I just stumbled across three old papers of mine on the intarwebs. It was a pleasure to see them, until I actually read them. I wrote these papers when I was a government contractor working on a trail-blazing project for the Department of Energy. Truly. No one had ever done what our group was doing. Of that I am extremely proud. For one, brief, shining moment I was known as the queen of standards identification. That was pretty darn cool. But then my boss and I had a falling out, there was a re-organization, and when the dust settled I found myself reporting to Sir Lancelot. When he was taken from us abruptly, I took a voluntary lay-off and started my life as a freelance writer and have never regretted it. For one thing, my writing got a heck of a lot better. Judge for yourself.
Here are the papers:
- Standards/requirements identification documents (S/RIDS)
- Identifying environmental safety and health requirements for the Fernald Environmental Restoration Management Corporation
- Identifying environmental safety and health requirements for an Environmental Restoration Management Contractor
(If you worked for the Department of Energy during this Golden Era, you can find other papers at the Information Bridge of the Office of Scientific and Technical Information.)
What did I learn when writing these papers and in looking at them now?
- I learned that you can’t always list the authors in order of who really contributed the most, nor can you even list them alphabetically. It’s political. I won’t break any confidences, but there is at least one person named on one of these papers who never added a word and I’ll bet he’s never even read the paper.
- I learned that sometimes “political correctness” can almost get in the way of the truth. In one of the papers I had referred to all the experts working for me as “he.” The conference editor kept insisting that I should say “he or she.” I kept telling her that this was a report of an actual event and that all the experts had been men. (Yes, there was a problem with that, but it wasn’t with the paper; it was in the hiring, but that’s not the editor’s bailiwick.) Finally in a phone call I said to her very slowly, “There were no women. They were all ‘hes.'” She said that well, OK, she would let me say, “he.” I decided it would be inappropriate to say, “That’s real white of you.” I didn’t think she’d understand sarcasm.
- I learned that even though I was a good writer back then that I had lots of room for improvement. I look at the writing now and shudder. And I was trying to avoid passive voice!
- I can’t remember if the problems with the hyphens instead of “em” dashes were my mistakes or theirs, but they sure stand out. Ditto for the two spaces after a period. These papers look very old to me. They might as well have been written in 1894!
- I’m shocked to find out that I used “Additionally” to start a sentence. I would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that I have never done that in my life.
- I also learned on one paper in particular that I could write while on maternity leave. Should I have been working while on maternity leave? Uh, no. For more info on that I refer you to the opening paragraph.