the problem with miscellaneous

In one of my first jobs (early 90s), I worked for a law firm and—along with 15 other recent grads—was responsible for coding documents relevant to the case we were working on.  Essentially, this meant writing a brief summary of each document and entering it into a database. At the same time, I had to assign some categories: date, author, location, recipient. And the hard one: doctype. Some were easy: letter, memo, medical research report, meeting minutes, map, photo. Unfortunately, however, not everything fit nicely into one of these categories. And, in our little home-grown system, the list of doctypes was not expandable. Relatedly, I guess, the system designer had included a category called “miscellaneous.” As you can imagine, this category ended up being quite the hodge-podge and was the largest by far of the categories by the end of our coding efforts. Not massively useful.

I’ve since come across technical manuals with titles like Performing Basic System Tasks or General Configuration. What do you think might be in these documents? There’s no way of knowing just by looking at the title. But we can guess that they probably house the content that the author didn’t know what else to do with…. miscellaneous content. Again, useless. A document like this exists for the author’s convenience, not the reader’s.


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