Saturday, March 2, 2013

Why Footers are Important in Documents

Some years ago I worked for a small Australian Government agency, the function of which was so secret, even I didn't know what I was doing. In the process of carrying out our public service activities, we generated a plethora of reports and other documents. When a document arrived at my inbox without a footer, I always loaded it into my word processing software and immediately inserted automatic page numbering as a minimum. I did that religiously whether I was going to print the document or read it online. I encouraged my staff to do the same and always insisted that any documents that were created in my small section, had appropriate footers.

[A footer, if anyone reading isn't familiar with the term, is a piece of text or graphics and usually a page number that is set up automatically to print on the bottom of every page.]

One day a document with almost 500 pages arrived and as I was in a hurry to go to a meeting, I said to one of my junior administrative staff, "Put a footer on it and print a copy on both sides of the paper. Leave it on my desk."

When I returned an hour later, the young fellow was in a panic. He'd dropped the printed document near a stairwell and the 500 pages had drifted all over the place. He'd enlisted the help of several colleagues to pick up all the sheets of the document and put them together. But he had not followed my direction to the letter and not one of the pages had a page number on it. He was clearly embarrassed and very apologetic but said he'd reassemble the document and have it to me early afternoon.

"Before you reassemble it", I said, "I want you to come back to me with an estimate of how much it will cost for you to do that on your hourly wage and the cost of printing a ream of paper." He looked at me strangely and replied, "Yes, sir."

I can't of course recall the costs of these all these years later, but I do recall that his estimate of hours required was lower than what I thought it would be and the cost of reprinting very much lower. I told him to shred the paper and to print another copy with page numbering. He did that and I had the document within 10 minutes or so.

Some weeks later he said, "Mr Henry, that was a very valuable lesson. Thank you for not just giving me a blast and taking the time to help me understand why footers are important and the comparative cost of what we do."

I didn't tell him that I had had a similar experience once and knew how very difficult it is to reassemble pages into their correct sequence without numbers.

Old dogs can really teach you new tricks.

Don't you forget why footers are important in documents and make sure you use them.


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