As discussed in The Basics of Public Speaking, there are many reasons to take a public speaking course. Among its numerous benefits, a public speaking course will create more self-confidence; the creation of good arguments will build your critical thinking and research skills, and you will meet new people in your class in a different way and be exposed to their ideas. Also, the course will prepare you for presentations you will be expected to give in later classes (and believe us, there will be many), in your civic and personal life, and for your eventual career.
Another very important reason to take a public speaking course such as this one goes beyond these immediate personal benefits. Public speaking, or “rhetoric” as it was originally called, has long been considered a method in Western culture of building community, facilitating self-government, sharing important ideas, and creating policies. In fact, these are the reasons the ancient Athenian Greeks emphasized that all citizens should be educated in rhetoric: so that they could take part in civil society. Aristotle said that if a man was expected to defend himself physically, he should also be able to defend his ideas rhetorically, that is, through persuasive public speaking:
To this end, this chapter will deal with the subject of ethics. Ethics refers to the branch of philosophy that involves determinations of what is right and moral. On a personal level, it is your own standard of what you should and should not do in the various situations or in all situations. Although ethics are based on personal decisions and values, they are also influenced by factors outside of you. Over the next few pages, we will look at various ways ethics, particularly ethics related to speech, have been thought about. In reading, you should seek to determine how you would explain your own ethical standard for communication. Along with being able to articulate what you would not do, you should have an appreciation for why doing the right thing is important to you.
One of “right things” and most important ways that we speak ethically is to use material from others correctly. Occasionally we hear in the news
media about a political speaker who uses the words of other speakers without attribution or of scholars who use pages out of another scholar’s work without consent or citation. Usually, the discussion of plagiarism stays within the community where it occurred, but there is still damage done to the “borrower’s” reputation as an ethical person and scholar.
Why does it matter if a speaker or writer commits plagiarism? Why and how do we judge a speaker as ethical? Why, for example, do we value originality and correct citation of sources in public life as well as the academic world, especially in the United States? These are not new questions, and some of the answers lie in age-old philosophies of communication.
The First Amendment to the Constitution is one of the most cherished and debated in the Bill of Rights. “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech . . . or of the press” has been discussed in many contexts for over two hundred and thirty years. Thomas Emerson (1970), a Constitutional scholar and Yale Law Professor, asserted that freedom of expression is more than just a right. It is a necessity for having the kind of society we want as Americans. Although we think of “freedom of the press” today as referring to mass media and journalism, “press” here refers to publishing of books, magazines, or pamphlets by anyone.
One of the bases of the First Amendment is an essay written by John Milton in the 1600s, Aereopagitica. This essay on freedom of speech is where the phrases “free marketplace of ideas” and “truth will arise from debate of all ideas” originated. Milton lived in a time when the King of England or Parliament could “censor” published material or speakers, either by keeping it from being published and distributed (later called “prior restraint”), by destroying the publications afterward, or by punishing the producers of the content, sometimes harshly.
In the twentieth century, “freedom of speech” has been generalized into a freedom of expression. This was especially true in the important Supreme Court cases on the First Amendment in the 1950s through 1970s. Accord- ing to Emerson (1970), such expression is important to our development as human beings individually and in a democracy. Thanks to these historical precedents, we can express ourselves freely in our communities and classrooms, keeping in mind ethical responsibilities to present serious, honest, factual, and well-supported speeches as a matter of respect to your listeners. Additionally, although the First Amendment to the Constitution is usually interpreted by the Supreme Court and lower courts to mean almost no restrictions on freedom of expression, there are a few instances in which the government is held to have a “compelling interest” in controlling, stopping, or preventing certain types of free expression.
One of these instances has to do with threats on the life of the President of the United States, although threats of physical harm against anyone might also result in penalties. Another instance of restrictions on freedom of expression is in those cases where the speaker has the opportunity and means and likelihood of inciting an audience to violence (this is the old “yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre” example). The government has also allowed local governments to have reasonable requirements to avoid mobs or public danger or to uphold community standards, such as permits for parades or limiting how many people can meet in a certain size of building. “Reasonable” is sometimes a matter of debate, as the extensive history of Supreme Court cases on the First Amendment shows.
