back to article Diary of a report writer and his big break into bad business

Friday Utter bastard. For the second time this week I have had to work overnight for this arsehole to get his job done. As directed, I have taken great care to replace the concise and correct use of English in my original report with an idiomatic minestrone of convoluted expressions. The difference is dramatic. My original …

  1. O RLY


    Having done freelance stuff, I felt this piece in the parts of my soul not yet killed by these interactions. Nicely written!

    It reminds me, also, of the importance of the lessons imparted here

    (same link here, just not hyperlinked)

    1. Charlie van Becelaere

      Re: Amazing

      "Having done freelance stuff, I felt this piece in the parts of my soul not yet killed by these interactions. Nicely written!"

      Nicely written indeed ... apart from the appalling lack of commas and the penchant for active verbs.

      It's as if he had no style sheet to which to adhere!

      1. Montreal Sean

        Re: Amazing

        It's also saved in the wrong format which is wreaking havoc with my IE6, an amateurish mistake.

        Maybe the next version will be better.

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Amazing

        Four downvotes from people who didn't actually read the article, perhaps?

        (Authors dealing with an audience which desires more punctuation can always use Dexter's Method of just throwing a bunch in at the end.)

  2. b0llchit Silver badge

    The cost of education

    I’m definitely not going to regret this!

    Lesson learned: I will regret this and I should have known. Next time, I will get it right.

    Next time: I’m definitely not going to regret this!... etc.

    Yes, education should have done the job. We always think to be smart when we've learned something from experience, but when money comes into play, we are stupid, every time. Cheers, have one to wash it down to be prepared for the next round of regrets.

    1. My-Handle Silver badge

      Re: The cost of education

      Ah, now I am Cynical. I was in fact informed of this at the age of 18, by a mid-40s middle-manager, in a tone of mixed exasperation and respect. I've had years of real-life lessons since then.

      These days, the barest sniff of an awkward client has me thinking "I know I'm going to regret this, but forward I must go. I wonder exactly how I'm going to regret it this time."

      1. Blackjack Silver badge

        Re: The cost of education

        I have been a pessimist since I was a teen. I still hot scammed more that once.

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Formats and reflow!

    I've just finished what started off as a query on our history group website and turned into a 13 page article. It's amazing how most images start in the bottom half of a page. A few changes of text edge them closer and closer to the bottom of a page until one then falls off, leaving a big gap and cascading the consequences until the last image on the last page falls off onto a new page all of its own separated from the paragraph that describes ant and absolutely has to be on the same page.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      From the depths of my own life, from a time at which I was a project manager... the program manager had a word document he wanted me to 'just tidy up a bit'. It was about a thousand pages long, full of rather dense technical prose, supporting diagrams, plans, examples; you know the kind of thing.

      Oh, and there were about thirty of it. One for each site where we were doing the essentially similar work - that is, similar in a 'replace this group of circuits with that group of circuits' but each one had different details, dates, and so on, as might be expected.

      And every single never to be sufficiently damned page had every paragraph formatted differently, and every format was with character formats... whoever wrote them had obviously never heard of styles.

      It is not a time I remember with delight - though I do recall that when we got down to actually doing the job, we had a single instance of unplanned downtime across the whole country, caused because someone had threaded a cable in such a way that we could not remove the hardware without disconnecting it - so thirty seconds or so.

      1. sbt Silver badge

        and every format was with character formats

        Gosh, it's been a while since I've had any painful flashbacks; thanks a lot (I don't think!) for that one.

        There is a wall between now and the times before 2020 that may never be breached. I'm sure of it. Just to be safe, never mention styles, master documents and heading numbering again. Please?

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: and every format was with character formats

          Nothing wrong with styles. You're the one who brought up outline n*******g and m****r documents, both of which are well known vectors for suicide inducement.

          1. sbt Silver badge

            Re: Styles

            Don't get me wrong; I meant the failure to use styles as described by NB.

            Sorry I was too busy having flashbacks to post clearly.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        I usually end up overriding styles for particular headings and paragraphs to make small spacing adjustments to control pagination. The hardest ones were republishing out-of-print books where there were loads of spaces to "wrap" text round images and create tables without actually using tables plus the notionally identical font metrics aren't quite the ones the original version used. And no, I'm not going to leave the Comic Sans in there.

      3. CuChulainn

        I built a web site for a client, with the strict request that it must have a 'blog' section that he could update regularly himself.

        Once it was live, I wrote a few blog posts for him - only short ones, but with photographs and diagrams relevant to his business. I stressed to him how each post looked - even from a distance and without reading the words. Formatted, no trailing single words, photos clipped and sized to fit the module width, and so on.

        Then I set about training him how to achieve that. Firstly, using GIMP to clip/resize images. Then, how to use the CMS app I'd installed for him to insert the images and ensure they all looked the same way when published. I must have gone through it a dozen times over the next month or so.

        Then came 'the words'. This is when - and I mean really when, and not that thing managers do just to be PITAs - you realise the gulf in how some people think and write compared to you. And how the whole concept of 'grammar' has apparently passed them by. Stuff like putting a space before and after a punctuation mark (if used at all), and using two linefeeds instead of one.

