Some years ago, I prepared a computer programming book for a demanding IT manager. The manager insisted that the book must not exceed 500 pages. For an entire weekend I toiled over the electronic copy, squeezing, tweaking, compressing, rearranging – using every trick that I knew of to get that book cut down to a size that my client would accept. When I left the office late on Sunday afternoon, I was frustrated and exhausted, but I had managed to hammer the animal into what I had hoped would be an acceptable 502 pages. On Monday, the manager came to work early and had already performed his review before I arrived. I found the draft manuscript on my desk with a yellow sticky note attached: “This is looking great! Cut 3 more pages and ship.” That is how much of a stickler he was about page count.
As a technical writer I think a lot about page count, usually in the context of “are there too many”. Overly written technical documentation is often as useless to an end user as inadequate or erroneous documentation. Over explain a topic and valuable information may be lost in text. Under explain a topic and the product user may not be able to perform his or her task. In either case, poorly written documentation will always result in the inaccurate depiction of a product, a product that might in all other ways be perfectly wonderful. In extreme cases, erroneous technical documentation has contributed to the injury, or even death of a user (a technical writer’s absolute worst nightmare).
Unfortunately, clear, concise, tightly written, documentation is not the province of legal and legislative documents, which tend to suppose an audience comprised primarily of ivory tower law professors, and the occasional political science PhD. Perhaps used as a tool to control the masses by the educated few, legislative documents are always a chore to read – especially by we laypeople to whom the phrase, ‘passing the bar’, means missing the entrance to O’Grady’s Pub.
All of which brings me to the subject of the Affordable Care Act, or if you prefer, Obamacare. The number of pages in this famed document has been bantered about for the past two years, by the network talking heads, radio talk show hosts (and their callers), in the halls of Congress, and on the Presidential campaign trail. Once purported to exceed 20,000 pages, or a stack of paper 7 feet tall, the document today is nowhere close to that size, but it is still a hefty piece of work. And why not. It covers a lot of ground.
But the frantic hand wringing over the size of the Affordable Care Act document is, I believe, somewhat exaggerated. The point of such hand wringing being:
A. The document is so long that it is probably filled with all kinds of legal double-speak that is designed to bamboozle us into thinking that it is something that it isn’t, and…
B. Who the hell could ever slosh through that many pages, and…
C. Short and simple always trumps long and complex. When it comes down to what is good for the common man or woman on the street, Dr. Seuss is always better than Marcel Proust…right? Or so it seems.
Curious as to the size of the Affordable Healthcare Act document, I went looking for it, and I found it quickly. A quick Google search followed by two mouse clicks was all that was required to call up this important piece of legislation that is impacting us all. For your convenience, I shall post a link to the document here.
Officially known as Public Law 111-148, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is available to anyone with a computer, and I urge everyone (well, at least those of us here in the U.S. where the crap is really hitting the fan right now), to bookmark the document and peruse parts of it at your leisure.
Should you be endowed with an endless supply of printer ink, paper, and time, the printed version of the Affordable Care Act will run a printer-over-heating, 906 pages. A big document to be sure, but far short of a 2000 page document that one hears mentioned on TV and radio all the time, and not even close to the 20,000 page behemoth it was touted to be a year and a half ago.
Over the past several days, I have made several visits to the online version of the Affordable Healthcare Act document. No, I have not read it all, not even close. But I do have two initial impressions that I will pass on here.
First, it would not be impossible to read this thing in its entirety, and I assure you that it has been read by many. The legalese language makes for a difficult slosh, but it could be done. Comprehension of the material it contains is another matter, but I feel I might have a better chance with this document than perhaps the U.S. tax code document which I understand exceeds 13,000 pages.
Second, understanding the contents of this document is not as exceedingly difficult as we have been led to believe, and some parts are downright interesting.
So, if your copy of Infinite Jest, or Atlas Shrugged is waiting for you on your nightstand, and you are planning on starting one of these doorstop tomes this evening so as to be able to remove them from your extreme-reading list, I urge you to lay such copies aside for a few days so that you may focus on the Affordable Healthcare Act document. There is no time like now.
In so doing you will not only become a more informed consumer (and voter), but you will come away with a feeling of great accomplishment.
In any case, think of how you will feel at the next cocktail party, or backyard Bar-B-Q when that loudmouth from Purchasing denounces the Obamacare legislation as being overly complex, and put together at the behest of a far-left, Nazi, Communist, Moslem, President who cannot prove beyond a shadow of doubt that he is a U.S. citizen…yes that President. You will want to say something, but don’t…not yet…wait for it. Wait until he gets to the part where he asks with that smug look on his face, “well…have YOU read it?”
At which time you may step boldly forth, perhaps quoting from section 6114, titled: “National demonstration projects on culture change and use of information technology in nursing homes.”
Then you may watch his jaw drop…