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ENG 335
Dr. Steiner
Explication #2

Understanding Ethic of Exigence

After reading Wards article, The Ethic of Exigence: Information Design,

Postmodern Ethics, and the Holocaust, the concept of ethic of exigence reminds
me of Katzs article that we learned from week three, which is the concept of
ethic of expediency. I wonder if there are some aspects that these two concepts
are similar or different from each other. My purpose for choosing the concept of
ethic of exigence is to understand why this concept is important for technical
communicators, to explain what Ward tries to tell technical communicators to do
through this concept, and to explore the relationship between different concepts
in Wards and Katzs articles.
But why do we have to understand the concept of ethic of exigence?
Understanding this concept would be extremely important for students learning
theory of professional writing. This would help us to design the information in a
more acceptable and effective way that could be applied in the workplace. This
concept is also significant to professional writers because they need to
understand that the users perspective is more important than their own when
designing information. Additionally, professional writers must consider specific
cultural aspects before they write when pursuing effective communication.
Ward uses Millers quote to address the definition of ethic of exigence in
his article, which is a social knowledge that has a mutual construing of objects,
events, interests, and purpose (Ward 63). Reading through this article, I
understand that this concept emphasizes the idea of engaging in a communal
conversation between designers and users to reach a valid and rational
agreement. As Ward states, coordinated construction of meaning by designers
and users (63) would contribute to truly effective communication between both
sides and thus they could fulfill their common goalmutual satisfaction.
Thinking further, the concept of ethic of exigence collapses the hierarchical
relationship between designers and users. Designers must submit their absolute
power and consider users perspective and cultural background when designing

the information. Otherwise, a lack of understanding or interest would render the

information meaningless and useless.
But in what way can technical communicators co-construct the information
with users in order to have effective communication? Does the co-construction
process need both designers and users to sit together and co-construct the
information? If so, how much participation is needed from the users? I found
these questions really confusing when I read the article for the first time. After I
revisited the article again, the quote coordinated construction of meaning by
designers and users (63) helped me to understand these questions better. It is
not a process of discussing how to design information between designers and
users; rather, it is a process of how designers construct information in a way that
can be understood by users.
In Wards article, he emphasizes that cultural-based perspectives and social
knowledge play significant roles when technical communicators are designing
the information. As Ward suggests, the study of information design is a task that
requires the analyst not only to consider text but to examine why a particular
arrangement of textural and graphic elements has symbolic potency with a given
institution or organization culture (63). This means when analyzing a task,
technical communicators should consider the relationship between the design of
the documents and the culture of an organization. These designs should
represent a certain organizational culture that is appropriate and ethical for a
certain discourse. This is also a rhetorical process; technical communicators
have to immerse themselves into a certain culture and share common knowledge
with people who are in the same culture. Understanding and considering the
culture, politics, economics, ideology, mutual interests and purpose elements
would help technical communicators to better construct the common meaning or
knowledge for the readers to understand.
In the sense of technical writing, Ward and Katz seem to be on opposite
spectrums. For Katzs ethic of expediency, information design is an
instrumental task of making data clear and understandable and easy to use in
an effective, efficient, and attractive manner (67). This is saying that to get the
job done efficiently is the priority obligation for professional communicators,
rather then thinking of their own personal ethical issues. For example, writers

who work for cigarette companies have to compose attractive advertisements

whether they agree or are comfortable with the content or not, because their job
is to use attractive language to gain more profits. They need to ignore their own
personal emotions and ethics in order to get the job done effectively. For Ward,
ethic of exigence means information design is given seemingly rational
meaning only through the agreement of the designer and user to co-construct
this meaning (67). This means the priority of a technical writer is to know your
audience, whether culturally, institutionally, or socially. Knowing the
information of the audience will allow writers to effectively communicate with
Both Ward and Katz have different opinions when interpreting Justs memo.
While Katz focuses more on the ethical problem in general of Justs memo, Ward
approaches Just memo as a bigger picture, which emphasizes the social, culture,
and historical context. Ward claims that technical communication ethics depends
on the consideration of the social knowledge of a certain culture, rather than
whether this task is ethical or not in a universal sense. Justs memo might seem
absurd or irrational in our perspective. Since we usually read technical
documents based on our social context and knowledge, we would probably
engage in an ethnocentric reading of the memo because we never experienced
the Nazi time period. But when we consider the historical background and the
social knowledge of the memo at that time, we would probably understand why
this is rational and ethical given the Nazi party agenda.
In the process of understanding the concept of ethic of exigence, and
exploring its effect on technical communicators as well as the differences
between ethic of exigence and ethic of expediency, I have a clear idea of what
a contemporary technical writer should do in order to have an effective
communication with users. While I gained a deeper understanding of this
concept, I still have some questions. Is there any way for a technical writer with
ethic of expediency to adopt the idea of ethic of exigence without losing any
effectiveness while making technical writing more ethical? Would technical
writers loose their own value if they constantly immerse themselves in users
culture? How can they balance their own perspective and the users while
maintaining the effectiveness?