        At the start, I'd told him that if he wanted to get and maintain a good position in the search engines, he ought to be writing regular posts with relevant content. Things people might be searching for that were related to his business. That kind of thing. I was thinking perhaps daily, or at least a couple of times a week.

        For six months, I had to badger him monthly to write something. I proved to him that his posts were appearing in the search engines. Well, mine were, as were his once I'd edited them. And we continued with periodic re-training for editing/inserting images correctly and thinking about the paragraphs as well as the words (i.e. every bloody time he wrote something). I stressed that the more often he wrote, the better he'd be able to do it and the software would become easier, but month-long gaps were not helping.

        After the last time, it suddenly hit me that it was his blog (and business), and not mine. He'd written a post and published it, but he hadn't inserted the images properly and they'd gone in as thumbnail sized. He hadn't formatted them, so they appeared inline as part of the paragraphs, creating huge gaps between them. I'd even told him before he published to send them to me and I'd clip them properly, but he didn't.

        I didn't say anything, and I've not badgered him since. His last post - that one - was two months ago now. I mean, he must be able to see it doesn't look right just as well as I can.

        But what can you do?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "I didn't say anything, and I've not badgered him since. His last post - that one - was two months ago now. I mean, he must be able to see it doesn't look right just as well as I can.

          But what can you do?"

          Nothing, Pal, just leave them to their misery.

          Some people can't cope even with modern CMS tools at all.

          Years ago, I withdrew collaboration with a volunteer organization, because I had enough of them not even being able to write anything on the CMS I did put up, without using me as a bloody secretary and sending me word documents, where, more or less, every word was from a different font AND size than the previous plus crap pictures, for me to put everything in a readable format on the CMS.

          Since the whole point of the CMS was to allow "normal" users to post, rather the admin only, I realised how it all failed due to people lack of brain.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "And every single never to be sufficiently damned page had every paragraph formatted differently, and every format was with character formats... whoever wrote them had obviously never heard of styles."

        Tidying up word docs from people that never understood styles is one of the dumbest job in IT.

        I even met one dude, pre-sales from a big company, and had to update his 30 pages proposal to a customer.

        Simple paragraph insert, easy. But at one point, I realized the sucker had hard-coded the paragraph numbers !! All of them FFS !! Like the TOC, of course.

        Geez, had to convert every title to styles and put up a real TOC.

        1. CuChulainn

          Going back a long way, a local sports club (actually, the county club, which played at one of the most famous grounds in the world) wanted to get online. I was a member there, so they asked me to do it.

          This was back in the days of pure(-ish) HTML, and even the WYSIWYG editors required code editing frequently because they left crap behind if you weren't careful.

          The problem was that the person who headed the department which would be responsible for it insisted on making changes herself on a frequent basis, and if you know what I mean about people who have to write reports but can't use things like 'grammar' and 'spelling' properly, you can easily imagine the problems the 'grammar' of a language like HTML was going to throw up.

          Since she was there until after 11pm some nights (mind you, so was I - it was a private club and I was a member, after all), she'd call at all hours (and if you'd had a few beers, 'thinking' wasn't always that easy, especially when 'seeing' was also being affected by a good night in the club).

          One of the worst things was when she started copying-and-pasting directly from Word. Suddenly, pages that were only a few kB turned into MB Leviathans because of all the extra mark up she'd added without realising.

          She often swore blind she 'hadn't touched anything', but I could see from the logs what times things had been tinkered with. But she was also one of those people who takes offence easily - frequently using it as a defence mechanism to avoid simply owning up to something minor. She'd fall out with me because of it, then be 'off' with me for weeks.

    2. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      > Formats and reflow!

      Back in Word 2010 and earlier days, another problem was when you needed to assemble a document using contributions from different authors and, despite sending them a style template, someone always managed to change one of the underlying styles. And then, Word will decide that the style definitions in the 10 lines you are importing must take precedence over the 200 pages you already have. Typically the result is that every other heading is courier, or the headers and footers have gone awol.

      The problem got so bad that I resorted to writing a VBA macro to give unique names to each author's style names (by prefixing their initials) so that they couldn't overwrite each other.

      1. Red Ted Silver badge

        Word formatting

        Arrgghh, I’d almost erased that pain from my mind.

        About 15 years ago I was involved in editing a 1000+ page technical document. The way Word would take it upon itself to change the formatting at random points, such as the numbering of bullet points when you just made a small change to the text between them, was just maddening.

        Eventually we managed to persuade the company to buy one of the Adobe products, Page Maker I think (it was while ago now), and everything went so much better. Right tool for the job, and all that.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Word formatting

          "perfect is the enemy of good enough"

          MS Word was good enough for dashing off 1-2 page things, even up to essay length if needed, but the killer factor was that it was CHEAP

          The problem is that people get used to using a cheap, limited tool for small tasks and then won't use an appropriately heavy duty one for jobs that actually need it

          (like trying to use a 1 inch brush for a paint job when what you actually need is a ROLLER)

      2. TSM

        The trick with that one is to make your Normal.dotm (or whichever template file you're using for that project) read-only.

