my employee keeps making meaningless edits to my work

A reader writes:

I am a new manager who is quite a bit younger than my employees. One employee has developed an annoying trait of “doctoring” all my documents that I send out. For example, if I write a policy and procedure for one of our tasks, he’ll go through and make minor changes — literally things like adding the word “the,” or changing “design team” to “Design Team.” Most recently, he edited an intake form I had created by putting in more spacing for a couple of the fields. After he edits these, he sends it to me and the rest of the team with a “Let me know if this is OK.”

I can’t say there’s anything inherently wrong with these minor tweaks, but it seems to me that he just wants to get the last word in. He expressed displeasure when I was chosen for this role, and my colleague seems to think he has also trouble reporting to me because of some sexist elements (I am female).

I don’t want to discourage my employees from pointing out things in my documents and spreadsheets that are incorrect, but these nit-picky things on everything seems like a power play. I don’t even know how to tell him “Quit making meaningless changes” without sounding petty. Any thoughts?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 249 comments… read them below }

  1. Curious*

    I had a co-worker who did this. She retired, but I could never figure out how to address this politely. I’m curious to see what others have to say.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      If the company or dept has a style guide, and dude’s Last Word edits were actually aligning to it, then that’d be one thing. If his were contradicting it, that’d be an easy way to squash his doing it. If there isn’t a style guide, it’s probably a good idea to have one – not specifically just to shut this down but because consistency in documents is pretty useful.

      1. Also-ADHD*

        Yeah the example of capitalizing the team name really had me wondering about this, but it’s hard for me to understand why that edit isn’t right or wrong (how it could be meaningless) when it’s the kind of thing considered essential in my work, even for internal communication documents. I work in a department that focuses on employee communication and training and there absolutely would be a right or wrong way to write that per a style guide. “The” would also be right or wrong to add grammatically. The spaces would be right or wrong functionality even. But OP didn’t seem to say he was wrong, so is he right?

        1. WheresMyPen*

          I imagine it’s because they’re documents for the internal team, rather than public facing. I work in print publishing and create certain documents and products that have to be grammatically correct, adhere to a style guide etc. But if I were creating a policy document or procedure guide for my team, it wouldn’t matter if I write ‘Jane sends newsletter to design team’ or ‘Jane sends the newsletter to the Design Team’.

    2. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      If it were me, I wouldn’t say anything to him, just lock the document with a password. I did this with an awful director once, knowing she’d never say anything about it.

      1. Bruce*

        I find password protected shared files to be a nuisance, but there are times I can see for the need… and this seems like a legitimate case!

  2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    As a career editor on a team of editors reporting to a Chief Content Officer, the script is the following, ideally presented during a joint team meeting: “Hi all, as we have taken the time to adjust to our new routines, I’ve come to appreciate your broad talents and initiatives. In an effort to better highlight your talents, I spent some time reviewing our policy and wanted to get everyone’s take on how we prioritize edits, and in getting some consensus on our style guide.” The last part is key as OP has no ground to stand on if their employee is making a document conform to an existing style guide. If one does not exist, the team needs it (and can easily adapt any existing one found online).

    Getting every employee to agree together and publicly on how to prioritize edits is going to also be vital, and will work because it will show how much time is wasted unnecessarily. This can look like, and designate who will be responsible for proofing what:

    Internal emails/documents: scan only, no edits needed unless global errors exist (anything that inhibits understanding). Provide examples of acceptable “failures” such as capitalization in IM’s/emails not necessary, etc.

    External emails, who proofs, and what level of checking/changes are required?

    Critical documents, how many checks, and to what degree?

    If OP’s employee persists in making too many small changes, bring it up at the one-on-one, “Harry, I appreciate your thoroughness, but in X and Y cases it is not necessary and I need you to focus on your main work. If something of course is completely confusing, feel free to edit!”

    Hope this helps!

  3. Katz*

    Those are not “nit-picky” nor “meaningless” corrections to your documents. They are, in fact, correcting your errors and omissions showing his thoroughness in reviewing the documents. That’s what proof-readers do. Thank him for his diligence in his reviews. If that offends you, either do better yourself or have someone you trust review your documentation first before sending it out to the team.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Without seeing the edits in context, we don’t know if they’re essential or even good edits. I’ve certainly seen people use a “the” where it doesn’t belong and capitalize things that aren’t normally capitalized!

      1. Misty_Meaner*

        Yeah, when I’m proofing, I REMOVE a LOT of “the” in front of words where it’s filler. I also remove “all of the” so that it’ll say “follow relevant guidance” instead of “follow all of the relevant guidance,” etc… So if he’s ADDING “the” just because he thinks it goes there, it might actually make it sound worse. But, if it’s say standard in their company to capitalize “Design Team” than the LW needs to remember that.

        1. TootsNYC*

          then again, that doesn’t sound like. a proper noun, just a descriptor. Some people get all “corporate-speak” about noun.

          1. Misty_Meaner*

            I… had trouble following your comment and what it’s referring to. I assume it was in reference to “Design Team” vs. “design team”? If you read my comment, I didn’t say it should or should not be capitalized. I said they should follow the company standard, so I’m not sure if you meant that to be directed at me/my comment or it got nested incorrectly.

        2. Octopus*

          In my field, tell clients to follow specifically all relevant guidance is important. If the “all” isn’t there, they won’t and then sue us over the lack of clear guidance….

          Yes, it’s infinitely ridiculous, but necessary. However, my Comms team wouldn’t know that, and so would also remove it. Make sure to communicate with all teams involved to understand why words are what they are.

          1. Misty_Meaner*

            Ugh. That sort of “filler” makes me crazy when I read it, but if ya gotta do it, ya gotta do it! It was the way I was taught (back in the stone age!) that “all of the” and “in order to” “basically” and other fillers are implied and to just lose them, so a lot of those types of constructions just hit my eye the wrong way. They aren’t necessarily incorrect, so much as … unnecessary (to me) I guess?

            1. Eukomos*

              “Basically” is a linguistic quirk but “in order to” is a pretty critical conjunction that English speakers happen to be able to (sometimes) pick up from context when you shorten it to “to”, and “all of the” has some situations where you need it and some where you don’t. I’d keep removing unnecessary adverbs, but you might want to back off on removing conjunctions when clarity is important!

              1. Misty_Meaner*

                I see no substantive difference between “I need you to fill out your time card in order to get paid,” and “I need you to fill out your time card to get paid.” Likewise, “Documents must be cleared from your desk at the end of the day,” has not meaningful difference from “ALL THE documents must be cleared from your desk at the end of the day.” If people need that level of distinction–that’s a problem in comprehension. The “in order to” or “all of the” is essentially meaningless in most (granted perhaps not ALL) instances. It’s like using “irregardless” for “regardless” or “utilize” for “use”. It’s just adding in unnecessary filler to “sound more academic/professional” whatever.

                1. Kathy*

                  right, it’s *usually* clear from context, but not always. I actually ran into a case of this earlier today. “I need X to do [thing]” vs “I need X in order to do [thing]” – the former could be the same as the latter, or it could mean I need X to be the one that does the thing.

      2. Heidi*

        Agreed. None of the examples given by the OP seems to be an unequivocal error to me. The amount of blank space you need to have in a form is going to vary a lot; there’s no right answer to that one.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          It’s also a weird amount of energy (both his own and others) to be spending on what sound like trivial edits. Unless I were a copyeditor who had missed it or something, I would be very annoyed if I were being CC’ed on tiny document changes like that.

      3. LaLa762*

        Right? It’s our style policy that titles aren’t capitalized.
        OP’s company may have policy at all.

      4. AnotherOne*

        yeah, my supervisor and I have very different styles of writing. so sometimes his edits of my writing clarify things and sometimes they’re just stylistic preferences.

        from this, it’s impossible to know.

    2. My Name is Mine*

      Did you read the question or Alison’s response?

      Why are you assuming that the guy is employed as a proof-reader ?
      Why are you assuming that these are documents that require a thorough proofreading?

      1. The Rural Juror*

        My initial reaction to the letter was that this doesn’t seem like a valuable use of time. I’m in agreement with you! If the LW doesn’t feel like it’s necessary, we should trust her that it’s not necessary.

      2. amoeba*

        Yup. In my field, absolutely nobody would care for internal documents (so, like, 99% of our documents). I would only maybe correct something unasked if it’s really, really wrong enough to stand out or if it makes the sentence hard to understand.

        When somebody asks me to proofread their article or whatever, I correct thoroughly, of course. But only if and when I’m asked.

      3. Paulina*

        Nitpicky edits are also distracting when the focus needs to be on substance. If the file is being circulated for information, then responding with a “polished” version is out of line; if it’s intended to get feedback in the form of edits, then drowning edits of substance in a chowder of polishes gets in the way of making the meaningful changes.

    3. Rosyglasses*

      Yeah – I was landing more on it being a proofing thing. I will often point out those types of errors to my boss especially if anything is company or client facing.

