Post here examples of problems you have faced trying to complete a document in the past

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One of the exercises for this week in the admin processes component is to share examples of problems you have had when faced trying to complete a document in the past. Remember, these can be from anything, uni, volunteering, a job unrelated to conservation etc. I've got a lot of these I can share with you! One I've often encountered is not knowing who is meant to be doing what on the document, for example, being confused about who is the person who has the final say on the contents of the document and who needs to review the document.

Please post your thoughts as comments below and then we can start a conversation. Feel free to reply to other people’s posts if you have been in a similar situation or if you have some advice to share.

Beth Robinson

WildLearning Specialist, WildTeam

I'm a WildLearning Specialist with WildTeam, a bit of a odd job title. My main role is to design, deliver and organise both our online and class-based training workshops. One of the best parts of my job is meeting other conservationists and learning about the work that they do. I really enjoy geeking out reading teaching theory and thinking about ways I can more creatively and engagingly deliver learning. Before working for WildTeam I did a PhD in invasive plants and human wildlife interactions. I find it really interesting to learn about the ways people interact with nature, both when nature is being wonderful, but also when is is being a bit annoying!
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Go to the profile of Lorna West
10 months ago

I needed to get my GP to sign off my medical diving form for carrying out fieldwork. They refused to complete it owed to the format/wording of the document - I think they were worried about liability if anything went wrong. I had to chase up my employer until they gave me a different document to complete. 

Go to the profile of Lorna West
10 months ago

Another example, in case that doesn't count:

At university, I often forget to regularly save my work. This meant that when my laptop ran out of battery or the software I was using froze, my work would be saved as an auto-recovery document. However, quite often when I reopen the software I would accidentally dismiss these documents. It will then take me ages to find the document on my computer. Sometimes I had to redo it.  (Basically, all my fault, not sure why I didn't just save it as I went!!)

Go to the profile of Beth Robinson
10 months ago

Doh! Hopefully, this doesn't happen anymore. I often use the Ctrl + S shortcut to save work, it has become sort of inbuilt now and I do it without realising.

Go to the profile of Kathryn Jones
10 months ago

My first example was for my University dissertation - i really wasn't sure of how my thesis was supposed to be presented, and on top of that i had never used a binder to try and put it all together professionally! I had to borrow a dissertation from a previous pupil to know exactly what sort of presentation i was supposed to be going for when it came to such a complex and long document (i.e - subheadings, what order to place things). It easily became quite overwhelming.

Another example from my time at the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, is when i was applying for my first ever funding bid which i had no experience whatsoever in. The colleague who was helping me was quite busy for a week or two, so i was left to my own devices for a while. I struggled to understand what sort of language to use in my project plan which - although the organisation had supplied a template for - was a very easy platform to write too much detail in places that didn't require it instead of being concise and to the point of what is needed. I am still learning to be more concise in documents like this and not unnecessarily babble on and on!

Go to the profile of Beth Robinson
10 months ago

I'm guilty of babbling, in life and work. It can be hard to know what to not say!

Go to the profile of Rosheen
10 months ago

Yes trying to complete or even know what I was to complete in a written form for my summer scholarship at university . The department head who was signed of a supervisor had extended leave already booked and the lovely phd student who was handball sort of supervising the mature age student was not given clear instructions either. Good news though I did work out how to use a Florescent microscope and did manage to get rat and mice sperm to Floresce by sher lucky but could have had a paper written (coauthored) if documents and expectations clear.

Go to the profile of Beth Robinson
10 months ago

Well done for working out how to use a Florescent microscope! But sounds a frustrating experience.

Go to the profile of Beckie Garbett
10 months ago

I had trouble filling in a form to request an extension for a project that was funded by a US government agency. The section headings and examples of what to fill-in were really unclear and I wasn't sure whether I was completing the form correctly. I had to email the agency for clarification. This took a lot more of my time than I felt was necessary.

Go to the profile of Melanie Dodd
10 months ago

Getting everyone's comments on time can prove to be difficult in some cases, for example, I am currently drafting an article for the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) In Practice magazine in conjunction with the Association of Local Government Ecologists (ALGE) UK Committee and I just know that it is going to take some of my time chasing them for comment/sign-off. I have agreed to prepare a draft this weekend and circulate it to the working group on Monday for initial comments, and then I have arranged a meeting on 3rd December to run through it and discuss any additions and amendments. Hopefully this will make the process easier. I am hoping to hand-over the document to one of the members of the working group to finalise before submission.