      3. AnotherName

        Location, location, location

        Way back in the mists of time, my first 'real' computing job was as a programmer for a system controlling a repair workshop and it's associated stock of repaired and due in for repair items. It was that long ago that we were working with Dataflex 3GL under CC/PM on co-ax networked ICL desktop hardware. It was a small team with a couple of programmers, and an admin assistant who did a lot of the testing and all of the documentation.

        The documents were created in Wordstar (as was the coding). Our admin assistant insisted on putting hard carriage returns on the end of each line, which was all well and good up to a point - that point being when changes had to be made. He would then re-flow each line manually from the edit to the end of the document! It didn't matter how many times we told him just to use wordwrapping, he never changed his ways for the rest of the time I was on the team.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Location, location, location

          Yeah, I can remember how hard it was to stop some staff from doing that when they first moved from a typewriter. It was sort of understandable since the basic principles of using a computer instead of a typewriter were never explicitly highlighted as being different from using a computer as a typewriter.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Now try that in html...

      When you have a designer getting pissy because text wraps on a line because they're looking at it from the least likely device screen size to view the site (as in less than 1% of visits).

      It's like those people who insist on using baby's first browser... Sorry Internet Explorer still. Which even Microsoft loath and would have gotten rid of if they hadn't baked it directly into the OS.

      On the plus side, I don't write reports. Or content. I leave that to others, it's always a bun fight and I hate being the one to point out that a 4 word sentence sounds like you're stating the customer is somewhat lacking for buggering up so badly as to cause this particular error.

      Anon because stats say at least 40% of you have probably used my work at some point...

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Now try that in html...

        "When you have a designer getting pissy "

        - bring up w3c compliance and the sheer number of errors on their published websites

        - then demonstrate to senior mangler how this results in the same page rendering utterly differently on different browsers

        - for icing on the cake, demonstrate how thiosmeans the page doesn't work on a vlind person's broswer and ask if they want to invite discrimination litigation

        - point out that "web designer" is a self-applied term and there are no actual qualifications, so you don't know if you have a snot-nosed teen, a narcissist sales-dweeb or an actual wizened preprint expert doing your work

        It's amazing how many times I saw responses in the old day that MSIE _IS_ the standard and "some jumped up 'world wide web consortium' can't tell me what to do"

        - for added effect these days, it's worth pointing out the data leak possiblityies of offsite images, cookies and javascript (especially javascript), preferably with links to security furrfus that have happened over recent years when JS archives got compromised - and ask if the GDPR risks are worth taking

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Now try that in html...

          In my experience, the wizened pre-print expert (and by wizened, my age!) refuses to engage in this new fangled thing called the internet and doesn't believe the importance of accessibility (which our websites have to meet because of PSBAR), and will ignore it and just carry on designing for print!

          Whereas if I had to deal with a snot-nosed teen who is probably far more experienced in designing for the internet, things might have a chance of improving.

          Anonymous just in the unlikely case the wizened pre-print expert reads El Reg!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A (La)TeX user writes:

    Look, be fair, MS Word is only about 35 years old.

    I'm sure you Word guys will get your formatting and float placement right sometime in the next few decades. How hard can it be, right?

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

      How hard can it be,...

      Well, probably NP-hard. If they actually get formatting right in word, then I'm inclined to believe that P = NP.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

      And most Word users don't know about Paragraph and Page styles.

      1. Fading

        Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

        There is something lacking in the Word training that users seem to receive (if they have even had Word training). I suspect a basic version of Word without styles, limited fonts unless expressly installed, easy access and editing of formatting codes and a simpler interface would be a better product for the majority (hmm, I think I've just described Wordperfect for DOS) .

        Word tries to do too much some of which is better suited to DTP software and hides too much from the unwary.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

          I think I've just described Wordperfect for DOS

          Or WordPad?

          By the way, if anyone needs some training in Word or some complex editing and proofing done, I know a guy who is apparently very good.


          1. Tim99 Silver badge

            Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

            "Or WordPad?" : A very long time ago we asked our Microsoft Rep if we could have a version of WordPad with a spell checker (We thought we were large and important). He told us that if such a thing was available no-one would buy Word. I laughed thinking he was joking, he wasn't.

            I'm retired now and use TextEdit for many things, sometimes I even turn on "Make Rich Text". If I need anything fancier "Pages" will do for most of it.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

              Way, way back in the days of Windows 3 HP had New Era which sat above Windows and added a lot of features that found their way into W95. One feature which didn't do that was a text editor with a spill chucker.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

          Ah, Wordperfect 5.1 - happy memories. Happy because, where I worked at the time, nobody realised you could view the codes and I got plenty of credit for being able to sort out fancy formats. Word lacked that and it was easy to confuse it if you tried to work it the same way - once I found my way around styles, I never looked back. But trying to get anyone else to use styles instead of separately formatting each header, etc with font changes - arghh!

          Now retired and I can just do a Victor* when I see the mess some people make of a simple document...

          *I don't believe it! - per Mr Meldrew.

          1. First Light Silver badge

            Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

            WP was an immensely superior product.

            1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

              The "Reveal Codes" feature (or whatever it was called) makes any version of WordPerfect superior to any version of Word.

              Personally, I take issue with the claim upthread that Word is "good enough" for short, simple documents. I don't think Word has ever been good enough for any use case. I often have to use it at work, and it's simply dreadful by any measure.

