Death by Formatting

It’s closing in on the end of this module of the MBA, which means that it’s time for group projects to start amalgamating individuals’ contributions into final documents suitable for markup with red ink. On the one hand, I love the process of putting something together, smoothing out the “voice” of the document and creating something that not only sounds professional, but also looks professional. On the other hand, I hate dealing with writing by people who choose to torture the rules of grammar and formatting for their own sick pleasure.

First offender: the “two spaces” format. You know the format: two spaces after a period. Two! ARRRRRRRRRRRRGH! I know, I know, we all learned to write papers on typewriters, and so it was acceptable at the time, what with the lack of variable-width fonts. But come on people! Computer word-processing has been around for ages! Fixed-width fonts are out, hence there is no need to blow the finite number of keypresses left in your wrists on an extra unnecessary character. Don’t believe me? Then here: check out what the Chicago Manual of Style says on the subject.

Second offender: custom styles applied on-the-fly. I think some people spend literally hours deciding the format they want to use for a heading. Italic? Bold? Fourteen-point underlined Century Gothic? Here’s a hint: choose the preset styles from Word’s dropdown Style menu (“Heading 1”, “Heading 2”, etc.) – if you want to change it later, fine, at least it’ll be easy to apply the change to the whole paper. Stop your procrastination, your formatting masturbation, and get back to writing some, uh, whaddayacallit? Oh, that’s right: content.

And the list goes on: fictitious words (“irregardless”, I’m looking at you!), paragraphs that span several pages, changes in tense, et cetera, et cetera.

Of course, being married to a copywriter has a tendency to oversensitize one to poor English usage, spelling and grammar. Then again, I’m an engineer – if the stereotypes are to be believed, I’m expected to have poor written communication skills! So why is it that everyone else’s writing seems worse than mine?

Tired of Helping

Last week, I returned to school for the final semester of my MBA. Not one hour into the new semester, I received a deluge of email from people I hadn’t talked to all summer (or rather, hadn’t talked to me all summer) – all of them seeking technical assistance of one type or another. I like to help, but this is ridiculous.

Throughout this program, I’ve spent a lot of my personal time helping people with their computers. I understand computers are hard for a lot of people, so I try to help them when I can. Unfortunately, people started taking this for granted. I provided help with viruses. I provided help with using software and the network. I gave away software people needed to get their work done. When people called after 11:00pm and I was already in bed, I still got up and helped them. One time, I gave almost the entire class a piece of software required to create PDFs because some professor decided that PDFs were the only format he’d accept for electronic submissions. I wasn’t even in the class. Afterwards, about six people (out of 90 who downloaded the software) thanked me.

I’m getting tired of being people’s backup plan, their excuse not to figure things out for themselves. I’m tired of people’s inability to plan, learn, or read instructions. Professors seem to encourage this behaviour as well: Don’t have the assignment done, despite the fact that it was assigned five weeks ago? No problem! They’ll just extend the deadline a week, thereby screwing anyone who bothered to plan ahead and get the paper done in time! Yeah, that kind of lesson will really serve these MBAs well once they get out in the real world.

This kind of thing is wearing me down not just in school, but everywhere. It’s beginning to feel like my ability to get organized, plan, and think ahead are liabilities. It seems at every turn I get punished for being better. Take the MBA Bursary fiasco, for example: Part of my $28K tuition went to paying for bursaries so a bunch of people who didn’t get their finances in order before entering the MBA could have it a little easier. Didn’t bother to figure out what you wanted to do in life? No problem! We’ll just ask people like Brendon who bothered to get their lives in order to do more, or pay more to make up for your lack of planning!

Let me be clear: I want to help. I’m ready to help anyone who’s down on their luck, has tried everything and is in genuine need. But I don’t want to be exploited.