Dealing with a developer who wants to edit your grammar

August 24, 2010

I cannot take credit for this (and I’ve never used this technique), but I’ve kept it for many years and it’s time to recycle it to a new audience.

[Many thanks to Jeff L on the STC Lone Writers Special Interest Group email discussion list for posting his response to a developer some years ago. Names have been changed.]

I work with a developer who enjoys the belief that he is God’s gift to clear technical writing.  In our open cube environment, he sits right next to the Development Manager.

The other day, after reviewing his comments and deciding that I could no longer use them, I grabbed a chair, walked over to his desk, and sat down.

Smiling, I said, “Hey, John, how’s it going? Great, good, good! Say, listen, I wondered if you’d let me take a look at some of the most recent code you’re working on.”

Mildly baffled, he pulled up his latest project. I began to correct the project (“Don’t you think this should be pulled into a subroutine?” “I’m really surprised that you haven’t used a global variable.”)

Needless to say, since many of my comments *sounded* OK, but were totally lame, he began to get a little ticked off.

Finally, he stopped me and said, “Bill, what exactly do you think you’re doing?” (Yes!! My opening!)

“John, you’re always kind enough to use your skills and background to help me manage technical content, and to help me with organization, syntax and style.  I thought I would repay the favor and help you with your own work. Even though I’m not a professional programmer, I know I have a good feel for the way that programming should work and for the way that programming syntax should appear on the page, so I felt sure I could help you, just as you’ve been helping me.”

There was a moment of silence, then I heard somebody repressing a chuckle — it was Dave, our Dev Manager.

John hasn’t bugged me with unwanted content edits since that time.


  1. Excellent advice.

  2. Touche!

    Fortunately for me, I work in a country (Israel) where English is not the mother tongue of most developers (usually its Hebrew or Russian), so I rarely get “suggestions” from developers on language and grammar usage.

    One of the pros of being a native English speaker “overseas”. :)

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