              For academic writing I used LaTeX (typically via LyX, because why not) and pdftex for larger documents or anything that would be rendered in hard copy, and hand-written HTML and CSS for shorter, online-only stuff. I had a couple of submissions to journals or collections where the copy-editors required Word (still all too common in the humanities); after that I decided to never submit to anyone who wouldn't accept LaTeX.

          2. keith_w Bronze badge

            Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

            Back in the 'good' old days, I started work at a place and one of my first support calls was to assist the receptionist who asked why her screen flashed so much when she typed. I visited her and discovered that 20 of the 24 lines displayed were WP4.2 codes consisting of varying combinations of <bold on> <bold off> <Italic on> <italic off> with the occasional letter in the middle of it. I turned off the display codes option and she was quite happy. I had absolutely no desire to sit there and clear out the mass of codes that were there.

      2. CuChulainn

        Paragraph and Page styles

        Another tale I've told before, but when my company switched from WordPerfect 5.1/5.2 to 6.0a, it moved from a keyboard command interface to Windows/mouse GUI.

        The secretaries (we had those back then) were in tears. And I mean, literally.

        It turned out that they'd all got little handwritten pocket books that told them which slash codes to use to get certain effects like bold, underline, etc. Even opening and saving depended on these pocket book instructions.

        A few years later, I came to try and edit an SOP which had been typed by a secretary back then (by now, secretaries only typed for middle management and above). We'd switched to Word by then. But when I tried to format a paragraph none of the formatting options did anything.

        I turned on the formatting code option and the screen filled with dots and <CR> symbols. It turned out that the secretaries placed text on screen using the spacebar and <enter> (aka 'carriage return'). They had no concept of paragraphs, indents, and other various word processor page formatting functions.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Paragraph and Page styles

          Ironically when WYSIWYG software was already available we had some w**ker advisory teacher come into the school to get us to use a word processor of that sort (WORDPERFECT possibly, but in my head I thought it was called WORDSTAR) with its inserted formatting codes.

          "Oh", they said. "It's easy to use". Some teachers even believed them and committed to writing reports with it. They were in tears within days.

          Most of us weren't caught. Because enough of us had seen proper secretaries using it in various education offices etc. And we'd seen those little books of notes, and heard the constant to and froing of the secretaries asking each other "Dor,what's the code for..etc".

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Paragraph and Page styles

            Could well have been WordStar. Still used in some places. Isn't that what George R. R. Martin uses?

            Personally, I think WYSIWYG is the worst thing to happen to writing technology since ... well, ever, actually. It's a bad idea that has never worked properly and it distracts from actual writing to fucking about with typography, layout, and other visual features – something precious few users know anything about anyway.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Paragraph and Page styles

          "I turned on the formatting code option and the screen filled with dots and <CR> symbols. It turned out that the secretaries placed text on screen using the spacebar and <enter> (aka 'carriage return'). "

          Because, of course, they'd trained on typewriters and that's how it works there.

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Paragraph and Page styles

            Typewriters have had tab stops since late in the nineteenth century. And competent secretaries (they used to exist) were perfectly capable of rolling the paper fractions of lines.

            1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: Paragraph and Page styles

              And that's another way stupid WYSIWYG word processing has damaged writing. For decades most business writing was actually done by professional writers in the secretarial pool, or by a dedicated secretary if the nominal author was in a sufficiently exalted position. Then PCs and word-processing applications came along and businesses discarded all that expertise and let random management types create their own documents.

              It's true that today more people produce more writing than at any other time in history, and there are certainly ways that's good. But it's done significant damage to business communication, and introduced some significant inefficiencies.

              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                Re: Paragraph and Page styles

                This might be valid for big companies ( don't know,never worked for one). For small businesses, sole traders, teachers, social workers and the like there was no typing pool preWordPerfect etc. There were front line staff members using typewriters. Often manual lightweight jobs, with carbon paper, Tippex, endless retyping and so on. Or handwritten, often illegible, reports.

                And typing pools, where they existed, were rooms full of tedious copytyping of illegible handwritten stuff.

                It was a time of wasted effort, and incredible tedium.

                The arrival of WYSIWYG word processors was an unimaginable saviour

      3. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

        Exactly this. Most WORD users are people who do other stuff, but may need to write about it. Not authors or technical writers. They (we) learn just enough to accomplish what we need to accomplish. If we need to do something else we'll maybe bolt-on that skill. Someone who knows how to insert a table is practically an expert. Someone who can use the format painter tool is considered a fully fledged magician and will be consulted on all matters computery. Styles? - You'll be lucky if the users don't use the space bar to indent paragraphs. Add in WORD's own quirky way of being totally non-intuitive ( like the invisible formatting that remains after you've deleted some text or find and replace's messed up interface) and it's surprising that anyone can share a document.

        WORD is fine for writing something to print out. It just isn't great for documents that are shared electronically.

        1. Giles C Silver badge

          Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

          For my current contract I had to write a Low Level Design and implementation plan.

          When going through the document the person I was reviewing it with was surprised that I had.

          Used page breaks

          Used styles (set a custom style for all Cisco code as courier news

          Used automatic headings so the document indexed properly.

          Mind you I have been using word for technical documents for about 20 years and the interface is still horrible.