    4. Engineer*

      1) He is not being asked to proof read.
      2) Not everything needs to have Random Capital Letters or the extraneous the.
      3) You should really do better when telling other people to do better. I count 4 grammatical mistakes.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I’m the weirdo on my team who corrects typos in our code, but I only mention it in reviewing another’s code if the type is in the name of the file or function.

          Not everything needs to have perfect grammar (and the idea that a single unchanging perfect grammar exists is pretty problematic). Personally, I love the fact that English is dropping some of our weirdest irregular plurals like “bacterium/bacteria”; it will make English easier to learn.

          1. amoeba*

            We are doing… what? Like, “bacteriums”? That just sounds completely and utterly wrong… and since when is an -a plural something weird? It’s pretty standard for words with latin origin…

            1. Hlao-roo*

              It really depends on the word. I did a quick search, and the Latin plural of “gymnasium” is “gymnasia” but in English the plural is often “gymnasiums” (or the short form “gyms”). Conversely, in English the singular “agendum” is almost never used, and people happily use “agenda” to refer to the singular or the plural. I think criterion/criteria is similar, with most people using “criteria” to refer to both singular and plural. My guess is that bacterium/bacteria will follow the same path and “bacterium” will be the word to fall out of use in English.

              1. amoeba*

                The “criterium” example is interesting to me, because in German, “criteria” for the singular would be absolutely wrong, it’s criterium. (Well, Kriterium, really, because German spelling!) Same thing for “visa” – it’s a “Visum” in German and singular “visa” always throws me off.

      1. Antilles*

        4.) The intent of the documents really matters. The difference between “Design Team” and “design team” is extremely important in a legal contract with specific definitions; it’s totally irrelevant for an internal memo.
        5.) The context of him being mad at OP getting the job and the colleague thinking he’s got some sexism-related issues seems also relevant.
        6.) Using reply-all rather than sending it directly to OP comes across as a fairly passive-aggressive way of doing these edits.

        1. LNZ*

          it’s the last one that seals it for me. It really screams he doesn’t want to be helpful he wants people to see him correcting his manager.

          1. NeedRain*

            Too bad he doesn’t know that half of us (at least) are out here recognizing the power play instead of being ever so impressed.

        2. Sparkle Motion*

          Yes, the “reply all” presents his version as a fait accompli, and puts the onus on her to walk it back, which she may not want to do for various reasons. I would probably have an “in the future” conversation with him about providing any proposed edits to me only me, so I can determine which draft goes on to the team. Also, if it’s taking away from his assignments, I’d address that as well.

        3. ferrina*

          Exactly to all of this. I’ve worked in scenarios where it did matter, and in scenarios where it 100% did not matter.
          In the context of him being miffed at LW and the reply-all, and that LW didn’t include any info about the job including editing (which I assume would have been added as important context), it seems like he’s just trying to one-up in a weird way.

          Honestly, I’d be tempted to passive-aggressively start referring to him as the team copy-editor and having other team members send him documents to copy-edit. Quietly undermine his other skills, only promoting his copy-editing. “Why don’t you send it to Howard for a final look before you send it to the client? You know how he loves to copy-edit! I’ll make sure he has room on his schedule.”
          Give it a month or two for him to chill out.

      2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Not everything needs random capital letters, but proper nouns sure do. It all depends if “design team” was refering to the group of people who design things or the department.

    5. Critical Rolls*

      You really can’t know that without the context of the documents and the org. I’m going to assume the LW knows what she’s talking about, especially since he’s broadcasting his changes instead of directing them to her for review.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        This is the key bit: he’s not sending the corrections to the OP, he’s sending the corrections to the whole team, as a subtle challenge. “Let me know if this is OK” is very much in the line of asking for forgiveness rather than permission.

      2. MassMatt*

        The “reply all” part makes it clear that this is performative. He’s not just trying to get the last word, he’s putting himself in a position where he corrects his manager.

        1. A person*

          When we do group edits over email (which by the way I hate… just put the thing in a shared spot!). It is extremely common in my group to reply all if you make any edits at all so the whole group is working from the same version. Now LW knows more about this person so when they say it’s performing I believe them, but I have definitely worked in groups where this would be normal and fine.

          I do have some advice that’s worked for me before to avoid having too many edits out there that are just spelling/grammar corrections.

          1) when you send the document to the group ask them to just reply in the email with what changes they suggest and then you will incorporate all comments into one version for final review after all comments have weighed in. That gives the performer the chance to say their nitpicky things without having to deal with a whole new version.

          2) request only content input specifying that the doc isn’t ready for copy-editing yet so to refrain from commenting on grammar and style. Then once you have content where you want it you can either copy edit yourself, or send it to someone you trust to do it, or send it to your annoying nitpicker but not including whole group asking to check over for any spelling or grammar mistakes that might affect clarity.

          In either of these examples if he still sends silly edits to the whole group you can rest assured everyone else knows what he’s doing and is probably also annoyed and if you’ve called it out already you have grounds to address it with him more directly. Phrase it as “this type of detailed copy-editing at this stage in review detracts from content edits and need to be saved until final polish”. That way it’s not so much about you feeling nitpicked as what tangible effect the nitpicking has.

    6. Dust Bunny*

      Well, “design team/Design Team” may or may not be, depending on context. If it’s just ” . . . updates should be sent to the design team before . . . ” then it doesn’t necessarily need to be capitalized. If it’s ” . . . EmployerCo Design Team is in charge of . . . ” or whatever, where it’s an actual title/name, it does. The original post doesn’t tell us which of those it is, though.

      1. amoeba*

        Well, even in the latter example, I don’t think it really matters in an internal form/memo? At least in our company, it very much wouldn’t (and those kinds of documents would typically never be copy-edited anyway…)

      1. MassMatt*

        …and assume the subordinate is a copy editor! If he were, I would think the LW a would have pointed that out. He could be a llama groomer or teapot designer for all we know, and time spent on these “edits” taking away from core job duties.

    7. I edit everything*

      You can’t say that with any authority. Very often, a “the” is optional, and capitalization is a matter of judgment, especially with something like “design team,” which could be either a simple descriptive phrase or a proper name. Even in my editor groups, what seems to be a simple question about grammar or style will get hugely varying responses.

      It’s perfectly likely these changes were arbitrary and the original was not incorrect. As usual, we take the OP at their word.

      1. Another academic librarian*

        So you proof reader people, please help me understand this.
        When did “I went to the the prom with my cousin.” “become just “prom.”
        Or “My great great aunt was on the Titanic.” become just “Titanic”

        Who and when did it get decided that the “the’s” were extranious?

        1. Baron*

          The shift from “the prom” to “prom” is just generational, I think—“the prom” itself was, at one point, a bunch of youngsters not wanting to say “the promenade” anymore.

          “My great great aunt was on Titanic” strikes my ear as wrong and I’ve never heard anyone say anything quite like that.

          1. Chirpy*

            I’ve mostly only heard it in the context of “she went to hospital/ she went to the hospital”, which seems to be mostly a British vs American thing (and possibly regional?)

            (The other one is using Ukraine vs “the Ukraine”, which is a holdover from the difference in how Russian speaks about a country versus a region within a country-like you go to Switzerland (as it’s a country) but you go to “the Alps” (as they’re “just” mountains)…for a currently relevant example…)

              1. Chirpy*

                It’s been a faux pas for 30+ years (or more, for Ukrainians), but it’s one of those things that a lot of Americans didn’t think about why they were still saying it or where it came from, probably. Cold War era Soviet translations stuck.

                1. amoeba*

                  Which is indeed funny from a Swiss perspective, because here you very definitely say “to the Switzerland” (in die Schweiz), never ever “nach Schweiz” (to Switzerland)! We also say “to the USA” (in die USA), but “to France/Germany/whatever” (nach Frankreich…). Why? No idea.

                2. Critical Rolls*

                  @amoeba, “The U.S.” at least makes some sense as it’s abbreviating “the United States.”

                3. amoeba*

                  @Critical Rolls yeah, I’m sure that’s where it comes from, same for UK or UAE. We do use it for other countries as well though (like Ukraine, but then also Switzerland, so it doesn’t really follow any kind of logic there…)

                4. TeaCoziesRUs*

                  @amoeba – the official name is The United States of America. “The” U.S. makes sense. I would say the same thing about The Holy Roman Empire, or the United Kingdom. The U.S.S.R.? The. Maybe it’s that “the” in front of a multi-word country name makes more American English sense than dropping the “the”? France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Japan, Russia… no “the”. Those are single-word countries. New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and Papua New Guinea are the only multi-word countries I can think of right now in which “the” wouldn’t apply. And The goes in front of Netherlands, as that’s the country name in American English (potentially because it ends in S?). Also The ______ Kingdom / Empire / Republic works, as in that case the blank is an adjective?

