Neatness Counts
  • Arranging documents and other communications in an easy-to-follow, useful manner
  • Identifying and properly labeling data, information sources and assumptions
  • Organizing work in a methodical and tidy fashion, free from irregularity

HARRINGTON COMMENTARY

Neatness counts in our work. It directly impacts our ability to perform our tasks, verify our work, repeat assignments and maintain quality. A lack of neatness also hinders others’ ability to check our work and/or learn from us. For me personally, I have seen many occasions in which sloppy work kept me from catching my own mistakes or reproducing my own work at a later date.

Why should we care about neatness? It’s pretty easy to quantify some of the costs associated with sloppy work. For example, in FY2010, 519 schools and libraries were denied E-rate funding due to insufficient documentation. They couldn’t “show their math” to substantiate their funding applications. As a result, they lost out on the opportunity to receive the funding that they had requested. And this was no small matter. As a group, their applications represented $27.8 million1. That’s a lot of money – and it's money I am sure could have made a difference for those schools and libraries. Instead, because these E-rate applicants couldn’t explain their calculations, they lost out, and, along with it, so did their students and library patrons.

It is important to identify and properly label data, information sources and assumptions.

Below are two representations of work I recently did calculating the demand for E-rate funding for telecommunications and Internet access. Please review them both.

CORRECT, BUT SLOPPY WORK
CORRECT WORK LABELED WITH REFERENCES

In both cases, the numbers are correct. So, technically speaking, you could say the first and the second picture are both acceptable; however, it is obvious that the first picture is severally lacking. There is no way to know what the numbers represent or where they came from. Furthermore, they don’t communicate much in the way of trends or other metadata associated with the figures.

The second picture, on the other hand, includes all of the same data, but it communicates what it is and where it came from, plus it shows the data in a much more revealing light. (The big story: the 336% increase in demand for telecommunications and Internet funding, even though the amount of E-rate funding available remains virtually unchanged since it was set in 1997.)

When we take the time to do our work neatly, we reduce the risk of errors and we significantly increase the value of the work we provide to others. Yes, neatness usually requires that more time and energy be invested on the front end of a project; but it is almost always worth the extra effort. Neatness counts. 

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