Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, appeared to have won a major victory by being allowed to participate in the debates for the 2008 federal election. Technical writers are, above all else, a practical tribe, so let’s analyze this from a practical perspective, shall we?
Ms. May was allowed into the debates. Did everyone actually watch the debates? No.
But let’s say everyone did watch the debates. Would this have necessarily influenced their vote? No.
But let’s say it did influence a few votes. With our first-past-the-post voting system, even a major increase in the number votes would not necessarily lead to more seats.
But let’s say it did actually lead to more seats. Would it necessarily mean many more seats, to the point where they would actually wield any power? Probably not.
But let’s say it did lead to enough seats to actually influence the government. Is there any reason to believe that changes enacted would have a real, practical effect on our daily lives? Again, probably not. In fact, how you manage your career has far greater impact on your wealth and happiness than the act of inscribing an ‘X’ on a small piece of paper and inserting this into a cardboard box.
Now let’s go back to the original issue: whether May should have been allowed in the debates. We’re talking about something that probably had no effect on something that will probably have no effect on something that will probably have no effect on something will probably have no effect. In other words, this is an issue where people reacted disproportionately to the importance of the issue.
You may kill yourself trying to write a description of a field in a dialog box, a dialog box that is rarely used, in an application that no longer sells, for a user guide that no one may be reading. Ask yourself – is it worth the effort? Perhaps you should be focusing on improving the documents that people are actually using.