How Care Ethics Can Be Applied to Digital Writing

Often it is easy to see the overall benefit of applying ethics–especially care ethics–to both personal and professional interactions. I can be harder to see the connection between care ethics in digital communications beyond not lying or presenting misleading information to customers. While these are both extremely important standards for all digital communications, there is a more subtle approach that can be extremely effective in creating an approach of care to digital interactions.

The following is an example of an original deferral email that was sent my way for editing, and under it is my revised version. I will then go into explaining how I have applied a care ethics model to the email. I have removed the personal information regarding the company and recipient, and the copy with _ implies dynamic content.

Original:

Dear NAME,

This email confirms in writing the details of your telephone conversation with a COMPANY representative on ENTER_DATE_HERE, regarding the agreed upon amendments to your System Purchase and Services Agreement.

During this phone conversation, you and the COMPANY representative agreed that COMPANY would (1) defer your monthly services fee for ENTER_DEFERMENT_MONTHS months, beginning on ENTER_START_DATE, and (2) extend the end date of your agreement by ENTER_NUMBER_OF_MONTHS months. After the ENTER_DEFERMENT_LENGTH deferment ends, you will resume paying your monthly services fee through the end of the extended term.

All other terms, provisions, covenants, and conditions set forth in the agreement shall remain in full force and effect, except as expressly modified by our agreement set forth herein.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us.

For your reference, your Service Number is: 5611101.

Sincerely,

COMPANY

Edited:

NAME,

This email is to confirm the deferment of your COMPANY monthly payment. Your service will be suspended for ENTER_DEFERMENT_MONTHS beginning ENTER_START_DATE. Your service will resume on ENTER_RESUME_DATE.

Once your deferment ends, you will resume paying your monthly service fee through the end of your extended contract.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

Thank you,

COMPANY

 

Now, it may seem that I simply shortened the email, but because my choices were guided by a care ethics approach, I was able to create an email that not only fits the medium better (digital communications need to be short) but also focuses on the needs of the reader.

Because Joan Tronto’s four principles of care ethics (attentiveness, responsibility, competence, and responsiveness) guide my writing and editing decisions, I am better able to approach an email with the reader’s best interest in mind. For example, the original email is not only extremely long, but it includes a lot of information that the company wants to say but the customer doesn’t need to know. Burdening the customer with this information could be seen as unethical from a care ethics approach because the email doesn’t meet the standard that is created when the people most vulnerable to the decision (the reader in this situation) is not weighed more heavily.

There is unnecessary copy in the first email (“in writing,” “telephone conversation,” “service number” etc.) is very wordy and burdens the reader with too much copy as well as information they either already know or is implied. By including the service number, for example, will make it easier for the company representative to look up their case, but because the representative can also look it up by email, phone number, address, or name, it makes more sense to not clutter the email with information that doesn’t make the email more readable to the customer. The only information a customer will want to see confirmed is that their deferment has started, how many months it will include, and what date the deferment will end. They will also want a way to contact the company if they need more help. By hyperlinking the “contact us” in the email, this also alleviates the time it will take for a customer to search for a way to contact the company.

By keeping the email short and sweet, it not only applies the standard of keeping digital communications shorter than print communications, but it also focuses on what the care receiver needs rather than what the caregiver wants. Knowing the best practices of digital interactions as well as the need to apply care ethics to digital situations helps writers ensure their content is both effective and ethical.

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