                  Sorry, I’m probably making all editors wince right now…. please enjoy my awful grammar. :D

                5. amoeba*

                  @TeaCoziesRUs I believe for Switzerland it’s “die Schweiz” in German because Schweiz is in fact also a description for a type of landscape (so there are, in fact, multiple landscapes/regions with that name – only one country though!)
                  For the Netherlands, yeah, it’s basically a descriptive phrase as well, isn’t it? “The nether lands”.
                  I mean, I guess, you could also argue that makes it sound like it’s not a country but only a region, but then probably people don’t care, because unlike Ukraine, nobody’s really tried to invade us recently…

            1. Baron*

              Oh, “the hospital” is a good one. More U.S.-influenced Canadians tend to say “in the hospital” or “to the hospital”, but more British-influenced Canadians tend to say “in hospital” or “to hospital”. Honestly, if I were talking to someone and they said “in hospital/to hospital”, it would sound natural and I’d remember that some people phrase it that way, but if I saw “in hospital” in writing, I would just assume it was a typo.

            2. Annie*

              For me, when speaking English, it just sounds nicer to say the before a word that begins with that particular sound, like the UK or the US.
              Although in those contexts, it’s a bit different.

            3. Linguist*

              The other one is using Ukraine vs “the Ukraine”, which is a holdover from the difference in how Russian speaks about a country versus a region within a country-like you go to Switzerland (as it’s a country) but you go to “the Alps”

              There is no definite article (or indefinite article, for that matter) in Russian.

              There is an old rule about using the preposition “on” (“na”) with “Ukraine”; today you more often hear the preposition “in” (“v”). The former usage implies the area is a region, not a country.

              However, it is plain silly to say that definite articles never refer to countries. Is “The Netherlands” not a country? The Gambia? What about “el Peru” and “el Ecuador” in Spanish?

              1. Chirpy*

                Yeah, “the” is the English equivalent of v (in) or na (at) in Russian. (You’re in a country, but at the mountains, in Russian.)

                It’s a simplified version, since obviously English does use “the” in country names, but there’s still rules about how – you’d say “the United States” but not “the America”, for example.

            1. Manders*

              I just read a fictional account of someone on the Titanic, and it drove me slightly nuts that they did not include a “the” before Titanic or Olympic. But if you google “Titanic”, many of the articles also don’t include “the”. So… I don’t know about that.

              1. LNZ*

                i mean i have always been bothered by the fact that the grammar rule keeps the ‘the’ lowercase, so i also won’t too put out if that rule is getting phased out.

          2. delazeur*

            Interestingly, people in the maritime world always refer to boats and ships as [name], never the [name]. “The Titanic” sounds just as wrong to us as calling Fergus as “the Fergus.”

            1. amoeba*

              Huh, really? Granted, most of my knowledge comes from Star Trek, but there it very clearly always was “the Enterprise”… (and in German you definitely use the article. The female one – ships are female by definition!)

          3. Seashell*

            I think prom vs. the prom might be regional. I was in high school when the movie Pretty in Pink came out. I remember Molly Ringwald yelling “What about prom, Blaine?!!” and finding it odd, because we always said “the prom” in my school (in the northeast US).

        2. I edit everything*

          If a grammar pope existed, passing down decisions about how language should change, that would make my job a lot easier and a lot more frustrating, at the same time.

          Language changes in a natural flow of usage and preferences. I’ve never seen an instance like your Titanic example. If I saw that in something I was editing, I would add in a “the,” but there’s a lot more leeway than many people are comfortable with.

          1. LNZ*

            the titanic one isn’t a good example for their question because it’s a name. You always include a lowercase t ‘the’ before a ship’s name afaik.

        3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          There are languages that lack the indefinite (a/an/some) and definite (the) articles and the information is carried completely by context, so there’s going to be discretion in some of those.

          “She went to prom” works; there are many and it’s not a singular, specific event. (And if one uses “prom” to refer to a specific event, then it would require the definite article).
          “My aunt was on Titanic” just doesn’t; there was only one Titanic.

          LW, I’d advise your employee they’re burning their goodwill dying on a hill they need not defend.

        4. paxfelis*

          In your second example, the inclusion of the word “the” changes the meaning. If your gg aunt was on the Titanic, she was on board a specific ship: if your gg aunt was on Titanic, she was an actress in a particular movie or production.

          Some of the inclusions/exclusions of the word “the” are cultural. As an example, USA residents tend to say they were “in the hospital,” where in England the phrase seems to be “in hospital.”

        5. Nea*

          Because while “I went to the prom” is perfectly correct, “I went to prom” is perfectly clear. There is only one event named prom that you could have gone to.

          Whereas if you said “My great aunt was on Titanic” is not clear. Titanic, without the “the” is simply an adjective. Queen Mary without the “the” is a person. Enterprise without the “the” is a noun. Ship names need the “the” because otherwise you don’t actually know you are discussing a ship. Perhaps your great aunt was on titanic horse pills, we don’t know because the sentence is incomplete without a definite article.

          1. NeedRain*

            except context is also a thing and if you’re having a conversation about ships, people aren’t going to think you mean the Queen.

          2. Linguist*

            In Star Trek, the classic series and TNG referred to “the Enterprise.” Scott Bakula’s series referred to its ship as simply “Enterprise.”

        6. C Baker*

          Who and when did it get decided that the “the’s” were extraneous?

          Language is consensus reality. No person decided, it’s just that language shifts over time, like the tide.

        7. Lokifan*

          I teach English as a foreign language and will add my thoughts –

          “Prom” has gone from being treated as a noun to being treated as a name (“the shop” Vs “Walmart”).

          At least here in the UK, there’s basically a random list of institutions where you don’t use “the” unless you’re talking about the physical location specifically. So “she’s in hospital” Vs “the hospital’s next to the church”. Other places on the list include school, home, work, and usually places of worship.

      2. PhyllisB*

        Or maybe they’re “incorrect” but it doesn’t matter. I used to temp at a radio station, and one of my jobs was typing up ad copy for the DJ’s to read on air. If I found misspellings, I would go to the ad writer and bring it to their attention before correcting it. They were always very gracious about it, but now I cringe when I remember. I should have either left it alone or just corrected it without saying anything. I mean if they misspelled “thier”, who cares as long as the meaning is still the same?

          1. Addison DeWitt*

            I had a client who insisted on adding TM’s and circle-R’s to any mention of the company or its products. In scripts for radio commercials. No one would read it (or make Victor Borge-style noises for punctuation)… it was just obsessing over something completely meaningless, because he had heard someone say that that must be done, everywhere.

            1. Just Moi*

              Awww. Victor Borge. Now I’m going to read all of the comments with his punctuation sound track running in my head. Happy Monday…

        1. WellRed*

          FWIW, when I proof a script my editor is planning to use for a podcast, I correct even little stuff like that because I don’t want to risk her suddenly seeing the error and stumbling. I mean, it’s also my job, but just because something is audio doesn’t mean let grammar and spelling go out the window.

          1. Addison DeWitt*

            Well, I tend to think running across “Miracle Wipe™” in a script would be more distracting than simply seeing “Miracle Wipe.” In any case, no other client has ever insisted on silent ™s and ®s in scripts.

    8. Beth*

      I feel like OP would have mentioned it if this employee was tasked with proof-reading. Obviously, if he was assigned to proof-read a document, and if his edits are necessary for clarity or for bringing the document in line with organizational style guides, then there’s no issue!

      But seeing a document is not the same thing as being assigned to proof-read it. I’m assuming all of us have been included on a “FYI, here’s the new PTO policy/updated intake form/notes from this meeting/etc, let me know if you have any questions” type message–that’s absolutely not a request for editing, it’s just a heads up that a new document that we might find useful exists! And while it can be useful to edit that kind of thing if there are genuine errors, it doesn’t sound like that’s the case here. OP specifically calls out that they want to encourage substantive edits, but that these aren’t reaching that level.

      A team member who spends time on useless work that they haven’t been assigned–presumably at the cost of time that could be spent on his actual assigned work or other more valuable tasks–is not being diligent. He’s either misunderstanding his job and in need of clearer direction, or being intentionally obnoxious and in need of shutting down.

      1. Addison DeWitt*

        Yeah, why does this guy even get to touch her work before it goes out, if she’s higher up?

        1. LNZ*

          it would be amazingly passive-aggressive of LW to just start sending out their documents as uneditable pdfs

        2. Also-ADHD*

          My boss sends out stuff to us to give feedback on. I’m really unclear if OP is sending it and just annoyed this guy actually looks at it (actually how I read the situation) or not sending it and welcoming comments at all?

    9. HonorBox*

      We’re supposed to trust the LW and take them at their word. In this case, the changes *may* be nitpicky or meaningless. The overarching point, though, is that the person offering edits isn’t a proofreader. If that was their job, the entire question would be different. But they’re not, so we should actually answer the question as presented.

    10. Kevin Sours*

      As others have said, the examples sound a lot like low stakes judgement calls rather than obvious errors. Nor does it sound like correcting these documents is explicitly the employee’s job.