Another type of restriction on freedom of speech is defamatory speech, which is defined in the United States as:
With the Internet and social media, these issues become more complicated, of course. In the past someone could express himself or herself only in limited ways: standing on a street corner, attending a public meeting, putting the words on paper and distributing them, or maybe getting on radio or television (if allowed or if wealthy). Today, almost anyone with a laptop, a webcam, an ISP, and technical know-how can be as powerful in getting a message to the masses as someone owning a newspaper one hundred years ago. While most people use technology and the Internet for fun, profit, or self-expression, some use it for hurt—bullying, defamation, even spreading terrorism. The judicial system is trying to keep up with the challenges that the digital age brings to protecting free expression while sheltering us from the negative consequences of some forms of free expression.
It is hard to separate life aspects such as legal, cultural, religious, and social. Many Americans would say they hold to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” The Golden Rule is seen as a positive expression of fairness, equity, and trust. Even if there is no legal ruling hanging over us, we expect honest communication and return it.
The Golden Rule is related to and a step beyond the “Law of Reciprocity” that determines so much of our social interaction. We also value straight-forwardness; respect for the individual’s freedom of choice; getting access to full information; consistency between action and words; taking responsibility for one’s own mistakes (sometimes necessitating an apology and accepting consequences); and protection of privacy. We fear public humiliation and do not want to violate community norms. We also usually view ourselves as honest and ethical people.
Most religions teach the value of truthfulness and that lying intentionally is wrong. The Books of Proverbs, the Ten Commandments, the Mosaic Law, and Jesus Christ’s teaching all point to the immorality of lying and the destruction lying brings personally and communally. Quranic teaching condemns lying, and Buddhism teaches that followers should not deliberately lie. Individuals internalize the norms of their cultures and religions and makes them work for him or her. Sometimes we try to find justification for times when we are untruthful, such as to smooth over relationships and say things that serve as “social lubrication” (Floyd, 2017). Upbringing and family teachings, religious values, experiences, peers, and just plain old “gut reaction” as well as understanding of the First Amendment contribute to our ethical behavior
Philosophers throughout history have also written on the subject of communication and public speaking ethics. In fact, one of the first philosophers, Plato, objected to the way rhetoric was practiced in his day, because “it made the worse case appear the better.” In other words, the professional public speakers, who could be hired to defend someone in court or the assembly, knew and used techniques that could deceive audiences and turn them from truth. Aristotle responded to this concern from his teacher Plato in his work, Rhetoric. Later, Quintilian, a Roman teacher of rhetoric, wrote that rhetoric was “the good man speaking well,” meaning the speaker must meet the Roman Republic’s definition of a virtuous man.
In more modern times, English philosophers John Stuart Mill (1806- 1873) and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) introduced utilitarianism, which presents the ethic of “The greatest good for the greatest number;” that is, whatever benefits the most people is right. A related philosophy, pragmatism, was first discussed by Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914). Pragmatists judge actions by their practical consequences. Some ethicists would differ with the pragmatic position, claiming it supports an “ends justify the means” philosophy. When we say “the ends justify the means,” we are saying that a generally unethical action (intentional misstatement of truth, withholding information, or taking any someone’s freedom of choice) is ethical as long as something good comes from it. Many scholars of ethical communication would disagree with the “ends justify the means” philosophy.
The philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) proposed what was been called the Categorical Imperative: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.” To paraphrase, any behavior we engage in should be what we think every- one else on the planet should do ethically. In the twentieth century, Jean- Paul Sartre and others called “existentialists” emphasized that the ability and necessity to freely choose our actions is what makes us human, but we are accountable for all our choices. Jurgen Habermas, a more recent scholar, emphasizes the “equal opportunity for participation” of the communication partners (Johannessen, Valde, & Whedbe, 2008).
