Letter to St.Nick

I don’t usually want a lot of presents for Christmas. Now that I’ve been a tech writer for a good few months, though, I have come up with more of a list than usual. I really hope to see some of these under the tree this year.

First, I’d like an organization that exempts me from meetings. I’m a technical writer, and my job is to write, technically, about the business practices and procedures that the organization uses. So really, I don’t need to have any input into policies or processes. I’m not a dumb person, so I do have some opinions, but the entire point of my job is to be an observer and documenter, and these planning meetings are not contributing to that. If I had been hired to document the way that meetings developed ideas, that would be fine…but I wasn’t. I do need to dedicate a certain amount of time to doing the actual writing, after all, and every hour I’m in a meeting is an hour I’m not producing a word. So I’d like a get-out-of-meetings free card under the tree.

Second, I’d like an amazing technical writing tool. It doesn’t need too many features; in fact, I’d prefer if it didn’t. I don’t really need inline hyphenation management, thanks, but I’d be happy to have a spell-checker, if it were about twice as good as the best modern spell-checkers. I want the checker to be programmable, so that I can easily put in the oddities of my organization’s style sheet. I want it to be thoughtful, so that when I type “HAS” for the tenth time I can be brought into a discussion about whether I have a problem with my caps lock, or whether there might just be an acronym for Highest Average Salary in use. I want it to have some basic understanding of sentence structure, too, because it should know I didn’t mean to say three types off document.  If it can’t do those things, I’ll just turn it off, in which case a nice authoritative paper dictionary will be fine. I like the blue ones.

And I don’t really want a grammar checker, but thanks for asking. I’ve never known a grammar checker to be anywhere near good enough to handle the details of real writing. And I don’t expect one to be useful for quite a few years. I would be happy, though, if my Yule writing tool included a built-in, easy-to-use language reference. I have a personal mental block with which and that,  and I need to check my references every time.

What else? Well, smart content management would be great. My writing for this contract is very modular, and I’d really like a tool that keeps track of each version of each module as I change it. When I’m done, the writing can be integrated into a website or a very, very long text file, or whatever…but while I’m working, I want my modules to remain separate, and carefully tracked. I really shouldn’t have to do that myself. It’s a simple computing problem, and I’d like it to be solved by Christmas.

And while I’m on the topic of computing, I’d really like to work with an understanding IT department. It’s pretty easy to be negative about IT people, and I want to say, in the spirit of the season, that it’s not always their fault. They’re in much the same position as librarians, who know that every time somebody uses a book, its lifespan diminishes a little bit. In a sense, the perfect library is one where nobody ever takes the books off the shelves. And in a similar sense, the perfect computer user is one that doesn’t try to do anything difficult with his computer. I recently asked the IT department if I could install a “stickies” application on my computer. You know, a little yellow post-it note that sits up above my windows and lets me store little snippets of text, like super-long URLs or odd phrases that I need to look up. Or the words which and that.  Anyhow, the IT department said that I couldn’t. And they wouldn’t: there’s an upgrade coming in six to eight months, and the upgrade would have stickies built in, so I would have to wait. I didn’t find that very Christmassy, to be honest. I felt as though I was being wagged by the tail. So I’d like to open up some wrapping paper to find an IT department that knows it’s around to make my life easier.

I have a Tech Writer’s stocking, too, for little things, and this Christmas it would be nice to find it full of little things for me. I’d like good headphones. I spend a lot of time mashing my handwritten notes together with the emails of SMEs and the legacy text. It really helps a lot to block out the outside world for a couple of hours. I want a good keyboard, a comfy chair, and a nice water bottle with a sippy straw.

And if I could have all of those things, St. Nick, I think I would call it the Best Christmas Ever…technically.

Fraser Hannah is a lifelong devotee of the English language and has lived on both coasts of Canada but never in between. He reads, writes, and raises two young girls in Victoria, British Columbia, and believes fervently in the consistent use of the serial comma. He can be surfed at About.Me</a

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