      But, most importantly, I can’t see any reason to send out unsolicited corrections to the entire team before getting them approved by the manager and document author. That sounds very much like a power play, especially given the employee’s history and sense of OP’s colleague.

      She needs to shut this down. If she does need additional proofing on her documents she should find somebody else to do it.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        “I can’t see any reason to send out unsolicited corrections to the entire team”

        I had a boss who spoke English as a second language. He didn’t ask me to proofread his work, but if I noticed something in a document that was going to upper management, I would point it out to just him. Not to everyone else. Just him.

          1. Linguist*

            But some companies have a culture where “everyone gets copied on every e-mail.” It’s bizarre and unhelpful, but it exists.

        1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          I had a boss who was dyslexic, and I would often provide unsolicited proofreading on things going to clients or the rest of the org. BUT he regularly thanked me for it, and like you said, I just sent them to him, not the whole team.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            That’s a totally different (and much better) scenario.

            If LW’s employee is doing something useful, then the correct way to do it would be to pass those revisions back to LW confidentially, not in public.

    11. whimbrel*

      If I thought the form my manager had created needed more spaces in its fields, I would send a chat message or email mentioning that. ‘Hey boss, we usually have people fill out the entire file tree in this space, so it should be longer so all the info will fit’ or ‘everyone filling out this form has a multi-part last name so we need to make sure the field will accommodate that’.

      Changing it and saying ‘Let me know if this is okay’ is poor behaviour that banks on the fact that OP won’t, in fact, let him know because OP is new in their management position.

    12. Nea*

      Speaking as a writer/editor who is asked to proofread team documentation, yes, those edits are extremely nit-picky for internal documentation.

      A proofreader’s job – and the letter implies heavily that this person is not explicitly employed as a proofreader – is to make sure that the writing is clear and spelled correctly. Adding spaces to forms (unless those fields are supposed to hold words like “antidisestablishmentarianism”) is very much a waste of my expensive time to do and an even bigger waste of my manager’s more expensive time to review.

      This employee is asking the entire team to stop, proofread his work, and approve it, (“Let me know if this is okay”) which is frankly a waste of EVERYONE’s time.

    13. Lisa*

      I’m very confused by this take. There’s nothing in the letter to suggest that he is correcting actual errors. Even if his edits did in fact make the document slightly better, that doesn’t mean that he should be making them. In my role if I were making small improvements/corrections to the docs anyone on my broader team wrote, I would absolutely be wasting my and everyone else’s time because having everything 100% correct simply does not matter.

    14. Claire*

      Not necessarily. Depending on the context of the usage, it may be incorrect to capitalize “design team.”

    15. Artemesia*

      In context feels a lot more like pissing to mark territory. And he is waiting to see if she is weak and can be dominated by him. I’d carefully consider Alison’s recommendations for routinizing proof reading. AND whatever you do don’t make it personal — very cool and focused on the organization’s success not on power plays. It is the only way to effectively deal with power plays.

      1. AnonORama*

        Agree. And given that the AAM standard is generally to take the OP at their word, she’s said 1) these are style choices rather than error corrections and 2) this person isn’t employed to proofread her work, nor has she asked him to. It’s much less likely that she left out these details, and much more likely that he doesn’t like that a younger, female person was promoted over him. So, he’s Making A Point with the none-too-subtle reply-all to correct her. But I guess her work is strong, because he’s not finding much to correct.

      2. learnedthehardway*

        Completely agreeing.

        The best thing about Allison or Teekanne aus Schokolade (poster above)’s suggestions are that they completely take this out of requiring the OP to have correctly “diagnosed” the reason for the edits.

        Whether it is an attempted power play, pedantism run amok, or a genuine desire to be helpful, addressing the PROCESS and improving it will (hopefully) solve the issue, without the OP looking like they are being reactive or unfair to the employee.

        If the employee doesn’t follow the new process, then the OP can bring that up as a waste of work time and a distraction from what their actual job is.

    16. Prefer my pets*

      ah, I see that the employee who (the horror! the injustice!) had a younger woman promoted over him still hasn’t gotten over it since 2019 when the letter ran.

    17. GreenDoor*

      I agree with Katz…slightly. If he’s making these edits *after* the document has been circulated or published, it looks more like “Once again, I had to correct the dumb manager’s errors!” and you need to nip that in the bud. But if it’s before circulation then, well, some people just have an excellent grasp of the language and solid writing skills. He may also be someone who cares very much about the work product being presented with standard word and style choices, even on internal documents. That’s not a bad thing. And it doesn’t make you look like a bad manager to admit that writing/formatting/and proofing are not your strong suits and ask someone like your employee to take that on.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        But there’s nothing to indicate that his edits are making the writing any better, it’s just stylistic choices, nor is there anything to indicate that his changes are keeping the work product within standard word and style choices, they’re just different than what the LW had written. You’re assuming quite a lot here.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Eh, it’s a bad thing if it’s wasting time he should spend on other things and wasting the time everyone on the CC chain. If my boss sent me a new policy and someone reply-all changed two words that didn’t change the meaning of the policy, I’d be very annoyed.

      3. amoeba*

        Yeah, no. I’m generally good a proof-reading, and happy to do it. In all the jobs I’ve had so far, it was generally something that people learned over time, as I was happy to volunteer my services when needed, and I did frequently become the go-to person for that kind of thing. Never ever through doing unsolicited changes in colleagues documents though!

    18. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      Did we read the same letter because what I’m seeing is not errors “literally things like adding the word “the,” or changing “design team” to “Design Team.”

      Design team might not need to be captiolized. These are stylistic choices. It’s like when my former boss got nitpicky because I followed MLA guidelines and they wanted APA guidelines For INTERNAL TITLES OF EVENTS!!!!

    19. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      Yeah, I literally made both of those edits today. Correct article usage and consistent capitalization can make or break the tone and feel of a document.

      1. penny dreadful analyzer*

        I also spend a lot of time making these sorts of edits, but that’s because it is in fact my job to bring all client-facing deliverables into consistent compliance with our style guide. In this case, however, there’s no indication that that is this guy’s job, that the documents in question are client-facing, or that there’s any style guide involved.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        But just from the letter, we don’t know:
        a) that the suggested article usage is correct
        b) that the suggested capitalization is consistent
        c) that it’s a medium where that would matter at all.

        Is this customer-facing? Is it a legal or technical document? Is it a one-off memo where the “tone and feel” matter not at all?

        1. Emily*

          Please go back and re-read the letter. It’s internal policies and procedures.

          So many of these comments are arguments about grammar, or making wild assumptions, neither of which are helpful to the letter writer.

          OP, I think Alison’s suggestions are good ones. I would also wager that this obnoxious behavior by your employee is evident, and the rest of your team is rolling their eyes when they see his emails (I know I would if someone was, unprompted, making the meaningless edits he was making).

    20. DameB*

      We only have two examples of Jerk Dude’s edits and both of those would fall under stylistic or subjective in every company I’ve written, proofread, or copyedited for.

    21. Samwise*

      absolutely not. He is making minor, unnecessary edits. Adding spaces to forms can F up the form. Plus it is not his job and he is wasting time by (1) spending time editing that he could be spending on his own work, and (2) duplicating effort.

      I have been the victim of coworkers who are “just helping”. No, you are being officious and need to stay in your lane.

    22. Raida*

      I don’t care what kind of edits they are – feedback and comments go to the document creator/reviewer, not emailed to the entire team with a request for feedback.

      The manager should make it clear what their process on proofreading/edits/comments is.

      If the manager wants the team’s feedback on a document they will ask. Or they will have their admin ask.

    23. Windrow*

      Ouch! harsh words. I would have said it was more of a power grab than actually helping her. She didn’t ask for help, and he is not her superior. I would have recommended he be respectful of her authority instead and not call her out in front of the staff.

    24. StressedButOkay*

      But is that his job? I can’t imagine getting a document from my boss and editing it without them asking me to do so. If I were to see a factual or large grammatical error, that would be different.

      OP, my boss asks me to review documents (directly) but will sometimes ask for a quick edit – so a quick overview say for speech notes – or a deep edit. If you all don’t have a style guide, which it sounds like you do need, you could always say that you encourage people to come to you if they see factual or large grammatical error but, beyond that, the documents are fine as is.

    25. Rex Libris*

      In the absence of any mention of company style guides or policies, and assuming the examples provided in the letter are indicative of the edits in general, I think the employee is clearly making meaningless changes changes solely in order to reply all and “correct” the manager in front of the team.

    26. Not Jane*

      The errors are not nit picky but the way it is being done is definitely being showoffy about it. She’s sending them out after they’re done to the team, he is replying to the whole team with the corrections. I bet if she takes up Alison’s suggestion about asking him to proofread all her documents in future, it will stop, he’s just trying to look like he knows more than the manager. Additionally, if she gets someone else to proofread and check the style guide, when she sends them out she can add a note saying these are final versions and have been checked for consistency of spelling and grammar and with the style guide prior to issuance.

