Some Writing Rants and Ethical Questions about Work Writing

I'm back in school, looking to complete a BS in IT with UoP.

The final presentation for my current class revolves around ethics and we've covered plagiarism. Here's some thoughts about it.

(caveat: I haven't met that many cheaters recently, but here's some ideas to throw out if you run across some)

I have a good reason to not blatantly cheat or plagiarize research papers: writing in the workplace (great fun or your worst nightmare, depends)! The practice we get in academic settings help if we need to do any kind of writing at work.

I work in the IT department of a health insurance and wellness company. I started as an Web programming intern, but the main reason I was hired full-time was for research I did and how I presented it.

You can't fake good writing at work! The prompts are company-specific, the audience is the boss or the boss' boss, and the sources are often restricted or proprietary information. There's almost no way to cheat at this. How would someone even find a paper to "describe competitor Web sites?"

And even when compiled information is available (for example http://www.zoominfo.com/), it's better for everyone in term of time, energy, and impressing management to explain where the info comes from.
Passing it off as self-researched info would just

  1. give the "researcher" more work to do (they'll keep asking for more info)
  2. possibly discredit the researcher
Showing others where to find something or how to find it can save your own time and effort as well as demonstrate that sought-after team-player attitude. So overall, I try to appreciate the learning experience for doing original research and properly citing sources in class (appreciate may differ from "liking" something, though!).

Although APA-style isn't used at work, most of the writing matches what's taught in any good writing class (clear and concise, front-loaded, and clean). The only difference is, the boss doesn't always tell you if the writing was good, how it was shared, or any grammatical errors or typos. Sometimes it's even read by the CEO - at that point, you get a few minutes to impress or irritate upper management. It's actually refreshing to get feedback from a teacher, believe it or not.

The question I have, though, is what are the ethical implications of using an account on a Web site to describe the site features to your company? Not that I'm saying I do this, but is there a difference between type of site (free versus paid-for through a membership)? And is the terms and conditions of the site the guiding factor or are there bigger considerations?

For example, are there any problems if your company wanted to rival google and it asked you to take screenshots and collect how it does search results? What if you wanted to create an online learning program? Is it okay to look at what other companies offer? I'm sure anything publically available is fair game, but what about the logged in screens of online students (which I'm sure breaks the T&C of most student extranets, including UoP)? I'm sure there's a difference between "right" and "getting sued" as well.

Strangely enough, I've seen marketing departments recycle answers in response to product questions or requests for proposals (RFP). It's not research really, it's just selling products and services. I don't see a problem with it in this setting, but why is it different from an academic setting?

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