    3. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

      It's very easy to laugh at Word, in comparison to LaTex, but remember LaTex requires a certain level of intelligence, understanding and computing literacy. All things that Word doesnt need. Is it any wonder that Idiots constantly f%&k it up?

      There really ought to be a training course for all new employees on Word, but a) "everyone" knows Word (or Office if you prefer); and b) HR would never approve time being spent on something so simple, c) do you honestly know anyone who would put their hand up and admit they dont know how to use Word properly?

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

        I would put my hand up. Largely because Word tries hard to be all things to all people - ignoring the changes in UI over the year, it just does too damn much. If you don't use all the features all the time, how can you expect to remember them? In the thirty or forty years I've used it, I have never been trained on it; it has always been assumed that I already knew how to use it...

        I recall a time when engineers wrote documents and secretaries typed them up, sorted out the formatting (and on occasion spelling or grammar), but some time in the eighties I guess some management training school worked out that it made so much more sense for the people who were on the computer keyboard anyway to do things *at which most of them were not skilled* and did away with the concept of secretary.

        One might argue with Fader above though: I think I would prefer to see a word processor which does away with the majority of Word's functionality - in particular, character by character formatting - and requires that styles be used throughout. When I write a book, I use LyX/Latex...

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

          Microsoft Windows comes with the Wordpad program of course...

        2. veti Silver badge

          Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

          "Secretaries" are still hugely valuable employees. You're talking about "typists".

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

            typists are valuable too (far more valuable than manglement usually realise)

            it's cheaper to have a technically knowledgable typist take an engineering document and clean it up than to pay engineers to do soul-sapping detailed writeups and grammer/spelling checks that may actually skip over important bits (I've had this happen) or put absolutely critical parts LAST (Looking at you Harris transmitters!)

            Everyone has their strengths & weaknesses. If you want me to fully write up stuff then that's fine but it happens at full rates + padding and may result in the job taking 5 times longer than if it's passed to someone else with publication skills whilst I get on with the actual grunt work & calculations

        3. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

          @Neil Barnes: I totally agree. I learned all sorts of clever techniques for writing and editing documents back when I was writing regular essays/reports/theses/articles, including how to deal with those left-over formatting gremlins that a co-writer left in etc. However several iterations of Word and two other word processors later, what was easy then is now very difficult. I recently wrote the first full report for a while, and formatting the thing took longer than writing it!

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

        "do you honestly know anyone who would put their hand up and admit they dont know how to use Word properly?"

        Haven't used it for years. OO and then LO.

    4. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

      Having used both LaTeX and Word for some heavyweight documents, LaTeX at least has reproducible results whereas the smallest correction to a Word document has been known to corrupt pagination, cross-referencing, numbering and goodness knows what else.

      However, the apparent simplicity of Word for simple tasks is what suckers you in. And I find it easier to review content when the markup isn't visible.

      Incidentally, the reverse-chronology of this SFTWS is very clever. I have a rather different story that would suit the same approach: beginning with me leaning back at the end of a late night completing a 100+ page report, stretching my legs and accidentally hitting the switch on the plug powering the computer. The start of that week had seemed pretty promising too.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

        > stretching my legs

        Wow, you're way too confident! I would never stretch my legs before hitting "Save" and backing the result up on 2 USB sticks (one of which I immediately throw out of the window in case the roof caves in)...

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

        " stretching my legs and accidentally hitting the switch "

        Wasn't autosave such a godsend?

        1. Warm Braw Silver badge

          Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

          The autosave file was sufficiently corrupted by the power loss as to be unrecoverable...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

        "Having used both LaTeX and Word for some heavyweight documents, LaTeX at least has reproducible results whereas the smallest correction to a Word document has been known to corrupt pagination, cross-referencing, numbering and goodness knows what else."

        Pretty much this, indeed. LaTeX is a compiler and all output is the same if input is the same. There is no random number glitch for every enumeration like for Word.

    5. veti Silver badge

      Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

      When you can send your LaTeX document to some wanker at a client company and get it back with comments inserted directly into the text, without screwing up the layout in any way, then you can get smug. Until then, you're just not playing the same game.

      1. Joe W Silver badge

        Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

        Without screwing up the formatting? You open a word document on a different machine and everything just gets f'd up beyond any recognition.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

          I'd say the best way to ensure a word document doesn't get screwed up on other systems is to save as PDF

          Except that I'd seen PDFs rendered differently too.....

    6. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: A (La)TeX user writes:

      Word 6.0 was not that bad. Since then MS did whatever possible to break everything in the next version. With a lot of success I have to admit.

  5. Dr_N Silver badge

    predilection for active verbs.

    You MONSTER, Mr Dabbs!!!

    BTW is this the Tenet version of your article?

    1. O RLY

      Re: predilection for active verbs.

      Or "Memento," Nolan's better work.

    2. Daedalus Silver badge

      Re: predilection for active verbs.

      Nope. This is the "Betrayal" version. Which raises the question: which actor should portray Dabbsy in the movie adaptation?

      1. A. Coatsworth

        Re: predilection for active verbs.

        Look at the byline pic. Daniel Craig is the only option!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: is this the Telnet version of your article?

