As anyone who is following our website knows, we write for a great many other publications and organizations, including Route Fifty, the Government Finance Research Center, the Government Finance Review, the IBM Center for the Business of Government and more.
We’ve been privileged to have a fair amount of latitude in the topics we cover for these outlets, but we’d never get away with writing a piece that has the title this blog item does.
Truth is that every few days, in the course of our work, one of us complains to the other one about something annoying that has come up in dealing with states and localities or organizations that work with states and localities.
Our daughter, Sandy, sometimes jokingly uses the word “rant,” for a verbal tirade she’s about to launch about something. So, what follows is our rant about some of the issues that aren’t hugely important but are really bothersome.
We’re pretty sure we’re not alone in the world of researchers, analysts and reporters in our frustration with the following common nuisances. With that in mind, we hope readers will understand that we’d like it if some of what follows provides some insights that will help people get their messages across without frustrating the messengers.
1) With some frequency, we come across a wonderful looking report, which we think can help us understand a topic more thoroughly – and potentially be of use in a column or article we’re writing. But then we go in search of the date of publication, and it’s no place to be found. It’s important to us that the facts and figures we use are timely. We just don’t understand why people don’t put dates on things.
2) We send out so many e-mails that it could make your head spin. Frequently, they’re requests to people for information or for a telephone conversation. We understand that the people we’re contacting are generally very busy. We really do get that. But we can’t understand why so many folks don’t take thirty seconds to write back and say, “I got your e-mail, but I won’t be able to get back to you until Thursday (or Friday, or never).” That would help save us from bothering people by re-sending the same e-mail two or three times.
3) While we’re talking about e-mails, we wish that people understood that they’re not always the best means of communication. Many people write e-mails quickly, without a sense of subtlety. We’ve witnessed more than one misunderstanding (not necessarily involving us) that emanates from a terse e-mail that inadvertently leaves improper impressions. Our rule: If it’s taking too long to write an e-mail, because we need to make a subtle point, we pick up the phone.
4) Back to documents. When reports are sent to us in PDF format, we can’t manipulate the data, with any ease. PDFs may look prettier, but they’re somewhat less useful than other data-friendly forms.
5) In the old days, when we had most of our communications through good old-fashioned telephones, it wasn’t a big deal if someone was delayed and kept us waiting for ten or fifteen minutes. If anything, we could get lots done in those little nuggets of time. But now that so many conversations are being held on Zoom or some other visual platform, and the other party is late, we find ourselves sitting in front of a screen, staring at our own faces.
6) It would be great if people who are asking us for help (which we’re generally happy to give) spelled our names properly. This may seem petty. But we can’t help but assume that if someone can’t bother to know that Katherine is spelled that way, not “Catherine,” or “Kathryn,” perhaps they’re not sincerely interested in getting our help.
We’re also not altogether fond of having a note sent to us as “Dear Greene,” or “Dear Barrett”. We assume those names are used for us when the note is computer generated, which doesn’t make us excited about responding.
7) Like many others, we’ve grown increasingly dependent on websites in order to find the appropriate person to speak with about something. Frequently, we can find the name of a likely source. But how to reach them? On all too many sites there’s little or no contact information. No useful phone numbers are anyplace to be found. Sometimes there’s a general number, but those lead to menu upon menu upon menu, ultimately leading no place worthwhile. We’d settle for an e-mail address. But they, too, are often missing in action.