This very brief overview of ethics in general and in communication specifically is designed to let you know that the best minds have grappled with what is right and wrong when it comes to expression. But what is the practical application? We believe it is adherence to the factual truth and respect for your audience: in this case, your classmates, peers, and your instructor. An individual might be guided by the Categorical Imperative approach, the pragmatic philosophy, the Judeo-Christian view of “thou shalt not lie” and “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), the Golden Rule, freedom with accountability, or some other view. However, respect for your audience means that you will do your best to present factual, well-documented information designed to improve their lives and help them make informed, intelligent decisions with it.
In addition to respect for the humanity, intelligence, and dignity of your audience, you should be conscious of two other aspects related to ethics of communication: credibility and plagiarism.
When Aristotle used the term ethos in the 5th century B.C.E. to describe one of the means of persuasion, he defined it as the “wisdom, sagacity, and character of the rhetor” (see Chapter 13 for more coverage of ethos and Aristotle’s other artistic proofs). Modern scholars of communication and persuasion speak more about “credibility” as an attitude the audience has toward the speaker, based on both reality and perception, rather than an innate trait of the speaker. Audience members trust the speaker to varying degrees, based on the evidence and knowledge they have about the speaker and how that lines up with certain factors:
Similarity: does the speaker have experiences, values, and beliefs in common with the audience? Can the audience relate to the speaker because of these commonalities?
Character: does the speaker, in word and action, in the speech and in everyday life, show honesty and integrity?
Competence: does the speaker show that he/she has expertise and sound knowledge about the topic, especially through firsthand experience? And does the speaker show competence in his/her ability to communicate that expertise?
In addition to these key areas will be the audience’s perceptions, or even gut feelings, about more intangible characteristics of the speaker, such as appearance, friendliness, sense of humor, likability, appearance, poise, and communication ability. Many of these traits are conveyed through nonverbal aspects, such as facial expression, eye contact, good posture, and appropriate gestures (see the chapter on Delivery).
Understandably, the same speaker will have a different level of credibility with different audiences. For example, in regard to presidential campaigns, it is interesting to listen to how different people respond to and “trust” different candidates. Donald Trump entered the presidential race as a Republican nominee and quickly became a front runner in many of the early polls and primaries, eventually winning the Electoral College votes, to the surprise of many. Those who voted for him often stated that they value his candor and willingness to say what he thinks because they perceive that as honest and different from other politicians. Others think he makes unwise and thoughtless statements, and they see that as a lack of competence and demeanor to be the national leader. Donald Trump is the same person, but different audiences respond to his behavior and statements in divergent ways.
The point is that character and competence are both valued by those who trust and those who distrust President Trump and the audience’s perceptions contribute to his credibility (or lack of it). However, these groups express their values in different ways. When trying to develop your own credibility as a speaker with an audience, you have to keep in mind all four of the factors listed above. To portray oneself as “similar” to the audience but to do so deceptively will not contribute to credibility in the long run.
To only pretend to have goodwill and want the best for the audience will also have a short-term effect. And to intentionally misrepresent your background, such as experience and credentials, is clearly unethical.
Not only does a speaker’s level of credibility change or vary from audience to audience, it is also likely to change even during the presentation. These changes in credibility have been labeled as initial, derived, and terminal credibility.
Initial credibility is, as you would imagine, the speaker’s credibility at the beginning of or even before the speech. There are a number of factors that would contribute to the initial credibility, even such matters as the “recommendation” of the person who introduces the speaker to the audience. Any knowledge the audience has of the speaker prior to the speech adds to the initial credibility. The initial credibility is important, of course, because it will influence the receptivity of the audience or how well they will listen and be open to the speaker’s ideas. Initial credibility can be influenced also by the perception that the speaker is not well dressed, prepared, or confident at the very beginning. Initial credibility is why how you walk to the lectern and give your introduction matter.
