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Linda’s Lessons: When is Good Enough Good Enough?

150 150 Linda Oestreich

We often hear that something is “good enough.” I used to consider that phrase derogatory. In fact, working as often as I have within the government, I have always hated the phrase, “good enough for government work.” As a proud professional, I like to think that my work is error-free. I know most writing and editing rules and I try to follow them, yet sometimes, mistakes happen! As a new technical communicator, I had little flex about what was right and what was wrong. Back then, I had the luxury of working in a job where my talents were appreciated and the company didn’t focus on next quarter’s share prices. Combine that environment with my brand-new, college-degreed book-learning, and my only choice was to strive for perfection.

Fast forward. Today, after many years of being a technical editor, doc manager, and project manager at a for-profit company, I learned that striving for perfection is foolish. Perfection costs more than it’s worth and it’s unattainable.

One of the classes I teach is in basic technical editing techniques. My students edit various documents and, of course, not one of them can exactly reproduce in their exercises what I provide in the answer key. Why? Because writing and editing are not exact sciences. I tell my students that their primary objectives are to fix errors and avoid making new ones. If they can do that, they succeed. Sure, some students edit “better” than others do. Their sentences are shorter; their words more concrete. Their final versions better meet the needs of the audience and purpose. Yet, as long as a student follows those primary objectives, I’m happy.

What I have found is that, in the real world, a good document is whatever you can produce with the time and resources you have. A good procedure follows adopted standards and styles and meets audience needs. A good essay provides a clear message. And, no matter what it is that you’ve written or edited, no matter how hard you worked on it, someone can always improve it. I have learned that my job is to provide good communication, not perfect communication—communication that meets the needs of the purpose and audience.

In today’s fast-paced world, it makes sense to sometimes bend rules and write for the good of your audience while still enhancing your company’s bottom line. When you’re on a deadline, it’s costly to take valuable time to fix something your audience won’t notice. Good enough is good enough when you meet that deadline while knowing that you’ve done the best you could with the time and resources you had.

Live with it. Be proud of it. Learn from it.

Linda Oestreich (AKA “Linda O”) is a senior business analyst and technical communicator for The Marlin Alliance and a techcomm instructor for UCSD-Extension. She is a long-time and passionate advocate of STC, its mission, and its members. Linda lives in the San Diego area, close to her daughter Connie, with two four-legged roommates—Blaze, a big, goofy lab/golden retriever, and Charley, a petite, tuxedo kitty.

  • Hi Linda,
    Great article! I had a client a few years ago who INSISTED we could write perfect reports including huge field studies (hundreds of pages). I tried to explain that the larger the doc, the smaller the possibility of perfection, not to mention the diminishing returns of time and money spent fixing things the customer would never ever notice. He thought I was crazy…

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