Go to the profile of Melanie Dodd
10 months ago

Often people do not appreciate that a document is draft or at a very early stage in the drafting process. I have circulated framework documents for comment before and people have responded to say that they think it needs filling out or they make huge additions in text to "fill it out" rather than just commenting on the framework (as they have been asked to do!). Maybe more effective communication was needed, but I do think that I was quite clear in my request for initial comments!!

Go to the profile of Alexandra Marnerou
10 months ago

I had to conduct my research, input all the data into my computer and conduct all the statistical tests in one day for a report whilst at university. I had to use SPSS for the first time for this and I found it very difficult to navigate which slowed me down tremendously and my report was of low quality.

 

Go to the profile of Samantha Reynolds
10 months ago

My manager gave me 48 hours notice that the resort owners were visiting and wanted to meet with me to discuss the coral reef restoration project. My manager asked me to put together a document and gave me a few points that he wanted me to include. For being on such a small island, it always amazed me how people could just "disappear". I was putting together the document but had some questions that needed clarifying, I could find my manager anywhere, and he didn't respond to my emails, calls or text messages (I later found out he was in back to back meetings and simply wasn't able to respond). I managed to get the document completed, but it would have gone a lot smoother if I had forseen the complications.

A second example, about a year ago I decided I wanted to pursue a PhD and have been applying for projects since. I knew that having a published paper will help make me a more competitive applicant. Being back in the UK since March I have been preparing a manuscript for publication from my MSc research which I completed six years ago and have barely looked in that time. I wish I had kept more notes as writing up the research and re-doing the stats/results has been really taxing. However, it's been an excellent lesson for any future projects, especially if I get accepted to do a PhD, I will keep a dated research journal to make thorough notes of what I am doing at each stage which I can refer back to as I write things up.

Go to the profile of Laura Preston
10 months ago

My first example is to do with accessing files - The project I work on is spread across the whole country. In the past staff have been very siloed, often working independently and producing their own documentation to use in their own area. If you then tie this in with the high staff turnover within the project - You end up with a mountain of duplicated documents which cannot be accessed by the wider team. Data is stored in multiple places, locally and in the cloud. This has been a wider issue within the organisation and a big push is currently being made to move everything over to SharePoint and in the process - to tidy up and remove files that are no longer useful. A big task!

Another example is with regards to people not using the documents that have been created. In particular I am thinking about meetings. Agendas, minutes and action points can be produced from a meeting but often people don't look at this documentation, and if they do - it is often just before the meeting is due to start. This lack of preparation then means you spend half the meeting fumbling about and going over old ground, rather than making any progress. Frustrating to say the least...

Go to the profile of Courtney Learn
10 months ago

One example would be downloading the work I completed in creating a conservation action plan for a Uni assessment using Miradi. It did not download in a proper format to use in Word (not sure if it was because of the computer I was using/age of Microsoft program or what) and I ended up having to re-format the whole document to make it look appealing. So lesson learnt was not everything you do in a program/website will transfer format appropriately to another app and must leave enough time to to re-organise if needed.

A second example would be from work I was tasked to complete a new template for our daily operations need-to know form for every department to use. I was given a template from another organization and it took awhile to understand how to customise drop down menus/check boxes in Word to fit what we want vs. How the other organization had it set up. In the end I ended up not using the template I was given and once I figured out how to input drop-down menus/check boxes I created a form from scratch. 

Go to the profile of Michelle Duggan
10 months ago

A problem I had when trying to complete a document was trying to locate, organise and compile data held by four different organisations (including my own employer), before I could begin to write methodology or results for my report. Locating and organising the data held within my own organisation was difficult and time consuming. There was numerous Excel spreadsheets divided amongst various sub folders of past colleges work. It was a nightmare to say the least, as I didn't know if I had found all the relevant data or if I'd missed anything. 

Thankfully the other organisations responded with the required data and I was able to format and compile all the relevant data. I feel this process would have been less stressful and time consuming if my current employer had saved and organised their species data in one place for quick and easy access.