Derived credibility is how the audience members judge the speaker’s credibility and trustworthiness throughout the process of the speech, which also can range from point to point in the speech. Perhaps you have seen those videos on a news program that show a political speaker on one pane of the video and a graph of the audience’s response in real-time to the speaker’s message, usually noted as “approval rating” as the politician speaks. This could be based on the perception of the speaker’s presentation style (delivery), language, specific opinions or viewpoints on subjects, open-mindedness, honesty, and other factors. The point of the derived credibility is that credibility is an active concept that is always changing
Finally, terminal credibility is, as you would think, credibility at the end of the speech. The obvious importance of terminal credibility is that it would factor into the audience’s final decision about what to do with the information, arguments, or appeals of the speaker – in other words, his or her persuasiveness. It would also determine whether the audience would listen to the speaker again in the future. The terminal credibility can be seen as a result of the initial and derived credibility.
Terminal credibility may end up being lower than the initial credibility, but the goal of any speaker should be to have higher terminal credibility. From an ethics standpoint, of course, credibility should not be enhanced by being untruthful with an audience, by misrepresenting one’s viewpoint to please an audience, or by “pandering” to an audience (flattering them). One of the primary attributes of credibility at any stage should be transparency and honesty with the audience.
In conclusion, speaker credibility does not exist alone. It is supported by a number of factors, including Aristotle’s other two traditional forms of persuasion, logos (logic, evidence, good reasoning, lack of fallacious arguments) and pathos (personal and emotional appeals).
Although there are many ways that you could undermine your ethical stance before an audience, the one that stands out and is committed most commonly in academic contexts is plagiarism. A dictionary definition of plagiarism would be “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person” (Merriam-Webster, 2015). Accord- ing to the student help website Plagiarism.org, sponsored by WriteCheck, plagiarism is often thought of as “copying another’s work or borrowing someone else’s original ideas” (“What is Plagiarism?”, 2014). However, this source goes on to say that the common definition may mislead some people. Plagiarism also includes:
Plagiarism exists outside of the classroom and is a temptation in business, creative endeavors, and politics. However, in the classroom, your instructor will probably take the most immediate action if he or she discovers your plagiarism either from personal experience or through using plagiarism detection (or what is also called “originality checking”) software. Many learning management systems, perhaps such as the one used at your institution, now have a plagiarism detection program embedded in the function where you submit assignments.
In the business or professional world, plagiarism is never tolerated because using original work without permission (which usually includes paying fees to the author or artist) can end in serious legal action. The Internet has made plagiarism easier and thus increased the student’s responsibility to know how to cite and use source material correctly.
In our long experience of teaching, we have encountered many instances of students presenting work they claim to be original and their own when it is not. We have also seen that students often do not intend to plagiarize but, due to poor training in high school, still are committing an act that could result in a failing grade or worse. Generally, there are three levels of plagiarism: stealing, sneaking, and borrowing. Sometimes these types of plagiarism are intentional, and sometimes they occur unintentionally (you may not know you are plagiarizing). However, as everyone knows, “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it.” So let’s familiarize you with how plagiarism occurs in order to prevent it from happening.
There is a saying in academia: “If you steal from one source, that is plagiarism; if you steal from twelve, that is scholarship.” Whoever originated this saying may have intended for it to be humorous, but it is a misrepresentation of both plagiarism and scholarship.
No one wants to be the victim of theft; if it has ever happened to you, you know how awful it feels. When a student takes an essay, research paper, speech, or outline completely from another source, whether it is a classmate who submitted it for another instructor, from some sort of online essay mill, or from elsewhere, this is an act of theft no better or worse than going into a store and shoplifting. The wrongness of the act is compounded by the fact that then the student lies about it being his or her own. If you are tempted to do this, run the other way. Your instructor will probably have no mercy on you, and probably neither will the student conduct council.
Most colleges and universities have a policy that penalizes or forbids “self-plagiarism.” This means that you can’t use a paper or outline that you presented in another class a second time. You may think, “How can this be plagiarism or wrong if I wrote both and in my work I cited sources correctly?” The main reason is that by submitting it to your instructor, you are still claiming it is original, first-time work for the assignment in that particular class. Your instructor may not mind if you use some of the same sources from the first time it was submitted, but he or she expects you to follow the instructions for the assignment and prepare an original assignment. In a sense, this situation is also a case of unfairness, since the other students do not have the advantage of having written the paper or outline already.
