When I first got my new job, my boss, Steve, asked me to write a one-page report for the executive manager.
“Be sure to send the report directly to me,” Steve said.
“You don’t want me to send it to the executive manager?” I asked.
“I don’t. I want to check it before he sees it.”
“I’m a fairly good writer,” I said. “I got As in high-school English, and I run spell check on all my correspondence before sending it out.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Steve said. “It’s that I want to review the report’s content prior to the executive manager reading it.”
“Are you afraid I’m going to say something offensive?” I asked.
“I just have to review it before he sees it. Employees are not permitted to e-mail the executive manager directly. Only managers can e-mail the executive manager.”
“So I have to write the report and send it to you so you can send it to him?” I asked.
“That’s correct. Write the report and send it to me so I can review it and send it on to the executive manager.”
“Oh.” I looked at my desk, frowning.
Steve glared. “Something wrong, Colane?”
“It just seems like a lot of unnecessary steps. My report-writing skills are sound. I’m not sure why I have to send the report to you before I can send it to the executive manager.”
“You can’t send it to the executive manager, period!” Steve said. “Only I as the manager can send reports to the executive manager. I just explained that all in exhaustive detail.”
“Oh,” I said. “Right. I forgot.”
“Plus, I need to review the content to ensure it meets company standards.”
“My writing meets the standards of the Associated Press Stylebook,” I said. “See, I used to be in newspapers, so I use the AP Stylebook as my guide. I even abbreviate my states correctly. You’re not supposed to use postal abbreviations, according to AP Style.”
“This isn’t a newspaper, Colane!” Steve said. “We have our own set of standards here. And in this company, postal abbreviations are just fine with us. You got it?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “If the opportunity presents itself, I’ll use postal abbreviations in my prose.”
“You’re damn right you will. And I’ll see to it that you do, because I’ll be reviewing your report prior to sending it to the executive manager. If I see even one AP Stylebook abbreviation, I’ll haul you into my office and chew your hide so bad that you won’t be able to sit down.”
“Can I make a suggestion, sir?” I asked.
Steve glared. “We are not going to adopt the AP Stylebook as a company guide.”
“I wasn’t going to suggest that. What I wanted to suggest was a change in procedure.”
Steve raised his eyebrows. “A change in procedure?”
“Yes, sir. Instead of me writing the report and sending it to you to send to the executive manager, how about I send the report to him and copy you?” I asked. “See, that way, you wouldn’t have to be the middleman. It would save you the hassle of forwarding an e-mail.”
Steve sighed. “OK, Colane. I’ll level with you. Is it OK if I level with you?”
“By all means,” I said. “Please level.”
“Here’s the thing,” Steve said. “I need to be able to take credit for the report. That’s why I want you to send it to me directly, and not to the executive manager.”
I tilted my head. “So you want to take credit for my report?”
“Exactly. I need you to write the report, and then I’ll send it on to the executive manager.”
“So you can take credit for it?”
“Well,” Steve said, “I’ll review the report first, and then I’ll send it on and take credit for it.”
“Oh,” I said.
“So it’s not like I’m doing nothing,” he said. “I’m doing something. By reviewing your report and passing it on, I’m making sure that I’m earning my paycheck. Does that make sense?”
I frowned. “Um. I guess so.”
“Good. I knew you’d catch on fast.” Steve turned. “Now get to work on that report, Colane. I’ll expect it on my desk in an hour.”
“Can’t I just e-mail it to you?” I asked, as Steve walked away.
He turned. “Sorry?”
“Can’t I just e-mail you the report?” I asked. “Instead of, you know, printing it and putting a copy on your desk?”
“Of course,” Steve said. “That’s what I meant.”
“But you said you wanted it on your desk.”
“I did, yes. In an hour.”
I frowned. “But you just said I could e-mail it?”
“They’re synonymous,” Steve said. “When I say that I expect something on my desk, I’m using it as a figure of speech. I don’t actually expect you to print out a document, walk it to my office, and set it atop my desk. That would be unnecessary, plus it would waste valuable company resources. Do you know how much a ream of paper costs these days, Colane?”
“I don’t, sir.”
“Well, I’m sure it’s very expensive. And we can’t have you printing reports when you could just send them electronically, can we?”
“Precisely. This company is proud to be an environmentally conscious member of the 21st century. We don’t use paper around here when e-mail will do. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Besides,” Steve continued, “how am I supposed to e-mail your report to the executive manager if you give me a printed copy? That simply wouldn’t do. That’s why I need you to e-mail it. I’d like to copy and paste your words in a new e-mail from me to the executive manager. That way, you’re omitted entirely from the paper trail. Make sense?”
“I, ah …” I stammered.
“Good,” Steve said. “I’m glad we had this discussion, Colane. Now be sure to have that report on my desk in an hour.”
So I spent the next hour writing the report. Before sending it, I ran spell check and made sure there were no split-infinitives. I even caught myself using an AP Stylebook abbreviation for “California,” so I quickly changed it from “Calif.” to “CA.”
Then I edited the report for structure, omitting all needless words and tightening whenever possible. I made sure that everything was written with the active voice and that all tenses remained consistent throughout.
“How’s that report coming, Colane?” Steve asked, as he approached my desk, putting on his coat.
“Almost done, sir.”
“Good. I’m stepping out for a quick bite, but I’ll review your report upon my return.”
“When do you plan on being back?” I asked.
He checked his watch. “In about an hour.”
I looked at him, blinking.
He glared. “Yes?”
“So … you said an hour ago that you needed my report in an hour … and now you’re leaving for an hour?”
“Can I get you something while I’m out?” Steve asked.
“I, ah … no. No thank you.”
“Very well.” Steve walked away. “Looking forward to the report, Colane. I expect to have it on my desk when I return. I’ll have only five minutes to review it prior to sending it on to the executive manager, so it needs to be in tip-top shape. Understand?”
“Understand,” I said.
“Good.” He buttoned his coat. “I think you’re going to fit in well here, Colane.”
When he left, I skimmed the report one more time to make sure everything sounded right.
Then I printed a copy and set it on Steve’s desk.