Being ethical in writing means building trust with your readers. This trust enables them to believe that when they read something of yours, they are reading an original work and that any outside sources you use will be clearly referenced.
But ethical writing goes beyond that and includes things like not exaggerating a claim or leaving out important information that is contrary to your opinion. It means being non-biased and adopting a tone that is respectful to all readers, regardless of sex, race, religion, or sexual preferences.
How can you practice ethics in writing and build and sustain trust with your readers? Read on to learn how.
Plagiarism is using someone else’s words or ideas and passing them off as your own. It is basically stealing someone else’s ideas.
There are two basic categories of plagiarism:
In addition, sometimes, the writer plagiarizes something intentionally. There can be many reasons for doing this. They could believe they won’t get caught. They could be under pressure of a deadline and have no time to write something original. Or they may have other reasons.
Then there’s the plagiarism that is unintentional. Sometimes a writer will hear an idea or read something and forget to take note of the source, and as they come to their final draft, they forget that this isn’t their own idea, but actually someone else’s. Obviously, someone who commits unintentional plagiarism means no harm; however, their lack of attention and diligence in keeping notes when doing their research could get them into big trouble and is also disrespectful to the person whose idea it was in the first place.
Plagiarism is a serious ethical problem. Taking credit for someone else’s work is disrespectful to the person who labored to produce and publish that idea. It’s also disrespectful to the institution where you then submit that plagiarized work, whether it’s an academic institution, a newspaper, magazine or publishing house, or online blog. Whoever is receiving that work has a tacit trust that the words and ideas they are receiving are original. Plagiarism breaks that trust, often for good.
The cost of plagiarism to the one who plagiarizes is often failing a class and even getting suspended or expelled from an institution or having contracts canceled and potentially being sued by the original author. Not only that but plagiarizing leaves a stain on one’s reputation, and it can be hard to get accepted at a new school or be offered a new contract once it’s known that you have committed plagiarism.
What if I were to tell you that I have a great cell phone plan that’s only $10/month and that you should switch to it? What if you decide to switch and find out that actually the plan is $10/month with a $200 sign-up fee? You would feel that I left out some pretty important information, right?
That’s why non-biased writing is important. It means that you are forthcoming about all sides and angles of an argument. You aren’t trying to hide or conceal anything from your readers. All the cards are on the table.
When you write in a non-biased way, you are writing ethically. This type of writing builds trust with your readers that you are honest with them. By presenting all angles and considering other important factors related to a subject, you’re showing the most complete picture you can.
Some writers will present work that, on the surface, seems non-biased, but actually, they have been biased at choosing what opposing ideas and arguments they wish to present. For example, let’s say they’re using a study about bussing, and their main point is backed up by dozens of studies performed on a wide scale over a long period of time. And then, their counterargument presents one or two studies that were done in isolated places in a short timeframe. That would be considered biased writing. The author is intentionally cherry-picking a weak counterargument in order to convince the reader of their perspective.
This type of bias is problematic because it robs the reader of the opportunity to consider the different perspectives and decide what they think for themselves. It also means one of two things: either the writer didn’t do much research on the counterarguments, or they deliberately chose weaker counterarguments in order to make their point seem stronger. Either way, it gets chalked up to shoddy research or intentionally misleading the reader, neither of which constitute ethical writing.
In fact, when an author presents a wide range of strong, relevant, and well-researched counterarguments, they are not only ethical, they are also affirming their abilities as a researcher and even making their own point much more strongly. For example, they are saying to the reader, “Look, I know there are all these other angles and perspectives, and while they are certainly valid, I still believe X is the strongest argument because of the following reasons.” In the end, strong counterarguments give more credibility to your argument.
Knowing how to use credible sources is an important part of being an essay writer. Whether you’re writing an academic paper or publishing a piece in a blog or a newspaper, or other journal, most institutions and publishing organizations have a blacklist of sources that they consider to not be credible and that they require their writers to abstain from using as sources.
A credible source is written by someone who is an expert in their field and is non-biased. If you’re writing about nutrition, for example, you would be able to trust an article or book written by someone who is a licensed nutritionist. Peer-reviewed journals and newspapers are considered to be credible sources, as well as academic textbooks and encyclopedias.
And, of course, don’t forget to cite your credible sources.
When presenting any piece of writing, it’s important to show respect for diverse populations and cultures. Never use derogatory slang or depict stereotypes or make cultural assumptions. As a researcher, it’s important to use the terminology that a population chooses for themselves and to be sensitive to cultural differences and preferences. If you are unsure, do some research or ask someone who is a trusted source.
Homophobia, racism, and sexism in writing are unethical. Writers who publish texts that promote homophobic, racist, or sexist ideas can be prosecuted for hate speech. Show respect to all of your readers, and don’t assume that they are of a particular background.
Likewise, if you deride a person in a piece of writing, you could be sued for libel. Libel is when you write something false about someone that will have a negative impact on a person’s reputation, injuring their public standing and/or profession. If you are writing a piece about an individual person, be careful to write only proven facts that can be backed up by credible sources.
Practicing ethical writing means that you develop and sustain trust between you and your readers, the institutions you write for, and other writers. It goes beyond simply not plagiarizing and includes writing non-biased arguments based on credible sources and showing respect for diversity.