and, in turn, writing. The process of writing adjusts to meet the different needs between paper and electronic texts—emphasizing visuals and layout, incorporating multimedia to attract and engage readers. We learn to produce effective texts for the digital reader, both the quick, casual audience and the engaged.

There are times when writing might not seem much like writing at all. For instance, professional writers might be responsible for or work intimately with:

A word cloud featuring some of the titles and terms associated with the modern professional writer.

These are only some of the titles and terms associated with the modern professional writer.

  • Event planning
  • Management
  • User interfaces
  • Public relations
  • Graphic design
  • Web design/development
  • Advertisements
  • Usability testing
  • Multimedia presentations
  • Online help systems
  • Training and interviewing
  • Video production

The list can go on and on, hitting some points, like usability and video production, that might never have previously been associated with a career in writing. Maybe that list is a little frightening because you might have thought you signed up to write some documentation, produce copy day in and day out; you didn’t get a writing degree to spend your days clipping videos or messing around with code to perfect your organization’s web site. While not obvious, writing in a broad sense can be applied with all of the above: writing to produce scripts, brainstorm questions and ideas, share feedback, even to discuss the layout of graphics on a page. But it is this lack of clarity that often leads to the name debate.

Writer or Communicator?

The main reason for this debate is because many professional writers do not feel like the title writer describes what they actually do for their career. Writer is too vague yet too narrow; too many people, both in and outside of the field, regard writing and speech as two completely different kinds of communication. Professional writers, however, are oftentimes responsible for all forms of workplace communications (verbal, written, visual), which is where the debate forms its roots. Writer can lead to an underestimate of the kinds of work a professional writer really does, whereas communicator can be used as a sort of umbrella term so that all forms of communication in today’s workplace—written content, audio, video, graphics, and everything in between—are considered.

There is a quote I came across the other day that I think provides some great insight into the writer vs. communicator differences. Advertising creative director William Bernbach once said:

It is insight into human nature that is the key to the communicator’s skill. For whereas the writer is concerned with what he puts into his writing, the communicator is concerned with what the reader gets out of it.

Rather than using Bernbach’s quote to argue one title or the other, his insights can be applied to all of our work. Names aside, a professional writer/communicator must utilize both the writer’s and communicator’s concerns; we must always consider and focus on the user while simultaneously producing effective, engaging communication.

We live in a time where names may need some reconsideration. Writer can be misleading or incompatible, while communicator opens the professional writing field, broadening to welcome all who take writing to new lengths in our technologically rich world.

Website Layout/Design: Key Tips that will lead to Success and Potential National Attention

The Internet has enabled users to publish and promote their work in new and dynamic ways. A visitor to the Internet has many choices of websites, blogs, etc. to view for information on a desired topic. Because of the vast number of options, designers of websites must make their work easy to read, follow, and access. Therefore, learning to create exciting web pages with dynamic content and an intriguing design/layout will lead to long-term success.

Website Content

The first step to creating a website is to think about the content that you want to include on the site. Identifying the content helps you to also develop the general direction and concept for your site. First, consider the end goal of your site. What do you want visitors to take away from your site? Then consider the various types of information that will help visitors reach that goal. Research information on those topics and then start formulating how to order and organize them. For example, if you wanted to create a website about tourism in Florida to help people plan a trip, you would want to identify the major tourist destinations in Florida and then research information about each destination. After gathering all of the information about the destinations in Florida that you want to highlight, you would be ready to design your website.

Website Design/Layout

Some general tips for website design/layout include the following:

  • Accessible: Make your site easy to find
  • Navigable: Keep your site easy to navigate
  • Informative: Make your site easy to understand and useful
  • Up to date: Keep your site current
  • Engaging: Encourage visitor interaction by soliciting feedback


The most essential page of a website is the homepage. The homepage must be welcoming, informative, and include navigation links/bullets so that users can easily navigate from page to page. One easy way to accomplish this goal is by including a navigation bar at the top or sides of the homepage. The navigation bar should also be included on all of pages of the website as well so that users can easily change from page to page.


A neutral background works best. Avoid photos or heavy patterns for a background because your text will get lost. Let’s go back to our Florida tourism website. Even though Florida has many beaches, it is not a good idea to put photos of the beach as your website background because your text is likely to get lost in the busyness of the background.


Avoid fonts such as Blackadder ITC and Pristina because they can be difficult to read. Fonts such as Times New Roman, Calibri, and Arial are good choices because they are easier to read.

Website Design Tools

Designing and laying out a website can be a daunting task. Fortunately, there are many software programs that can assist users with website creation. Additionally, there are some free online tools that work well. One such tool is Wix. Wix is a free website creation program that allows users to lay out pages and optimize them for search engines such as Google. One example of a website created with Wix is This site is for a sales coaching company owned and operated by Mj Callaway, CSP. Mj successfully designed a website about her business that is easy to read and navigate by using Wix.

One example of a successful blog is Cat in a Wedding Dress. This blog was created by my cousin and features wedding venues, photographers, florists, etc. in the Pittsburgh PA area. My cousin’s blog was so well organized that The Today Show found a blog entry about my cousin’s third generation wedding dress. As a result, my family was featured on The Today Show on February 12th.


Creating websites and blogs that are organized, navigable, and informative will lead to success. Using headers, navigation panes, neutral backgrounds, and legible fonts will keep your readers coming back for more because you will earn the reputation for having a knowledgeable and desirable site on your chosen topic. Who knows, your website or blog may even be featured on The Today Show someday.

Words Are Just The Apples

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.

Word Pie

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.