    27. V*

      Also some people need to suggest changes to feel included in the process. If those changes are value-adds I’d just count my blessings and ignore it.

  4. H3llifIknow*

    So, I’ve had a few co-workers do this before, as well. But, I used to be an English Teacher and a tech writer, so I’m very confident in my writing. Often they’d make changes that were “common usage terms” but frankly incorrect language. (Pet peeve example, if I had “and most important, I’d like to focus on…” they would change it to “most importantly” which makes my teeth itch). I finally started sending things around PRIOR to “being ready for primetime” with a request to please provide substantive feedback only, on content and accuracy, and that any grammatical or word changes would be made in the final editing so not to waste time or energy on that. That stopped most of it.

    1. call me wheels*

      Why is ‘most importantly’ wrong? I’ve never heard it said just ‘most important’ but I know my dialect isn’t standard English so I get a lot of these things wrong (and I’m an English student so it’s good to learn)

      1. Turquoisecow*

        Native English speaker here and I have no idea. Maybe it’s not technically correct but it’s certainly very common usage.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Do we want an adjective or an adverb there? Is it modifying the thing we are to focus on, or the desire to focus on it? In practice, either works just fine with only a hint of different nuance. Making the change suggests not really understanding the grammar of the sentence, or making a change for the sake of making a change.

        2. H3llifIknow*

          Which is why I said that they will often change something to a common usage term, but while common, not necessarily correct. I do think that because of the “informality” of social media, television, etc… things don’t hit as incorrectly on the ear to a lot of people anymore. But then again, I grew up when we still diagrammed sentences! Side note: I also have a pet peeve with “utilize” instead of simply writing, “use” but that’s a personal dislike so I can usually let that one go :)

          1. Fluffy Fish*

            I’ll give you a point for use over utilize though. In almost all general non-creative writing (not talking things like legal or scientific), it is best to use plain language. This helps ensure understanding across literacy levels and language proficiency.

            So you can justify it as more than a pet peeve :)

          2. I am Emily's failing memory*

            Haha, that’s always one of two examples I give when I’m teaching a junior writer about writing for readability for a general audience in a marketing context when they’re coming from a background of writing for a professor in an academic context.

            The two things I always hit on are:
            1) Use contractions. After you write something, read it back to yourself out loud or in your mind’s voice, and you’ll probably realize there are a bunch of places you would have used contractions if you were speaking out loud, but for whatever reason (it happens to me on first drafts too, even as a seasoned writer) we tend to underuse them when we’re writing very deliberately.
            2) Don’t use $5 words when there’s a 50-cent alternative. There is never going to be any context where “utilize” is better than “use,” and the latter will make it easier and faster for our audience to read, which increases the chances they will actually read it, because unlike when you wrote for your professors, now that you’re writing marketing copy, “not reading this inscrutable text at all” is almost always an option for our readers.

            1. amoeba*

              Hah, one of the first things I learned in school (English as second language) is “no contractions in written language”! I do use them for emails and stuff nowadays, of course, but in a publication or thesis or whatever it would still read very off to me…

      2. Mh*

        “important” is modifying whatever noun is being focused on, so it needs to be in adjective form. “importantly” (the adverb form) would be modifying the verb “focus,” and one does not ordinarily “focus importantly.”

      3. H3llifIknow*

        Importantly is an adverb. It is how something is done. “He strutted importantly into the room.” Important is an adjective. So it’s like saying “worstly” instead of “worst” if you think of it that way. “That is the worst XYZ I’ve seen” is correct. “That is the most worstly thing” is incorrect. For my generation, which was brought up with adverbs, “most importantly,” while VERY common, is grating and incorrect. Rewrite it in your head and if the sentence becomes “and the most important thing on this list is….” you shouldn’t use “importantly.” Sorry to sound pedantic, but you asked :)

        1. Heidi*

          I don’t think “most importantly” sounds grating because it is so frequently used, although it if you rephrase “Most important(ly), cool the cake before applying the frosting,” as, “What is most important is to cool the cake before applying the frosting,” you realize you want an adjective and not an adverb.

          1. bamcheeks*

            But you wouldn’t say, “obvious, you cool the cake before icing it” or “Unfortunate, the cake was iced before it was cool.”

            I am unconvinced by this rule.

            1. H3llifIknow*

              Obvious(ly) in the way you wrote that sentence is not equivalent, because in that construct obvious is not an adjective. But if you wrote “and it should be obvious that you cool the cake first,” then it is.

              But, you do not have to be convinced and I’m not trying to convince you. I am explaining how adverbs vs. adjectives work syntactically because someone else asked.

              1. bamcheeks*

                I know how adverbs and adjectives work: I’m pointing out that you use an adverb to describe a whole clause, which is what “most importantly” does.

                For what it’s worth, I have never come across this rule during my undergraduate or postgraduate in English in the UK, and I’m pretty familiar with most of the grammatical nitpicks that people like to come out with. There are various “English works like this” rules which were entirely made up by 19th and early 20th century prescriptive grammarians and which have no basis in real usage. This sounds very much like one of them.

          2. linger*

            What you’ve done is to replace a finite clause (which can grammatically be modified with an adverb — so in the original example, the adverb is actually correct) with a nonfinite clause (treated as an item, and so modified with an adjective).

            These editing wars are most frequently seen with sequential signposts (first(ly), second(ly), third(ly)). If they’re modifying items in a list, the adjective forms are grammatically correct. But if each item is a complete finite clause or predicate, the adverb forms are also correct, and possibly preferable; note that the last item in the list (if we don’t just keep numbering in sequence to the end) has to be signalled with finally, not final.

        2. penny dreadful analyzer*

          There is, however, a big difference in that “importantly” is a perfectly standard English adverb and “worstly” isn’t.

          1. H3llifIknow*

            “Worstly is an adverb that is used to describe something that is done in the worst possible manner or to the greatest extent of something negative. It is often used to emphasize the degree of something that is bad or undesirable. For example, “He performed worstly in the exam, scoring the lowest marks possible.””

            You can argue with the dictionary. I personally am not that invested in whether it is or not. :)

            1. penny dreadful analyzer*

              Could you let us know which specific dictionary you’re quoting here? There’s no dictionary titled “The Dictionary” for me to argue with. Merriam-Webster’s website doesn’t have “worstly” as an entry and lists “worst” as an adverb in addition to an adjective. The American Heritage Dictionary’s website doesn’t have it in their word lookup either. Googling the term is just giving me places like Wiktionary, which marks it as “(rare, nonstandard).”

        3. Enai*

          I shall now endeavor to use the sentence “That is the most worstly thing” on any opportunity I get. Sounds like doge speech. I love it an unreasonable amount.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Yea, scenarios like this are why I’ve committed to honing my own prose and letting others express themselves as they see fit.

          I’m sure even “irregardless” has its roots in something coherent, even if I think it should be accompanied by an airsick bag.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              At least go to “nonirregardless” so we’re back to an odd number of negatives, right?

            2. Lydia*

              Doesn’t matter. Do you know what they mean? Then that’s the end of the discussion. I know it’s contradictory, but it doesn’t matter if it’s not professional writing or speaking.

      4. Sparkle Motion*

        Because “importantly” needs an adjective or another adverb to modify. I don’t correct this because that ship has sailed. Plus, I’ve got bigger pet peeves to manage!

  5. Enough*

    No matter what you need to make it clear that all edits must go to the boss directly and not out to the rest of the team. The boss needs to send out the corrections.

  6. SS*

    Sometimes when our company’s Editor asks for proofers, she’ll say she’s looking for errors only at this stage, not stylistic or otherwise personal-preference type edits. This helps set expectations.

    1. Clown Eradicator*

      I don’t know if this would work for you, OP, but at work very, very few of us have the ability to edit PDF files. Could you convert to that before sending?

      1. HonorBox*

        This is a great suggestion. Saving as and sending a PDF would reduce the ability to edit drastically.

        1. SarahKay*

          With the side benefit that typically a pdf is a smaller file, thus making emailing it around more efficient.
          (I’ll be over here side-eyeing the huge powerpoint emailed to me that tied up my home broadband / wifi in much the same way as a snake swallowing a goat…)

    2. StressedButOkay*

      That was my suggestion as well! lol, my boss learned real quick I will murder her extra spaces in her documents along with any major issues so if she just wants a quick, major error proof, she says that up-front.

  7. Richard Hershberger*

    My experience of having my writing professionally copy edited is that the changes fall into three categories. About a quarter are genuine improvements: fixing errors of number agreement, or my bad habit of sliding between the past tense and the historical present, or simply recasting the sentence to make it more clear. A small but critical number are disastrous changes. The most extreme was when the copy editor, for reasons beyond all human understanding, changed a date from the 19th to the 20th century. The balance is irrelevant trivia, often enforcing mythical grammar rules. When reviewing the edits I appreciate the first sort, ignore the third, and watch for the second.

