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 conclude 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 ends here.
Part 5: Personal Quirks
So what did Mark do all day? One important thing to know about Mark is that he did not believe in cell phones. This meant he took all of his personal calls on his desk phone. Loudly. Everyone across the office could hear him. His laugh echoed through the walls and his voice carried, even with his mouth half full of popcorn.
At least a half-dozen times a day, his phone would ring, and he would embark on an hour-long conversation with some personal acquaintance. The topics ranged from weekend plans to sex, and all sorts of inappropriate in between. For two weeks straight, he called Amazon customer service complaining about getting locked out of his music account. One time, we overheard the story of a girl who felt so harassed by Mark, she had her boyfriend call and threaten to get lawyers involved. If we ever missed a piece of the story, we knew we would catch up the next time his phone rang and he retold the tale.
As time went on, Mark used his desk phone for his job search. His personal recruiter would call and they would discuss opportunities. He would have phone interviews with potential employers. He would call his friends afterwards to tell them all about it. Nothing was a secret in Mark’s world.
Part 6: The Glossary
At some point, our supervisor called over myself and Mark to discuss a new assignment. The office was in need of a glossary to help define some easily confusable terms and acronyms (10 to 15 max, he said). There wasn’t any precedent, so the work was ours to do from the ground up. Immediately, Mark suggested I take the lead. Seeing that Mark was trying to pawn off the work, our supervisor assigned the glossary to Mark exclusively. I was directed to leave Mark to his own devices.
Mark spent his time trying to locate an existing glossary. He asked everyone in the office. He called the parent office. He searched the internet. Multiple times, he was told one did not exist, but he kept asking. Eventually, he mass emailed the whole office asking them for their input. The email was vague and incoherent. Few responded.
I should note that at this point, Mark got a job offer. He told enough people that the whole office knew. But he was on the fence about it, and ended up turning the position down. All from his desk phone.
That Friday, we had a meeting with our supervisor. He asked Mark where he was with the glossary. Mark went off about how he couldn’t find the glossary anywhere. Our supervisor explained once more how one did not exist, hence the assignment. Then, this exchange took place:
S: “Did you reach out to any of the managers? Did you set up individual meetings to interview them like I suggested?”
M: “I sent them an email, but none of them responded.”
S: “Did you follow up with them?”
M: “They’re adults. They should respond to their email. It’s not my responsibility to nag them to get their job done.”
S: “You are responsible for this glossary and getting their responses.”
M: “And if I don’t?”
There it was. Mark stared down our supervisor and dared him to say he would be fired. All for being told that he was responsible for the assignment including interviewing subject matter experts and following up on requests. The meeting ended, just like that. When he got back to his desk, Mark called the job offer that he turned down, but the position was gone. So he called a few of his friends to complain about it.
In the weeks that followed, Mark pawned the glossary off on anyone who offered to help him. What he ended up with was a spreadsheet of no less than 600 terms. Very few of them fit the original assignment. Most of them did not have a definition.
Not long after that, Mark found another position. As his final act, he promised to send me a write up he recently finished. When I got it, it was a forwarded email from another employee saying: “Mark, here’s the write up you asked me to do. Let me know if you have any questions.”
About the Author
Greta Boller is a technical writer located in the Washington, D.C. area. For more information, please visit her bio page.