Doctors do appendectomies; tech writers do documentation. Get it?

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have enough pet peeves to open a pet shop. Among them:

  • Tissues that have tiny dust particles in them that make you sneeze. Why can’t they make them out of the same stuff they use for toilet paper? (I once worked with a woman who swore this was a conspiracy to get people sneezing and buying more tissues.)

  • Deli workers who put on gloves to make my sandwich, then leave them on to hand me my change with bits of lettuce and dressing clinging to my quarters, then make the next guy’s sandwich with the same gloves that just handled money.
  • The cashier at the cafeteria who responded to my comment that there wasn’t any coffee left by saying she doesn’t make coffee at 10 AM because most people are like her and have one cup early in the morning. To which I could only reply “Really?” as I struggled to unfold the fingers in my clenched fist and took a DEEEEEEEP breath.

Heading back to the office sans coffee is already one step in the wrong direction. So, it’s no surprise that small things can set me off–never mind the whoppers.

Imagine my delight when I received an email from a colleague with no writing or instructional design experience who decided he should take courseware created by three professional technical writers and make some changes to it to make it more fun for the audience. I opened the first file–a PowerPoint presentation meant to provide an overview of the process in a training session.

The hyperventilating started immediately.

There were nine different fonts on the first slide in six different colors. The next slide had an animated fireworks display to start the session off with a bang. Having heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, he included a few graphics–cartoon characters, some smoke stacks in the background, a shopping cart filled with computer equipment that looked like it had been salvaged from the local dump, and a cornucopia filled with autumn’s bounty. Too bad he never heard the part about the graphics needing to have something to do with the subject matter being presented.

No joke, this presentation was like a 1980’s laser rock show at the Hayden planetarium. Oh and he even had a soundtrack to go along with it. Just click that little speaker icon in the corner of the PowerPoint slide. He assured me it was supposed to be Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 “Choral”: IV (because all training presentations are an ode to joy, right?). Unfortunately, Sympathy for the Devil must have been the file just above it in his music library. (Mick Jagger would be my only solace for the day.)

Is it me or is this just crazy? What if I ran into an operating room during an appendectomy and told the surgeon “Wait, give me that scalpel. I think we should make the incision on the left side. It will be much more entertaining that way for the other doctors and nurses assisting at the surgery.”

I guarantee you’d be visiting me on the psych floor.

Apparently, there are no special skills required to do technical writing. Anyone can do it.

As I was reviewing the final “improvements” to my courseware, a co-worker stopped by to peer over my shoulder. “Huh, maybe I’ll convince my wife to get a job as a tech writer. God knows we could use a second income.” Innocent me, I asked “oh is she a writer?” “No, but how hard could it be.”

I broke out in a fit of sputum-flying coughing and reached for a dusty tissue. Good thing there was no coffee left at the cafeteria.

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