Commercial writers’ Ten Commandments (give or take a few) are generally universal and a matter of common sense. Don’t steal work from other writers and pass it off as your own (plagiarism). Don’t invent “facts” to support your case (lying). Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have done unto you (write content for spam emails).
But then there are much more personal, subjective ethical questions. For example, should I use my writing to promote activities or attitudes that I object to? The answer for me (and most other professional communicators, I suspect) is no. To maintain my integrity (and sleep decently), I draw the line where my conscience tells me.
I only became aware of my professional boundaries very recently. See, I’ve been vegan for over a decade, but was referred for a potential job to a food-related business that endorses eating meat (which has never happened to me before). Now, the woman who runs this business seems perfectly nice, and I pass no judgment against her whatsoever and wish her business all success. Yet I personally can’t, in good conscience, promote meat eating. Even if I could somehow manage a justification, my heart wouldn’t really be in it, so I wouldn‘t be able to do my best work — and that would be a disservice to her. Yet another ethical dilemma!
So I respectfully told this potential client that I wasn’t the writer she needed for her team. However, as a professional writer and fellow entrepreneur, I still want to help her succeed, so I proposed an alternative service — writing whatever vegan-related content her business may need. Veganism is one of my areas of expertise anyway, and, as a pragmatist, I believe that promoting vegan products and concepts for non-vegan businesses (which I have done before) is not only ethical but beneficial to both veganism and my clients.
Not every vegan would feel the same way, and I understand their reasons why. But every communicator has to decide, as an individual, what is right or wrong for his or her own practice.
- Freelance writers, editors, graphic designers and consultants: Where do you draw your ethical borders? How did you decide where they were, and what were your reasons?
- Business owners and hiring managers: Have prospective contractors bowed out of the running for jobs based on ethical concerns? If so, what were they, and were you ultimately able to find common ground?