They were every technical writer’s holy grail: the perfect instructions.
In October 2018, Ernest Fribjer, a technical writer at Techcomm-R-Us in Dayton, Ohio, received an assignment to write instructions for updating CRM records in SalesForce. A few weeks later, without warning, a series of screams emanated from Fribjer’s cubicle.
“Woo-hoo! I did it! I did it!” Then, gales of maniacal laughter, followed by a thud.
Other Techcomm-R-Us writers raced to the scene. They found Fribjer slumped over his desk, a blissful smile on his face.
As one colleague started CPR, the other glanced at the computer monitor alongside. “Eeee!” she screamed. “It’s perfect! Perfect!” Pirouetting into the narrow corridor, she stumbled and sprawled onto the floor.
The Dayton medical examiner later found that both writers had died from unalloyed happiness. The perfect instructions had claimed their first victims.
Fribjer’s perfect instructions:
- Provided all the necessary background information
- Approached everything from the reader’s point of view
- Were up to date and accurate
- Included all relevant steps — without anything extra
- Contained only screenshots that were needed, cropped and clearly marked with callouts
After the cubicles at Techcomm-R-Us were cordoned off, authorities discussed what to do with the perfect, but lethal, instructions. It was agreed that an intern would sit blindfolded at Fribjer’s keyboard and hit any key, thus introducing a random typo to spoil the perfection.
But before the plan could be carried out, Charles Droofus, Techcomm-R-Us’s unscrupulous Director of Information Development, downloaded a copy of the instructions. Without looking at the contents, he emailed the file to three of his LinkedIn contacts at archrival TechWriting-Dot-Com, with the innocuous subject line Thought you’d like this.
Droofus now faces charges for 3 counts of murder and 3 counts of aggravated assault with deadly DITA.
During evidence gathering at the rival firm, a careless rookie cop hit Print with the email highlighted in Outlook. A paper copy of the perfect instructions lay unclaimed on a printer until a Marketing rep happened upon them. Having struggled all morning to update SalesForce, he took the instructions to his cubicle. Ten minutes later, he’d finished everything he’d wanted to do.
“I had no idea it was that easy,” he thought, as he tucked the instructions into his cheat-sheet binder and left for an early lunch.
Because, you see, only technical writers get giddy over well-written instructions. No one else notices unless they’re flawed.
Happy April Fool’s Day. Hat tip to Monty Python’s killer joke sketch.