Another issue that often comes up with students happens when two or more students, perhaps in the same section or different sections of the same course and same instructor, submit the same assignment. When confronted, the student say, “We worked on it together.” If your instructor wants you to work collaboratively, he or she will make that clear. Otherwise, do not do this–the situation usually ends quite badly for students.
In “sneaking plagiarism,” instead of taking work as a whole from another source, the student will copy two out of every three sentences and mix them up so they don’t appear in the same order as in the original work.
Perhaps the student will add a fresh introduction, a personal example or two, and an original conclusion. This “sneaky” plagiarism is easy today due to the Internet and the word processing functions of cutting and pasting.
In fact, many students do not see this as the same thing as stealing because they think “I did some research, I looked some stuff up, and I added some of my own work.” Unfortunately, this approach is only marginally better than stealing and will probably end up in the same penalties as the first type of plagiarism. Why? Because no source has been credited, and the student has “misappropriated” the expression of the ideas as well as the ideas themselves. Interestingly, this type of plagiarism can lead to copyright violation if the work with the plagiarism is published.
Most of the time students do not have to worry about copyright violation when they correctly use and cite material from a source. This is because in academic environments, “fair use” is the rule. In short, you are not making any money from using the copyrighted material, such as from a published book. You are only using it for learning purposes and not to make money, so “quoting” (using verbatim) with proper citation a small amount of the material is acceptable for a college class.
If, however, you were going to try to publish and sell an article or book and “borrowed” a large section of material without specifically obtaining permission from the original author, you would be guilty of copyright violation and by extension make your organization or company also guilty. When you enter your career field, the “fair use” principle no longer applies and you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holder and pay fees to use all or portions of a work. For more information on this very important and often misunderstood subject, visit the Creative Commons website and the Library of Congress.
One area in speeches where students are not careful about citing is on their presentational slides. If a graphic or photo is borrowed from a web- site (that is, you did not design it), there should be a citation in small letters on the slide. The same would be true of borrowed quotations, data, and ideas. Students also like to put their “works cited” or “references” on the last slide, but this really does not help the audience or get around the possibility of plagiarism.
The third type of plagiarism is “borrowing.” In this case, the student is not stealing wholesale. He or she may actually even give credit for the material, either correctly or incorrectly. He might say, “According to the official website of . . .” or “As found in an article in the Journal of Psychology, Dr. John Smith wrote . . .” Sounds good, right? Well, yes and no. It depends on whether the student has borrowed in a “sneaky way” (cutting and pasting passages together but this time indicating where the sections came from) or if the student is using the ideas but not the exact wording. In other words, has the student adequately, correctly, and honestly paraphrased or summarized the borrowed material, or just “strung the sources together” with some “according to’s”?
Students often are puzzled about what and when to cite borrowed material from sources. At this point, your instructor may have specific instructions, and you should always follow those first. However, in most cases you can go by the “repeated information” rule. If you are doing research and access ten sources, and over half of them have the same piece of information (usually a historical or scientific fact or statistic), you can assume this is “common knowledge.” That is, it is common to anyone who knows anything about the subject, and then you do not have to have a citation. If you find a piece of information in one source only, it probably represents the original research or viewpoint of that writer, and should be cited clearly. On the other hand, there are exceptions. An often-cited or used piece of information has an original source, such as a government agency, and you would be better off to find the original source and cite that. Secondly, citing sources adds to your credibility as a prepared speaker. Again, your instructor’s directions on what and how much your cite bear upon this advice. Generally, it is better to err on the side of citing more than less.
In using source material correctly, a speaker does three things:
“In her 2012 book, The Iraq War in Context, historian Mary Smith of the University of Georgia states that…”
“In consulting the website for the American Humane Society, I found these statistics about animal abuse compiled by the Society in 2012…”
This approach shows more clearly that you have done proper research to support your ideas and arguments. It also allows your audience to find the material if they want more information. Notice that in all three examples the citation precedes the fact or informa tion being cited. This order allows the audience to recognize the borrowed material better. The use of a clear citation up-front makes it more noticeable as well as more credible to the audience.
look their definitions up so you are sure to be using the material as it is intended. Finally, it is important that you understand the type of publication or source you are using, for example, a scholarly publication in contrast to a journalistic one.