Go to the profile of Beth Robinson
10 months ago

Thanks all for sharing, I'm enjoying reading them. 

Go to the profile of Gareth Goldthorpe
10 months ago

Working as a consultant on a large EU Life project in Romania, I had to complete annual reports, detailing the progress made by the teams I was overseeing. The data involved was quite varied and complex, involving several types of survey and monitoring. Keeping on top of the data was difficult as I was managing it remotely and, each time, I would find myself engaging in back-and-forth e-mail conversations when gathering information. 

Go to the profile of Mark Anderson
10 months ago

Whilst helping to research and write the Management Plan for the Peak District I was often editing and reviewing multiple documents, there was no clear way of filing or managing the various version that where been produced so I just had to resort to looking at the document that had been edited most recently and hoping that was the correct one. 

Go to the profile of Jess Hartley
10 months ago

I've been tasked with putting together a Section 6 (duty placed on all public bodies to maintain and enhance biodiversity - Environment Act (Wales)) monitoring report for my local authority. However, I haven't been given any guidance on how this should be done or what this report should contain, except for the above. There are also no previous examples as this has not been done before. Being relatively new to the organisation also means I am not quite sure who to contact in each department (or even what every department is) to gather the information on the activities they've been doing to fulfil this duty. Thankfully the report isn't due for a while but it is something I'd like to get on top of sooner rather than later! 

Go to the profile of Ellie Strike
10 months ago

I was using R to analyse data from a forest in Tanzania and was making and testing models of different predictors affecting carbon storage in trees. I tried several different methods of selecting models all on different R scripts and it became so complex that each time I opened a script I had to read all the code to work out what I'd done and which model was best. In future, I will annotate my code more clearly so that I can see at a glance what analysis I've done without any detective work! 

Go to the profile of Joe Bodycote
10 months ago

During my placement with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust I was asked to update the inventory document which detailed the contents of the workshop. However, the document had not been updated in 6 years and the template was not fit for purpose at all. In the end I had to create a new template which took more time than I had anticipated.

For my dissertation I had issues with transferring data from excel to ArcGIS and back again. The excel format would not open in ArcGIS for a reason that eludes me to this day so I spent hours copy and pasting!

Go to the profile of Daniel Hall
10 months ago

I often fall foul of similar issues to the one Beth mentioned, and name my files in a way that feels very intuitive at the time but ultimately makes no sense when revisiting later e.g.:

document.doc, document_V2.doc, document_V3.doc, document_V3_EDIT.doc, document_FINAL.doc, document_FINAL_V2.doc, document_FINAL_V2_EDIT.doc.

Also experiencing the same thing as Samantha in assuming that because I'm heavily invested at the time in a dissertation, that leaving it a bit till write up won't be the biggest of issues, but then later down the line, trying to revisit it to get it written up isn't as easy as it could have been if notes and time hadn't become a little disorganised.

Go to the profile of Sophie Ledger
10 months ago

One report document was particularly hard to complete was because the scope kept being expanded and shifted by the donor and stakeholders at almost every catch up meeting. From a simple summary, it became a huge 40 pager with appendices etc! It took a lot more time to complete than we allocated originally and it can be quite demotivating when you don't have a clear end point to work towards.

Go to the profile of Martine Graf
10 months ago

When I was writing on my master's thesis, I couldn't find any guidelines regarding layout/font/spacing/etc anywhere and after asking my peers it became clear that no-one knew anything specific. I then had to email my supervisor, who redirected me to the student office where everyone was on their summer holiday break, so it took aaaaages until I finally got a reply on my email, only to find out that there are indeed no guidelines and that I could do it however I feel is best as long as it's somewhat reasonable. What a waste of time that was.

Go to the profile of Aurora Hood
10 months ago

In a research internship that I worked in several years ago, I carried out avian surveys for a PhD student's thesis. Unfortunately, she had very hastily designed the survey documents that we needed to fill out for each study site, and they were not really adequate for what we were needing to record. I'll never forget being trained by the PhD student and being told that I needed to pencil in new rows and columns on the official data sheet because she didn't want to update the forms herself and re-print them. Needless to say, I spent lots of time carefully designing the data collection forms for my MSc dissertation a few years later!