The Seven Lively Sins

Quick quiz – can you name the seven deadly sins? And no, Dopey and Grumpy do not count.

The seven deadly sins are:

  • wrath
  • greed
  • gluttony
  • pride
  • lust
  • envy

and (my personal favourite)

  • sloth

I would have loved to have been on the committee that chose these sins above all others. (“If you vote for lust, I’ll give you pride and sloth.”) In any case, the final list is as good as any, and remains quite popular, as popular as the sins themselves, unfortunately.

An easy way to remember these sins is to use a “leggs password”. Taking the first letter of each sin and rearranging them, we get LEGGSPW – or “LEGGS PassWord”. Be sure to write that down.

The seven sins, one for each day of the week, were well-documented in the 1995 film, Se7en. It is one of the darkest films I’ve seen, both literally and figuratively. We enter a nightmare world in which an insane serial killer with a God complex murders his victims according to the seven deadly sins. The twist ending is so disturbing that to this day, I still shudder whenever I see a courier truck. (Those of you who’ve experienced this film will know what I mean.)

On a lighter note, they say when life gives you lemons, to make lemonade. Since I’m not a preacher, I won’t attempt to dissuade you from carrying these sins into the world of tech comm. Playing “devil’s advocate”, these sins, if implemented constructively, can actually make you a better communicator. Rather than being deadly sins, they can be quite lively.

Let’s start the sinning…

The greatest quote about greed is in the film Wall Street, when the ruthless mogul Gordon Gekko makes the following statement: 

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.

“Greed for knowledge” – amen to that. Greed for knowledge, information, clarity, consistency and simplicity. If you’re not greedy for these things in your work, it will burn in the hell-fire of bad documentation, and that’s a real sin.

We should all take pride in our work, but not be boastful. We have to humbly and sincerely recognize we technical communicators are just like everyone else – only better. For what other species of humanity is as sensitive to words and meaning as we are? We are the patron saints of clarity, simplicity and functionality.

I admit I’m a glutton – not for food, but for information. I devour newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, websites, signs, posters, and even junk mail. I stuff my mind with it until it’s bursting. It’s alot to digest, but there are lessons to be learned (and great ideas to be stolen) from all of it.

When you see a beautifully designed quick start guide, a well-organized manual, a perfectly arranged help system, a clear and simple procedure, this should turn you on. If it doesn’t, there’s a malfunction in your informational libido, your user manual mojo, and you must see a Doc doctor immediately.

Sloth is such a destructive sin that there’s really no way it can be useful in communication. Its only value is recognizing it in others. Non-writers and lazy writers who produce bad documents are “slothful”. They should anger us into action, empowering us to clean up their messes when called on to do so.

Users can also be slothful, but since they are paying our salaries, we have to be more forgiving. Design your documents so that even the laziest user can get the information they need, quickly, easily, and with minimal effort. They should be able to fly through your document as they lie on their couch, doughnut in one hand and TV remote in the other.

Envy is the honest way of stating you have a desire for change. To be a great communicator, read the works of great communicators, and ideally meet them. But don’t just admire them – envy them. Then become the type of communicator that others will envy.

It’s easy to pour our wrath onto those who think they can write but cannot; on engineers who create error messages such as Error 43 – Big. You have failed.; on marketers who use strange words and phrases like actualize, customer-centric and out-of-the-box thinking; on reviewers who mark up a 400 page draft with just two words: Needs work.

How simple life would be if we could just release our fury onto these people. However, living in a somewhat civil society, we are precluded from most acts of violence. Instead, let us direct our fury, our anger, our wrath towards the documents themselves. Documents are so much easier to change than people.

So let us take these broken and bruised clumps of information, and with all our might and energy, reshape them into clear and meaningful documents.

Let there be no mercy, as we unleash in full force our technical, communicative, organizational and design skills onto our work.

Let us be…wrath.

And may God have mercy upon the soul of the document that we are about to remake in our image.