In this research, I performed a content analysis of the required courses in technical and professional communication (TPC) graduate course syllabi to investigate the prevalence of ethics-related materials included in course instruction. The literature on the topic of ethics instruction in TPC programs identifies ethics as an important area of study for technical communication students. The literature also suggests that effective ethics instruction is layered into assignments and throughout TPC curricula. The content analysis for my research included collecting the syllabi of required courses from a sample of TPC graduate programs, and coding for the occurrence of journal articles and textbook chapters that included the word "ethics" in the title, summary, or keywords. Additionally, my methodology includes an examination of the frequency that ethics materials occur as assigned readings in course syllabi. The three main findings I show are 1) the number of assigned readings from textbook chapters versus journal articles 2) the disproportionate amount of ethics instruction from research-related courses 3) the low course engagement for assigned ethics readings. My findings show that on average, TPC programs assign ethics content both from journal articles and from textbook chapters. However, I was surprised to find more assigned textbook chapters than journal articles, based on my expectations from the literature on this topic. Additionally, my data showed a disproportionate number of ethics references coming from courses I identify as research-focused. Research textbooks typically contain sections on the ethics of research and this can and should be distinguished from the topic of communication-ethics that I reviewed from the literature. The literature on this topic suggests the most effective instruction for ethics is to layer ethics content throughout a course. My research found that on average, programs assign ethics material infrequently. Additionally, I found only three of the seven ethical literacy references I identified from the literature. Furthermore, of the three ethical literacies present, one journal article was the predominant reference that was included as an assigned reading. The seminal literature in the field establishes that layering ethics instruction throughout a course is important for technical communication students. I found that while layering occurs within individual courses, it does not occur throughout the required courses of TPC programs as a whole.


Gretchen Perbix

Committee Member

Jennifer Veltsos

Committee Member

Nancy MacKenzie

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)




Arts and Humanities

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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