    So my question about this guy is what is the danger of his introducing a disastrous edit? If I were confident that this wasn’t going to happen, I would let the entire matter slide, without devoting time or energy to the matter. If, however, he is prone to disastrous edits, I would balance the danger of one of these slipping through with any improvements he brings and the capital it would take to shut him down.

    1. Beth*

      The thing is, it doesn’t sound like this guy is actually being asked to proofread or copy edit! He’s just being told a new document exists, and is doing this of his own accord. As his manager, it’s completely fair for OP to ask him to focus on his own work, and to leave it to her judgment whether a document is important enough to send for editing or not.

      1. TPS reporter*

        exactly, he’s not being asked and he’s undermining her authority by doing this in front of the team. she’s a newer manager, younger and female. not that we know his intentions but from the outside looks like undermining. and he’s spending his time on potentially trivial edits when he has other tasks.

        1. Sloanicota*

          It’s also possible he has other work that’s more important than correcting internal documents. OP could flag this for him. “Cecil, I’d rather see you work on the Hippograff reports and the revised Newt applications than on the capitalization of my internal memos.”

      2. Shelli*

        That’s the issue. An employee is receiving finalized documents from his manager so that he can act on the content – her examples were a new policy to implement and a new form to incorporate. Instead of implementing the changes they contain he’s pointing out grammatical errors and sending them back to everyone on the email. OP isn’t floating drafts to her team, she’s sending them new policies. The employee is being unprofessional by responding to her with grammatical edits to her instructions.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Ooh, I’m remembering the story from Mortification Week where a manager gave OP their performance evaluation… and OP sat there and copyedited it.

    2. korangeen*

      Yeah I definitely have to be on the lookout for the “disastrous changes” category. Like okay, maybe I used the word “fuel” too many times in this article and you felt like my wording should be more varied, but please don’t replace “fuel” with “gas” when the fuel was liquid hydrogen, haha.

      But yeah, as others said, this guy isn’t really being asked to proofread in the first place.

  8. Unfettered scientist*

    Idk whether these edits are correct or not. For instance, the specific team name should either be capitalized or not. There should be some consistency there so it seems like either he’s changing things to be wrong (so you can correct him about it) or he’s fixing things that are technically correct but don’t feel significant *to you*. I’d recommend being clear on what the teams editing policy is. I’ve been on teams where this would be welcomed because if you notice a mistake you should fix it, and teams where the rule was our energy was better spent elsewhere. How do you want to generally deal with suggestions for edits (not just from him)? Is there a change tracking feature where he can suggest changes and flag them for your review? That way you get the benefit without him sending a mass email about it. I’d pick something like this and explain to the whole team how you’d like them to suggest changes.

  9. Lainey L. L-C*

    I had a coworker do this too, and unfortunately, nothing was done about it, even though I complained many times to our bosses. As the OP said, it was nitpicky things and sometimes changes to what HE thought it should look like/say. It wasn’t anything I did wrong, it wasn’t correcting a mistake, it was just not how HE would have phrased it or made it look. He had no authority over me (if anything I was more senior) he was just the last person to get all the widgets before they went to the customers.

    One of the MANY reasons this is my ex-job.

  10. Lizzianna*

    I’ve dealt with this before.

    Here’s what I said, “Generally, when I send something out to the group, unless I say otherwise, I’m not requesting feedback and it’s a final version. That said, I am human and can make mistakes, so if something is incorrect or confusing, please flag that and send it back to me, and I will make any needed changes and re-distribute. For version control reasons, please do not send edited versions out to the whole group without clearing it with me first.”

    1. Lizzianna*

      Oh, and when this particular person went rouge and still send his edits out to the group (seriously, I could imagine this is the same person, and was upset about me being promoted for the same reasons), I had no problem hitting reply all and saying, “I haven’t had a chance to review these edits. Please use the version I sent out on Thursday until you hear otherwise from me.”

      Normally I’d prefer not to shoot down an employee so publicly, but after he was told multiple times to not do that, and it became clear he was trying to undermine me in a lot of ways, I decided I needed to publicly respond to the undermining.

      1. MassMatt*

        The rogue proof reader is wasting not just his own time, but that of everyone getting these little edits. Maybe not a big deal on a team of three, but significant if it’s going to 20 people. If I were receiving these I would wonder “why am I getting two of these, with only a difference in “the” or the capitalization of Design Team?”.

        The problem is partly that he’s proofreading when he shouldn’t, and that he using the “reply all” feature.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, I’d be super annoyed too. “Wait, how did the guidance change? You added a ‘the’?”

      2. L*

        “when this particular person went rouge…”

        Unless he’s Khmer or is really into makeup, this sentence is a great example of why you needed an editor.

        1. Aqua*

          this comment is a great example of not knowing when it’s worth nitpicking mistakes that don’t impede understanding

          1. ESLOL*

            Sure. It’s also good to be correctly clear for those who speak English as a non-primary language. We know what it’s supposed to mean, but for others it can be hella confusing.

    2. TPS reporter*

      right and the fact that he’s doing it right after getting the doc indicates he hasn’t put the docs into practice. I always like to tell my team- please try these out and let me know after a few actual runs if you have any suggestions

    3. Pippa K*

      This is the way. Concise, straightforward, he’ll either have to comply or make himself a more obvious problem with less plausible deniability of the “just helping!!” type.

    4. Orange You Glad*

      To add to this strategy, you can also send out final versions of documents either as pdf or locked for editing. This has the added benefit of making sure no one accidentally saves over a final version with typos or errors.

      I have a lot of spreadsheets that need to be made available to a wider audience, but they are informational only, so I password-protect them and everyone else can access them read-only.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree that version control is a genuinely important piece of this! It’s confusing to everyone if they have received a document from their boss and then another version of the document from a peer. If I were them I would be uncertain which one I should use.

  11. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    I would play him right back and say “Wow, you are so good at proofreading! Let’s make you the de facto proofreader for our team. Team, send **everything** you write through this guy first, so we make sure everything is correct.” But I’m kinda petty like that. :P

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      Never, ever put a Known Jerk in charge of a stage that requires sign-off, and proofing usually does. They will find a way to do Jerk Stuff, even if they have to find new Jerk Stuff.

  12. Serious Silly Putty*

    Yes, like Alison says, the context matters. On the flip side, I’ve cringed at how inconsistent copy is that my boss and/or predecessor has written that could be read externally. Titles are sometimes capitalized and sometimes not. Sentence clauses that don’t have parallel structure and thus aren’t actually grammatically correct, even though you might not notice if someone was talking. Commas used when a semicolon or dash ought to be used. Formatting done by hitting Space/Enter a million times instead of doing it the right way with tabs or page breaks or tables.

    Such edits may seem nitpicky to somebody who doesn’t care about these things, but they look downright unprofessional to someone who understands grammar and formatting. And full disclosure, it also upsets me as WRONG. Just like some people are stressed out by my messy desk, I’m stressed out by their messy use of English. Sometimes (for internal things) I have to suck it up, but other times I worry that if an outsider actually scrutinizes what they’re reading, our org will look bad.

    So the only thing I would add to Alison’s advice is that OP should seek an outside opinion on which category these corrections fall into. If a trusted copy editor or Gramarly highlight the same issues as the employee, then it may be worth reevaluating the situation.

    (Side note: I can totally imagine it being a case of sexism and a weird power play as well. I just want to highlight that, if someone had been trained in proper style guide usage, what is nitpicky to one person CAN feel as “wrong” to another person using “there” instead of “their”. It may still be inappropriate for them to spend time on these unasked for corrections, but the way it’s handled could be different.”

    1. Sloanicota*

      “Just like some people are stressed out by my messy desk, I’m stressed out by their messy use of English” – I think this is a good takeaway, or “just as some people are stressed out that I’m consistently 15 minutes late to everything” or “I say LIE-berry” instead of *library* in public” – the point is, some things are worth a supervisor flagging if there’s a real business impact, but few things are solved by coworkers or subordinates reply-all-ing.

      1. Enai*

        I think the only thing ever solved by “reply-all” was the problem of “not enough pointless time wasting is going on in this here e-mail chain / newsgroup”.

    2. Lydia*

      The thing is, the OP knows how the documents are being used. It would be just as incorrect for you to do any edits without being asked, it’s not okay for this guy to do any edits without being asked. That’s what we should all be taking away from this. This guy was not asked to edit the memo.

  13. CheeryO*

    I’m guilty of this, but only because we have no other internal proofreading process, and people are a little too cavalier about following our internal style guide (and grammar rules in general…). I try really hard to not make corrections that are just based on personal preference. If I was asked to make substantive edits only, I would assume that it was going to get further polishing and wouldn’t make stylistic edits.

    1. e271828*

      Yeah, that’s my question.

      Also, copy editing-proofreading as a collaborative process in late stages seems like a terrible idea. Anything substantially wrong with the content, organization, or wording of the document should be cleared up before a copy edit or proofreader goes into it, and only one person should be proofing, as it’s time-consuming. (And ideally that person should have a style guide for capitalization and usage.)

