16 October 2006

On "write-only" documents

I can't reference this, but I know thousands of people who can (994,000 according to Google)! I think I picked up the idea (even the "meme", dodgy though that concept is) from either;
  • Pratchett T (2006) Thud! London; Corgi Books, or
  • Pratchett T, Stewart I and Cohen J (2003) The Science of Discworld II; the Globe London; Ebury Press
I did think of reading them both again in order to track down the reference, which would have been fun, but a little self-indulgent; I decided to leave it to you to find it! The search will be great and illuminating fun. Go on--read Pratchett, and blame me!

Substantively, you are familiar with "read-only" documents, such as Acrobat files. This brilliant idea is that there is a class of documents which "need" to be written, but which will never be read.

I am currently engaged in the stupefying exercise of "mapping" some standards onto something else. The content does not matter, because the result will be a "write-only" document. Some bureaucrat somewhere will check whether the document exists, tick a box, and move on to the next item. S/he will certainly not read the document.

I know that is the case--I may have blogged this before, but it's worth a repeat! A couple of years ago, a module with the following "learning outcome" went through our entire quality assurance procedure unchallenged;
  • On completion of this module, students will: Be able to discourse animatedly on the positions of several educational thinkers so as to bore the pants off acquaintances at parties.
Nowhere in the documentation is it specified what criteria determine what constitutes "bor(ing) the pants off acquaintances" That is clearly unacceptable, but no-one raised the matter.

So--it is just possible that several thousand pounds were spent on the production of "write-only" documents, whose sheer existence counts for much more than their content.

Draw your own conclusions.


At 10:05 AM , Blogger Jonathan said...

Someone reminded me the other day that at the interview for my current post I was asked which journals I would seek to be published in.
At this point, every journal title vanished from my head so I did what you should never do in an interview: told the truth.

"I probably wouldn't" I said. "I don't see the point in writing things that will only be read by three people".

I got the job!


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