      One would hope, these days, that it's the *ssh* version :-)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: is this the Telnet version of your article?

        Yeah, I read it as Telnet too.

  6. Mage Silver badge



    Oh, I'm glad it's not me.

    (Should I delete the comma?)

    1. Commswonk Silver badge

      Re: Ha!

      Should I delete the comma?

      Yes, but only to replace it with a semi - colon. :)

      1. HildyJ Silver badge

        Re: Ha!

        And in the interest of pedantry, you should have written: "replace it with a semi-colon. ;)"

        Unless you were talking about intestinal surgery.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is this how Adrian Mole ended up?

  8. Daedalus Silver badge

    I hate Adobe, but...

    I would never submit a Word document. Between Micro$oft and the idiocracy, Word is a nightmare. PDF is the way to go. It doesn't get red-flagged by e-mail servers (well, not so much) and is more proof against diddling. Plus, there are plenty of read-only apps that can view it.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: I hate Adobe, but...

      But then they write their comments on it in green ink, scan it (or these days take a picture with their phone) and email it back to you to update - still better than Office365!

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: I hate Adobe, but...

        Our tame proof reader sent back a printed-out copy of the article I mentioned above with corrections in red ink. Like me, she prefers to work on a hard copy version and it also means comments don't mess with layout.

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: I hate Adobe, but...

          I find proof-reading quite hard on a screen. I'm not surprised to find that she prints it out to do that job.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: I hate Adobe, but...

            But tell that to the paperless office freaks who turn up here from time to time & tell us nobody needs a printer.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: I hate Adobe, but...

              paperless office freaks exist, but........

              In the last 10 years paper usage where I work has been declining and before 2020 had started falling off a cliff

              I think this has a lot more to do with portable devices and decently large screens than anything else

              It doesn't stop me printing off 400+ page documents and putting them in a ringbinder to ensure I have a copy I can refer to under all circumstances (complete with ink comments and sticky flags for inititiated users pointing out the critical parts)

            2. onemark03 Bronze badge

              nobody needs a printer.

              Yeah, or a fax machine.

        2. Daedalus Silver badge

          Re: I hate Adobe, but...

          Funny, but the one kind of "proofreading" that's easy to do (in Word at least) is the one people seem utterly unwilling to do.

          Hit F7.

          It's astonishing how many "final" versions of important documents have lacked that touch. Maybe they don't like it because it points out all their mistakes.

  9. CuChulainn

    Mentioned Before...

    At the company I worked for, one of my roles involved writing manufacturing formulas (procedures) for the factories. These were procedures which I had developed or modified, and in the vast majority of cases simply involved the editing of an existing document to produce a different end product - like, instead of 'add A to B, then mix for 5 minutes on speed setting 5', it was changed to 'add X to Y, then mix for 5 minutes on speed setting 5'.

    In theory, that ought not to cause any problems, right? No chance.

    Every formula had to be signed by the author (me, in this case), checked/signed by a colleague, checked/signed by my manager (you can see where this is heading), checked/signed by the manager of the department who'd be making it, and - the big one - signed off by Quality Control (aka the QC Manager, who spent 98% of his time in meetings). In latter years, they made it even more fun by requiring it be checked by 'the team who would be making it' (aka the shop floor staff).

    My manager was a big enough a'hole to flag up needless changes, but these were nothing compared with the QC manager. He would write cryptic notes in red ink along the lines of 'Have a think about this' or just '!!!'. No suggestion of what to write instead.

    I used to have real head-to-heads with him, asking why it was a problem if we were using the exact same terminology in dozens of other formulas. Several times - with him being out of his office when I tried to get some guidance of what would buy his signature for something the customer was demanding we produce, and which was scheduled for a manufacturing slot in two days' time - I left a note saying 'Look. Just tell me what you want it to say and I'll write it'.

    If that wasn't depressing enough, each rewrite meant having to get all the other signatures again - and that wasn't just a formality, since they'd go through the entire checking procedure once more. Inevitably, they'd 'pick up' something they hadn't seen previously (aka they were in a bad mood this time around because one of the kids was off school sick and they'd got to leave early). Then they'd get to the substantial change the QC nutjob had insisted on and disagree. Then they'd demand a meeting to 'discuss it'.

    If I'd have stayed, I'd be dead by now.

    1. Daedalus Silver badge

      Re: Mentioned Before...

      This is a direct implementation of the OSS secret agent manual for disrupting commerce.

      1. Alistair Dabbs Silver badge

        Re: Mentioned Before...

        OSS manual? I think the link you were looking for is here.

      2. onemark03 Bronze badge

        OSS secret agent manual for disrupting commerce

        Sounds like the Republican Party in the US Congress. :-)

  10. GlenP Silver badge

    Many Years Ago...

    I had a boss that always wanted changes, every single time a document was submitted.

    Things that she'd "passed" three times would be wrong the fourth time and so on.

    In the end we told her we wouldn't accept changes after the third submission, which she reluctantly agreed to, and we started deliberately introducing minor, but obvious, errors into the original document. She'd be happy to find something wrong and would leave all the important stuff alone.

    1. Cookie Monstera

      Re: Many Years Ago...

      My usual solution was to deliberately insert a split infinitive into my text (see what I did there?)