“The biggest federal inmate release on record will take place this weekend. About 6,600 inmates will be released, with 16,500 expected to get out the first year. More than 40,000 federal felons could be released early over the next several years, the U.S. Sentencing Commission said. The sentencing commission decided a year ago to lower maximum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and to make the change retroactive, with the inmate releases effective November 1, 2015. Sentences were reduced an average of 18%, the commission said. Early release will be a challenge for the inmates as well as the judicial bureaucracy” (Casarez, 2015).
With that as our original source, which of the following is truly paraphrasing?
The CNN News website says the federal government is releasing 40,000 felons from prison in the next few years.
According to a report posted on CNN’s website on October 31 of 2015, the federal government’s Sentencing Commission is beginning to release prisoners in November based on a decision made in 2014. That decision was to make maximum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders shorter by an average of 18%. Over the next several years over 40,000 federal felons could be let go. However, this policy change to early release will not be easy for the justice system or those released.
The largest release ever of federal inmates will take place in early November. At first 6,600 inmates will be released, and then over 16,000 over the first year. The U.S. Sentencing Commission says it could release over 40,000 federal felons over the upcoming years because the sentencing commission decided a year ago to lessen maximum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and to make this happen for those already in jail. When the Sentencing Commission says that when it made that decision, the sentences were reduced an average of 18%. Early release will be a challenge for the felons as well as the judicial system. This came from a story on CNN News website in later October 2015.
If you chose the second citation, you would be correct. The first version does not really interpret the original statement correctly, and the third choice imitates the original almost entirely. Choice 2, on the other hand, is in completely different language and identifies the source of the information clearly and at the beginning.
These exercises may raise the question, “Should I always paraphrase or summarize rather than directly quote a source?” There are times when it is appropriate to use a source’s exact wording, but quoting a source exactly should be done sparingly—sort of like using hot sauce! You should have a good reason for it, such as that the source is highly respected, has said the idea in a compelling way, or the material is well known and others would recognize it. If you do, you should make it clear you are quoting them exactly by the way you introduce and end the borrowed material.
As mentioned before, students often have not been trained to use source material correctly and plagiarize unintentionally. But like the old saying goes, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” You will still be held accountable whether you understand or not, so now, in your early college career, is the time you should learn to cite source material correctly in oral and written communication.
Something to Think About
After reading about ethics in communication, what do you think the most important consideration in ethical speaking? What is the second? The third? Could the first, second, and third ever come into conflict?
Why do you think it is so hard for students to learn to cite sources appropriately?
The following exercise might be helpful for you to develop an understand- ing of orally citing your sources.
Choose one of your sources for an upcoming speech for this exercise. On a sheet of paper, answer these 9 questions.
If you had to pick 5 of the 7 above to put in your speech, which would you use, based on the three criteria of
1. An audience can find it
2. It makes you look more credible
3. It is ethical? Put a star by them.
If you had to pick 4 of the 7, which one would you take out from the previous question? (Cross it out)
It is not necessary to say all of this information, but most of it should be included in the citation. This is how a speech citation is different from a paper. The audience does not have access to this information unless you say it.
Now, write how you would cite this source in the speech. Some stem phrases would be “According to . . .” “In the article. . .” “On a webpage entitled . . .” “On the website for the . . . . organization. . .” “In my interview with Dr. Sam Smith, who is ”
Compare with classmates.
Jennifer has an informative speech due for Dr. MacKenzie’s class. It is about why the gold standard is no longer used in American currency. She chose the subject because she had to write a paper about it in American history class. What should Jennifer consider in how she uses sources?
Jennifer’s friend Beth approaches her about having to give an informative speech for Professor Daniels’ class. Beth confesses she has been having personal problems and needs help, and she asks Jennifer to let her use some of her outline for Dr. MacKenzie’s class. What would be the best course of action for Jennifer?
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