Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Dr. Michael L. Keene

Committee Members

Dr. Russel Hirst, Dr. Allison Ensor


In this study, I examine several theories of ethics in technical communication. In doing so, I rely primarily on research in technical, professional, and business communication. In particular, I follow the lead of Mike Markel by separating ethical theories into two categories: foundational and nonfoundational.

I examine three popular manifestations of foundational ethical theories in technical communication: universal values (such as honesty), utilitarianism, and Kantian ethics. I show how technical communication appropriates each theory but also how these theories can be problematic if communicators rely too heavily and exclusively upon them.

Next, I explore two important nonfoundational theories in technical communication: dialogic ethics and professional ethics. Again, I illustrate how these theories apply to technical communication, but, again, I find that it can be dangerous to use solely these theories.

Finally, I look to Mike Markel to find an ethical theory that integrates both foundational and nonfoundational ethics. I term this ethic contextual foundational. I explain how this ethic would function in technical communication and also how it could help mitigate some of the problems that arise in relying too exclusively on either foundational or nonfoundational ethics. I use examples from the Challenger disaster to illustrate how this contextual foundational ethic might benefit technical communicators.

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