      Then we'd bat it to-and-fro a few times, with me giving chapter and verse on "The King's English" by Fowler and why English-English permits if not exactly encourages this grammatical construct.

      They soon give up.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Many Years Ago...

        I remember having an argument with a manager about a gerund.

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Many Years Ago...

          That had the advantage of keeping him harmlessly occupied.

        2. Daedalus Silver badge

          Re: Many Years Ago...

          I remember having an argument with a manager about a gerund.

          They can't touch you for it.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Many Years Ago...

      Boss management is an essential skill.

  11. Commswonk Silver badge

    A Simple Observation...

    This article beautifully reveals what happens when style is forced to have precedence over substance.

    1. cd

      Re: A Simple Observation...

      Not to mention quantity over quality.

      Perhaps a script/automation could be written to idio-cise (make PHB compliant) a Word doc, drawing on a dictionary of buzzwords and phrases and being able to set an output score on a scale of zero to subzero intelligence. There are times in my life I would've bought that.

      1. Kevin Johnston

        Re: A Simple Observation...

        Read a Sci-fi story about that where someone developed a machione to read contracts and turn them into simple English. Was a failure until they realised they could reverse the direction and turn a short clear note into a 200 page Thesis

        1. keith_w Bronze badge

          Re: A Simple Observation...

          I swear that a former boss achieved that by translating all my documentation into Gerrman and then having my supervisor translate it back.

  12. rnturn

    ``In one case, the person who marked up the corrections has struck through the words `a quarter' under a chart summary and replaced it with `four times less'.''

    I see and hear this all the damned time. Apparently, it's because "fractions are hard".

    1. Daedalus Silver badge

      sub-editing (noun) : the irrepressible urge to alter somebody else's text.

      1. onemark03 Bronze badge

        the irrepressible urge to alter somebody else's text.

        Happens all the time in the civil service.

    2. veti Silver badge

      How about "25%", is that considered accessible enough?

    3. Giles C Silver badge

      If you say to me a quarter or 25% then I understand immediately what you mean.

      However saying 4 times less means I have to do a quick calculation in my head as it isn’t intuitive to me.

      Maybe it is just how my brain works but the ‘times less’ is harder.

      Also have none of these people ever tried cutting a cake, because if you can’t cut a slice 4 times less as that is a negative number....

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        I've never heard "4 times less" used in this or any normal context.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Two words:

          Daily Mail

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "Maybe it is just how my brain works but the ‘times less’ is harder."

        What if you read it as "times fewer"?

        edit: Damn, ninja'd below.

      3. Andy A

        :Four times less" is just meaningless. An example:

        Start with 100.

        20 is less than 100. That is one time less.

        To get FOUR times less, we need to go four times as far from 100 as we did to reach 20. So that means -220.

        Of course, for those with so little logical ability, negative numbers will cause their brains to explode.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Just reply (to all) with "shouldn't that be 'four times fewer' ?"

      - then sit back & enjoy the argument that follows

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Don't forget the bowl of popcorn ;)

        1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

  13. AlanSh

    I get this all the time

    I know Word. I know English grammar. I was trained it it. I used to teach it!

    But the parent organisation I "work" for (I'm a volunteer), consistently send me documents that I have to send out with paragraph errors, spelling errors, pagination issues and so on - oh and it's always a PDF so I can't (in theory) mess with it. Of course, I can and I do. And send them back a Word and PDF corrected version.

    Then an email comes out "We found a couple of typos - here's an updated version". No mentions or thank you's. And the never ask me to proof read these things before they come out.

    OK - moan mode off.

    1. Daedalus Silver badge

      Re: I get this all the time

      Start signing everything "Washington Irving". It worked for Major Major Major Major in "Catch-22" - nothing signed that way ever came back.

      1. CuChulainn

        Re: I get this all the time

        Except a CID man.

    2. Dr_N Silver badge

      Re: I get this all the time

      AlanSh>I know Word. I know English grammar.

      Do you now....

      >I was trained it it.

      >No mentions or thank you's

      >And the never ask me

  14. HinD

    This hit a nerve

    Somehow reading this made me upset. PTSD i guess...

  15. ColinPa

    Never mind the content, check the font size

    I had to go to India to assist on the review of a project with the supplier

    Technically it was not in a good state. They had not have a backup strategy, fall over strategy, security strategy, testing was weak etc.

    After my technical review I was asked to sit in on a meeting to review the report "they" had written for the customer

    After 5 minutes discussing the front page, I said, as tactfully as I could, that I think there were bigger problems than the colour and size of the font. They looked at me, and immediately moved on to the next page.

    After 2 hours they finished the review, it was much more colourful than it was.

    The next day the review was with the manager's manager's team. They undid the changes to the fonts and colours and rearranged some of the text.

    Towards the end, I was asked for my views - I said this was like presenting the plan for rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, there was very little technical content, and if I was the customer, this would not meet my needs.

    Later I heard they presented to the customer, and 'it did not go well'.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Never mind the content, check the font size

      I don't think I could have sat in a meeting like that and said so little.