      OP, I would lock final-draft documents you send out for the team and hire or designate (and pay well) one person to copy edit and-or proof. And that person need not be a team member, could be support staff who can take on extra duties (for which they will be paid, right?).

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I think the question is more ‘why is he getting a document that he has the ability to edit’. Make it a pdf or change the Google Doc share setting to ‘Viewer’.

    2. Also-ADHD*

      I thought OP was inviting group edits but disliked his? But many here seem to assume no edits are being invited. I’m curious about this as well if edits are generally not welcome.

  14. Lissa Evans*

    If the changes really aren’t necessary, and I suspect they aren’t, I’d suggest replying to him that those changes are not necessary and the document is fine as it is. If he continues doing this on a routine basis, I’d take some time at one of your one-on-one meetings to let him know that he doesn’t need to spend his time editing documents you have sent out as final, unless he sees an issue that really changes the entire meaning of the content.

  15. Ex Admin*

    I used to do a lot of proofreading and edits for colleagues, but it was usually expected of me as part of my role and if it wasn’t explicitly asked of me, I would mention it to the person who sent me the doc and say “by the way I made xyz minor changes” and only if it hadn’t been released yet (unless it was a major error like a date or location). To send the edited version of the doc after it’s already been sent to the entire team feels like a power play or, giving him the benefit of the doubt, a dynamic that he had with previous manager. Either way, I would take Allison’s advice.

  16. She of Many Hats*

    I wonder if the vigilante editor is doing it to everyone’s documents or only to the manager’s documents, especially the public, psuedo-naive “is this change ok” stuff? If it’s everyone, then it’s annoying but not personal. If it is only the manager’s writing, then a talk needs to happen. The focus can be a) praise publicly, correct privately behavior correction, b) if proofing is in purview of the person doing this, c) should it be? then see A, d) the possible underlying bad attitude/insubordination of the actions depending on what the OP sees when they look closer at the behavior.

  17. Rachel*

    I have been in this very position before and this is what I did.

    Step 1: double check my own communication to make sure it didn’t include phrases like “let me know what you think!”

    Step 2: when possible, I would have some time between when I sent it and when I needed it. This allowed me to cool down from the inevitable correction which leads me to

    Step 3: really try to figure out if the corrections are objectively unnecessary and silly or if you don’t like being corrected by this person

    Step 4: decide if the suggestion is correct or not

    Step 5: a) if the suggestion has merit, make corrections
    b) if the suggestion does not have merit, do not make corrections

    Step 6: understand that they are allowed to give their opinion and you are allowed to either accept it or decline it. You will have more success controlling your reaction to this than controlling them.

    1. Raida*

      I would add a note to Step 6 – they can give feedback, but ‘giving feedback’ should not involve emailing the whole team to ask *them* to read the document and provide feedback.

      I would be controlling *that* specific behaviour. It’s wasting the team’s resources and it’s not actually giving any feedback because it’s not a note to the document’s creator.

      If this person wants to give feedback, I’ll allow comments on the document and track them that way and make changes as I feel are necessary, with the easy ability to include or discard changes and to read comments on the suggested changes. He can explain his reasoning in that tool.

    2. allathian*

      Or simply write the employee up for unnecessary edits that are wasting time he could spend doing the work he’s actually being paid to do. The LW’s the manager and has the right to tell the obnoxious employee to stop wasting time. He’s not being helpful, he’s questioning the LW’s authority and trying to make her look bad.

  18. Achtung, Baby*

    Sometimes, having a fresh set of eyes is wiser than you may think, even for internal documents. As an example of why, I tell a story from OldJob, over 20 years ago, when an internal memo had the letter “l” left out of the word “public.” This was a non-profit with Christian-based values. Much embarrassment ensued, the memo was updated, and we instituted an informal “never proofread your own work” step into our process.

    1. HonorBox*

      This is a good point. I like to remind people that we know what we mean so it is very easy to think you’ve typed “public” and even read “public” so a second set of eyes is important. And depending on the situation, we know what we mean, but an outsider who is seeing a document may not, so it is important to read it with fresh eyes.
      That said, we’re not getting enough information in this letter to determine where these documents are going and what their audience is. If they’re not public facing, it may not be a huge issue. And I think suggesting that if someone sees a major error, they should alert the author versus just making edits themselves.

    2. Katherine*

      I encourage everyone who can, to add a rule in your document editing software to autocorrect “pubic” to “public”, unless you also need to use the word “pubic” at work.

  19. i like hound dogs*

    I am a proofreader. There is a time and place. I don’t reply to my manager’s emails to correct his grammar, because that would be annoying and pedantic. Nor do I edit documents I haven’t been asked to.

    This guy sounds really annoying and/or clueless. I would probably reply-all with, “Oh, I actually wasn’t asking for edits at this time — please use my version from Thursday; thanks! If we build a proofreading stage into the process I’ll let you know.”

    Then, in a separate email, I’d send him a bunch of reallllllly long and boring (but unimportant) documents and say that since he has extra time on his hands, can he please edit these according to CMOS 17?

    (You should probably not take this path.)

    1. allathian*

      I’m an in-house translator. This means that I also get to informally proofread the documents that I translate. Nobody parses a text as carefully as someone who’s trying to say the same thing in another language. I’ve also been explicitly given permission to state things in a simpler way in the target language if the source text is unnecessarily convoluted. I don’t send the source text back with comments unless there’s a clear risk of misunderstanding or a simple edit could make the text a lot clearer. I work for a governmental agency and we’re legally required to promote plain language, so my suggestions have always been very well received.

      My greatest talent is the ability to spell without errors. I make as many typos as the next person and my syntax is far from perfect, but I don’t make spelling mistakes. The downside of this talent is that I see and internally react to every spelling mistake that I see and every grammar error that I happen to notice. This is totally automatic and effortless for me, but in the interests of not being known as the grammar and spelling nitpicker that people’d be nervous writing to because they don’t want to be called out on their errors in a situation where they’re irrelevant, I don’t spend my workdays commenting on other people’s writing.

      1. i like hound dogs*

        Yes, exactly. Grammar and spelling mistakes are EVERYWHERE. I think that’s what most people don’t realize. Most companies don’t have the resources to have a professional editor correct every document, and it’s annoying af to be edited when you haven’t asked to be.

        But people like this dude remember some grammar rule they learned 30 years ago (that’s probably changed by now anyway) and feel the need to stick their little fingers in the pie.

        Just because you see something doesn’t mean you have to say something, lol.

  20. HonorBox*

    @Clown Eradicator suggested above that LW could send out a PDF versus a Word doc. Couldn’t agree more. That would greatly reduce the ability of someone to make edits.
    Also, in addition to saying something to the employee, I’d suggest sending things like this out using Bcc in the future. That removes the ability for suggested edits to go out to everyone and reduces the opportunity for a jerk to be a jerk, as well as reduces confusion over which version of a document is the ‘official’ version.

    1. Calpurrnia*

      Seconding this. PDF it and send it with BCC. This allows people with real substantial edits to reply to you privately with feedback that you can incorporate and send out as a new version if needed… but prevents the reply-all as well as keeping any unauthorized-edited versions of the doc from floating around.

  21. Baron*

    I’ve been the man in a situation much like this—I was an older man, applied for a job, they hired a younger woman and then hired me to be her assistant, and I often bristled at how she wrote. That said, I recognized this as a me problem. If she gave me something to proof, I’d proof it; if she sent me something without explicitly saying to proof it, I’d send it out even if it wasn’t written how I’d have written it. She was the boss; our bosses, given the option, decided that they thought she was a better fit for that job than me; for me to nitpick her writing would have been undermining and rude. So I agree with Alison’s advice here. This all seems pretty gendered.

  22. C.*

    This is incredibly annoying. Is there any chance he’s incorporating house style guidelines to your work that you might’ve missed on the first pass?

    1. Forrest Rhodes*

      This was my thought too, especially regarding “design team” vs “Design Team”—the title case might just have been house style.

      A useless but related story: In the days of typewriters, I worked for a national financial institution whose house style insisted the word “employee” would end with only one “e.” Made my teeth hurt every time I had to type “employe” (because it was just wrong!), but I did it. Their reasoning was that the one-e spelling would let them save on typewriter ribbons. Okay.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        > Their reasoning was that the one-e spelling would let them save on typewriter ribbons.

        I think what’s happened there is someone made a mistake originally, and as a ‘face saving’ measure everyone has tacitly agreed to this fiction that it’s for ink saving purposes…

        1. Forrest Rhodes*

          You’re probably right, Captain. I never thought of that.
          This was just one among many “What the … ??” policies that this huge company mandated.
          When I finished my 5-year stint as its employee (hah! two e’s—so there!), they said, cheerily, “Well, we’ll always be glad to have you back!”
          As I smiled, nodded, and walked out the door, I was thinking, “Yeah, don’t hold your breath for that …”

  23. Mitford*

    I call these people “thumbprint people,” because they always have to leave their thumbprint on everything that goes out. They annoy the bejeezus out of me.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I’m going to remember this term. We’ve talked here before about “happy-to-glad” edits, which are essentially meaningless changes just to feel like you did something, but ‘thumbprint’ captures the intent better.

