Reader Response: Is There Work You Would Not Do?

I’m always open to new topics for Heroic Technical Writing, and I’d like to thank my friend Sarah Across the Pond for today’s question, the short version of which is, is there work you would not do? The short answer is: not if I can help it.

The slightly longer version of Sarah’s question is as follows:

Would you write about Frankenstein technology, GM [genetically modified] food, animal testing? Balancing your personal views against possible lucrative contracts.

The good news is that technical writing is a broad and diverse enough field that–usually–you can pick your own work simply by advertising your services to specific industries. This keeps the enterprising freelancer from deliberately putting him or herself into an environment where the content is likely to make life uncomfortable.

There are occasions, of course, where work is scarce and you might have to take a job that you wouldn’t normally take. Everyone has their hot buttons, like the ones you mentioned. I’d have a problem working for someone who wanted to ban space travel, for instance, or organizations making biological or chemical weapons, but I would try to get some of that information ahead of time so I knew what I was getting into.

Whenever I approach new work (or new work approaches me), I ask a lot of questions about the scope of the work, the duties, what I’ll be expected to do, what’s beyond the pale, etc. And if I feel that the work is outside my comfort zone, I will politely refuse the work and offer to find another writer who might be interested.

Conversely, if I had a gripe with specific technologies and wanted to dig up dirt on them, I wouldn’t go out of my way to “infiltrate” an organization promulgating them…say, like Edward Snowden. But hey, that’s me. I’m not a good spy, and my attitudes would come out over the course of a few days or weeks of starting the job. I’m also not particularly good at lying or trying to get away with something shady without getting caught. If you work in the tech field, you most likely sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), so anything you take home and reveal to the public could get you a lawsuit, a fine, or a jail sentence. Edward Snowden exiled himself to Russia, and he’s likely to stay there for some time. That’s not my style.

If I were to find ethical lapses in a workplace I actually chose for myself and liked, I’d like to think that I would live up to my own internal ethical code and raise a ruckus, within the system or without.

As for saying no to particularly lucrative contracts, I can live with that, too. Not because I’m so rich that I can afford the unemployment, but rather that I believe I can and will find work that won’t cause me ethical heartburn at the end of the day.

Thanks for reading!

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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