I spend most of my time on this blog trying to give tips and tricks on how to improve as a technical writer. But at times, we simply need examples of what not to do. Today, we continue the story of the worst technical writing coworker I’ve ever dealt with. Out of respect for those involved, names have been changed. Out of respect for you, everything else is told exactly as it occurred. The six-part series continues here.
Part 3: Hitting the Wall
So by this point, I was wary of Mark. But being my optimistic self, I was determined to make this situation work. And then the opportunity came. As my first assignment, our supervisor assigned Mark and I to revamp the existing office style guide. This was right up my alley! I began my analysis of the initial style guide and encouraged Mark to do the same. We set up some time to sit and discuss what we found and our approach moving forward.
So the time came for me and Mark to sit down. I brought a marked up version of the original style guide as well as pages of notes on existing problems and potential solutions. I sat in Mark’s cube and jumped right in and told Mark what was on my mind: this style guide was a mess. Mark didn’t want to hear it. We began a back and forth that I couldn’t make up if I tried.
Me: “Okay, so our first issue is organization. The contents are ordered alphabetically which makes no sense. Periods are next to parallelism and analogies are next to acronyms. We need to reorganize the contents.”
Mark: “No. I like it alphabetically. It makes things easier to find.”
Me: “Well you have an online copy. You can use the search function if you’re looking for something specific. Otherwise, grouping similar information is helpful to readers.”
Mark: “That’s just your opinion. If you rearrange things, I won’t be able to find anything.”
And it continued. Every problem I brought up, Mark countered. And every counter was: “I don’t like change.” He outright refused to recognize fault, even with the most obscene mistakes. He got so aggravated at points, he started raising his voice. The entire office listened in and watched him. It was awkward and frustrating. I eventually convinced him to let me update the style guide on my own. Anything to get out of that situation.
Part 4: The Realization
So Mark and I continued on our own. People either reached out to myself or him for help. We didn’t work together on any more assignments. Each week, we met with our supervisor to go over our assignments and their progress. After a few of them, I started to notice a weird pattern. Mark only got two types of assignments.
The first came from Jacob, a higher-up in the office. Every few days, Jacob would come to Mark with a printed out copy of a document with handwritten edits. He would ask Mark to implement his edits and send him a copy. Mark was also in charge of managing all the hard copies. Mark was not doing any edits on his own. Jacob was just using Mark as an assistant. The second type of assignment came from a woman in the office named Vicky. From time to time, Vicky would find a PDF she needed to edit. So she would ask Mark to convert the PDF to Word. Mark would convert the document, save a copy, and send it back to Vicky.
And then it hit me. Mark didn’t do any technical writing in this office. He didn’t do anything that anyone needed. While I was editing document upon document and writing new ones on my own, Mark was typing other people’s busy work. No wonder he didn’t want to change the style guide! He didn’t want to do anything! And it only got worse from there.
About the Author
Greta Boller is a technical writer located in the Washington, D.C. area. For more information, please visit her bio page.