  24. Pyanfar*

    This would appear to me if I was a member of the OP’s team (and not in on all the background, as team members usually aren’t) that the person making the edits and then re-distributing the documents has authority OVER OP’s work product, and was, in fact, her superior in some way. As such, as the manager (OP), I would shut this down like now!

    Anyone remember the letter about people who just “promote” themselves by saying they are now the boss without any backup? Same pathology, different path.

  25. Keyboard Cowboy*

    I’ve got a new team member who does this – he’ll leave wording suggestions on documents I used to communicate with partners months and months ago, which nobody is reading now, but which I sent to him as context he would need to understand what we’re currently working on. And yes, it is annoying – but I think it’s a by-product of him reading the documents closely and trying to understand them. I kinda think he doesn’t even really realize he’s doing it or how it comes off to be sending the lead edits to a doc that was finalized and published 6 months ago. Mostly I just ignore it – doc review isn’t a regular part of his job and he’s up-to-speed enough now that he’s spending his time making real changes instead.

  26. Echo*

    I would be shutting this down a lot more aggressively! This isn’t part of his job. My scripting would be more like: “Josiah, I noticed that you’ve been making small edits to internal documents like our policies and procedures. I need you to stop doing that. If there’s something I need your edits or input on, I will always ask you first.”

  27. Problem!*

    I had a guy do this to me too, except he was changing grammatically correct verbiage into grammatically incorrect verbiage. This was a document that was going out as part of a major multi million dollar bid package so it had to be perfect. The file lived on a communal server and he’d make these changes at weird hours of the night, maybe hoping I wouldn’t see them? Who knows.

    With my boss’s blessing I put a password on the document. He did not get the password.

    1. Knighthope*

      When reviewing my lesson plan before my first formal classroom observation, my English department chair changed a verb from plural to singular. It was correct as I wrote it. I cautiously refused to make the change and she never noticed.

      1. i like hound dogs*

        OMG these rogue amateur editors are the worst. I’m a proofreader and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back and forth on dumb stuff with people who think they know better than me. Recently someone removed periods I’d added to the end of several sentences because “in my opinion these aren’t sentences.” WHAT

  28. Not that other person you didn't like*

    “It seems like copy editing is something you’re really interested in. I can offer you more copyrighting responsibility (by handing off exciting / prestigious part of job) / (but it would have to be on top of your existing responsibilities). You’d return suggested changes directly to me within x hours for my review.”

    Choose the option that’s less appealing.

  29. Raida*

    As others have said, I can’t tell if these changes are correct or useful without knowing the context better.

    I would say that the way to fix this is a few things:
    -finding or creating a simply style guide to follow – for things like title casing a team name
    -stating when a document is *for review* and who would be doing that task and what kind of review – content, grammar, style
    -stating how feedback on documents should be handled – sent to Person A to finalise, sent back to the creator, entire team looking at it
    -having a team meeting once you’ve nailed down these parameters to show what is and isn’t expected and required so that everyone’s on the same page

    The key here is to know you’re right when giving an instruction, knowing they are *wrong* if they a)use their time to proofread something that doesn’t need it b)make changes outside of the scope of proofreading at that stage c)shotgun their edits to the team instead of the correct point of contact d)proofread when it’s explicitly someone else’s job.

    From clear parameters used team-wide you can then manage his behaviour specifically against them, focussing on work time being used effectively, following the processes in place, etc.

    Why is this important? Because *regardless* of his changes if he’s sending an edited version of docs to the whole team to get feedback on YOUR WORK that’s rude. If he were a trainer and this was a collaborative learning space, sure! But you’re his boss, he’s ‘improving it’ and asking the team to spend their time to check his version and give team-wide feedback on it. That’s a waste of everyone’s time and insulting to you.

    If, after nailing down the style guide, he’s making little edits and sending them *back to you* then that’s fine. But certainly not his current behaviour

  30. Tommy Girl*

    I’m working on a community webpage with a pushy older guy who loves to talk about how much experience he has but can barely write. Every section I’ve given to him he’s just gone out and copied something from another source – which we can’t do! I’m the lead on the project, but he’s trying to “lead from behind”, so he’s really pushing my buttons. He also is the Type of Old Guy to overcapitalize things, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. It just reads old boomer Trump fan who lives on Twitter, whether that’s fair or not. I was very proud how I explained the overcapitalization thing. I said it was a readability issue – caps in the middle of sentences do make things harder to read. When in reality I wanted the webpage to come off as sophisticated and not old, which Capitalizing rando letters Does Not Achieve. (caps are sarcastic :-)

    1. Not Bob*

      > I was very proud how I explained the overcapitalization thing. I said it was a readability issue – caps in the middle of sentences do make things harder to read.

      *cries in German*
      For the people who don’t know, in German you capitalize all nouns.

      1. i like hound dogs*

        I did not know that about German!

        Overcapitalization is probably the number-one thing I correct on a daily basis. People love to capitalize things to Make Them Stand Out.

      2. Enai*

        *is also German*

        I find the capitalization of nouns improves readability for me? Or maybe I just notice its lack if it’s absent. I _am_ irritated by the English custom to capitalize “I”, though. Why.

  31. Jane*

    No matter whether the edits are needed or not, this guy is out of line to simply edit the document and then send it to the ENTIRE team without so much as messaging his boss separately so see if she even wants those edits made. Even if he’s the King of Proofreading, that doesn’t mean your boss wants their document proofed, especially if they’ve sent it to an entire group of people.

  32. ina*

    I am always on the LW’s side unless it’s very obvious I should not be, but “literally things like adding the word “the,”” doesn’t sound useless. Is it not needed? I think when you send things for others to edit, there is also the pressure to actually open the doc and edit it. You can easily say, “Please keep edits substantive rather than stylistic.” I’m openly admitting I am biased as I really like the over-editors. It shows they really opened and read the document. You can reject their changes.

    On a more person-to-person note, I think you may be BEC with this person (which is reasonable).

    1. ina*

      Wait. Upon re-reading, I might need my evening sugar to get me through til bedtime. LW isn’t asking for edits. So this is just really inappropriate and overstepping of this employee. I would really put my foot down and be open that they’re useless if they’re useless: “I appreciate your review and stylistic edits, but this is the circulating copy. If there are substantive or clarity edits anyone might have though, please feel free to point these out and I will update the document.”

  33. musical chairs*

    A useful way to frame the feedback could be around correctly prioritizing time spent on certain activities. If the proofreading is truly is useless, then it is, by definition, not a good use of time or resources. Point him to tasks or continual responsibilities that are a better use of his time. That way, your conversation is centered on effectiveness and not on the appropriateness of correcting your work.

    You are well within your right as a manager to establish what is important to focus on.

  34. Kingsway*

    I’ve been on both sides of this type of situation, and it is so, so heavily dependent on context. It can have nothing to do with factors like gender, age, power plays, or annoyance at who was given the job, but it can also have everything to do with one, some, or all of those.

    In my own experience, the most common reasons behind it have actually been more simple, usually: the manager cannot write well (or doesn’t write as well as the staffer in question); it is literally the staffer’s job to perform these edits; or the manager does not possess the knowledge in the subject matter that the staffer does which is required for the documentation in question. It can also be a combination of any or all of these.

    The easiest way to solve this issue is to lock all writing and editing access to documentation to the best possible person or people to be writing and editing these documents due to their writing/editing skills and specialized knowledge. This may or may not be the LW, and they need to be honest with themselves and the company if they are not.

    An example where I can relate to the LW was when someone on my team who could not write at all, but thought they could because they’d done a two-hour plain English writing course, insisted on editing everyone’s work.

    On the flip side, I’ve also encountered the exact same problem with a senior manager who’d completed the exact same course, but who also had none of the required information or expertise required to draft the documentation in the first place, let alone edit it. My team, my own manager, and I were responsible for the documents in question, and it was so bad, we lost 4 people we couldn’t afford to lose over it.

  35. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    The examples sound like they are minor “nitpicking” edits and that may be true in itself, but if they are contributing to the overall impression of the document there is a genuine issue here. If I receive something that seems poorly edited and with minor mistakes in, I am inclined to think “if they can’t even get Design Team capitalised consistently, what else is wrong with this document, or with their process as a whole”. I think it is natural to see those kind of minor issues as symptomatic, even though minor in isolation.

  36. Tiger Snake*

    I think the only thing to address here is, is this a good use of your employees’ time and effort? You’re paying them to work on what needs to be worked on, after all.

    Documents that need to be retained and go out to other areas of the business, of course a proof-read is a good use of his time. When it’s not a good use of his time – why not? What’s he meant to be focusing on instead?

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