    2. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Never mind the content, check the font size

      > there was very little technical content

      You need some competence in the matter at hand to work on the substance. On the other hand anybody (and even his dog) can comment on fonts, colors and the opportunity of adding cute clipart (remember those?)... As a result, rather than saying "duh, I have no clue what this is all about", most people will suddenly tun into artists.

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: Never mind the content, check the font size

        AKA "bikeshedding":

        "Technical disputes over minor, marginal issues conducted while more serious ones are being overlooked. The implied image is of people arguing over what color to paint the bicycle shed while the house is not finished."

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Never mind the content, check the font size

          This is actually one of the lesser known of Parkinson's Laws.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Never mind the content, check the font size

      I, late in the olden days when meetings involved actual rooms, endured a 90 minute meeting where they spent the whole time discussing the formatting of the spreadsheet that held test data.

      Two points :

      i) I was a 'mandatory attendee' because it was my stuff that generated the data - but the actual content was never actually addressed

      ii) The spreadsheet merely generated content for the powerpoint slide that comprised the 'management briefing' document. It was never actually viewed by anyone - even as a backup slide.

      Fortunately many decades of experience have sufficiently prepared me to recognise this sort of upcoming meeting and so I was unavoidably having to attend via phone and was thus happily reading a book while the brainless ones fulfilled what they considered was their purpose in life.

      Anon for the obvious reason that the same idiots are still paying my salary.

  16. Terry 6 Silver badge

    One more "WORD" on this

    I've currently got a set of WORD documents produced by Girl Guides that my wife needs to send out to the Brownie's families.

    Word won't open them - throwing an unhelpful message. I have no idea why.

    LibreOffice Writer- no problem. And I can't see anything visible in it when Writer opens them that WORD shouldn't be able to cope with, nor any missing content, format or anything..

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: One more "WORD" on this

      Open in LibreOffice Writer (as you did), insert a single space and remove it again (not <Ctrl>Z) to make a change and save it again as a Word document. It will be smaller in size and Word will be able to open it without problems. As to why? Because Microsoft.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: One more "WORD" on this

        It turns out that it's a security setting. Not a bad thing, if it had actually said that instead of a vague message about memory or space or whatever.

        Attachments opened from the internet won't open in WORD until you right click, go into properties and unblock them. Something a normal user would have no clue about. Or the doc can be downloaded into an authorised folder.

        Any non-techie would be stuffed.

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: One more "WORD" on this

          Thanks for the info, I think I'll stick to LibreOffice.

    2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: One more "WORD" on this

      More than once I've rescued a trashed Word file with OO, LO or Abiword.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Waaaaaaay back in the late 1970s or early 1980s the company for whom I worked decided to go hi tech. An AlphaMicro mainframe and a host of serial port connected green screen terminals appeared. The "training" was more or less how to turn on the monitor on.

    Next to nothing about the crude word processor or the spreadsheet. It was more or less here's the terminal, get on with it.

    I know for sure that at least one of the sales guys was writing documents a line at a time using the spreadsheet.

    Didn't he Craig?

    1. Andy A

      At one place I visited the whole office did their word processing in Excel.

      Well, they were all beancounters.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My boss sent me to do a technical review of a customer's in-house IT problem as external consultancy - not a problem with our kit. The customer IT manager rejected my report - as it didn't support his desired political slant. So he rewrote it. I told my boss that was the last time I was going to do such work.

    A talented colleague was head-hunted for a prestigious IT consultancy. His first report for high-ups in a client company was firstly reviewed by his new boss. He was shown an essential lesson about consultancy for higher executives. Do not include any target actions that the client cannot deny later - keep it woolly.

  19. js.lanshark

    Which official dictionary again?

    So there I am, writing a proposal for the Colonel, (me, a lowly but important LAN Admin in the Wing). I send it along, only to have myself called to the Colonels office. I arrive promptly, and just as promptly am accosted by a mere Captain (Air force, so O-3). He informs me that my document is in a nonstandard format. I ask why and am informed that a word is misspelled. All documents that go before the Colonel must be perfect. I ask which word, he tells me and I return to my office, pondering my mistake. I head to the base office supply point and enquire about a dictionary. I am handed the "Official Comprehensive Edition Dictionary, used Air Force wide". Right.

    I trundle back to the office, and lo and behold, I used the spelling in the "Official Comprehensive Edition Dictionary, used Air Force wide". Besides, it is the only one Supply has or ever will have in stock. Back to the Captain.

    He in not a few less than complimentary terms tells me that if I can't get the spelling right, I'll never get through to the Colonel. I point out to him the "Official... You get the idea). He then picks up HIS dictionary (Collegiate Edition) and tells me that as far as he is concerned, THIS edition is the Official Dictionary. I point out that Base Supply does not stock that and will not stock that.

    No matter, Base Supply is wrong. He has the standard, and all will bow before him (er, his standard). So, I change it. No dramatic end, just jousting the everyday fools one finds oneself with.

  20. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    I have some code that has happily exported its reports as lightweight RTF for almost two decades. Perfectly fine. Then Office2010 comes along, and the page length is subtly changed so every column gets offset by an extra line. Grrrr.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good story, Dabbsie

    By the way, I apparently worked 2 times for the dude you're talking of. Every aspect checks.

    That is also the reason of my OCD people phobia !

    "The right version of WORD". ROFL.

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