A helping hand

A couple of years ago, one of my colleagues was hired by a research agency to help add a bit of clarity and style to their reports.

‘I want our reports to be reports that our clients really want to read,’ the MD said.  ‘Every section.  Every sentence.  Every last word.’

The plan was for each research director to write his or her report as usual and then, once they were happy with the content, they were to send the report to my colleague for a vigorous polish.  My colleague was to be given two clear days for each report.  And the whole process was to be coordinated by an enthusiastic young woman who was the agency’s in-house publisher.

The first report sent for polishing was, my colleague says, gook of the very gobbledy-est kind.  And, to make matters worse, he had only a day to turn it around.  But he did his best.

A couple of days later he called the MD.  Had he seen the report?

Yes he had.

And was he happy with the result?

After a long pause, the MD acknowledged that the structure was definitely an improvement.  But the language still seemed, well, rather stilted.  Also, he was surprised and disappointed by the number of typos.

My colleague, too, was surprised.  He thought he’d done a pretty good job – especially considering the limited time.  So he asked the MD if he would mind highlighting the bits that concerned him.  ‘It’ll help us next time,’ my colleague said.

When the MD’s file arrived, my colleague was perplexed to say the least.  There were indeed typos.  There were also misspellings.  And, in places, there were some very strange sentence structures.  Little wonder the MD had not been happy with the result.

After much thought, my colleague decided there could be only one explanation.  He called the in-house publisher and asked her if the original author had perhaps made a few last-minute amendments.

No, she said, the research director in question had left for a conference in Amsterdam.  He hadn’t even seen the polished version.

Then was it possible that someone else had made some last-minute changes?

No, she assured him.  No one had made any last-minute changes.  The finished report was just as she had received it.  ‘Although I did have to fix some of your grammar and spelling,’ she added.

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