Thursday, April 19

great moments in the history of technical writing

great moments in technical manual history
Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

Caught this great example at the vintage toy and railway museum in Leura. Those double underlines were typed in manually, you couldn't just select the text and then select 'double underline' from the Style menu. That can only spell "A-S-S-H-O-L-E". I had housemates like this, though usually they were mostly going on about how I'd eaten their cheese when it was clearly labelled 'theirs'.

This is such a great example of "technical writing as passive-aggression." One of the most common motivations for new part-time technical writers is the "I'm sick of you guys messing with my stuff!" The passive aggression comes in when you try and disguise your "leave my stuff alone" message in a "care and maintenance of my stuff" set of guidelines.

The great irony of all passive-aggressive technical writing is that it exposes the very agenda the author is trying to hide. In this example the author starts off by claiming that the 'fridge has been installed for the 'convenience' of railway employees. However, it only takes a few more lines before it becomes clear that the author is heartily sick of employees treating the 'fridge like it is there for their convenience.

Heaven forbid that an employee should try to employ any initiative should the 'fridge go on the fritz, as 'fridges invariably do. The notice makes it sound like you'll lose your job and possibly your head if you so much as nudge the thermostat, much less attempt to make the thing work properly.

Imagine a vast state rail network, its staff tea rooms all slightly stinky from the frozen/rotten contents of un-tweaked or broken-down 'fridges, thanks to people doing what they've been commanded to do here.

Forbidding employees from using their initiative, common sense and improvisation is the hallmark of the passive aggressive organisational culture. If you find yourself in such an organisation, don't whatever you do complain in person. Instead, write up a notice of your own and pin it up above your desk.

A good way to start would be something like (all caps and double-underlined, mind you): "NOTICE: The following passive-aggressive crap will no longer be tolerated at this desk..."

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