The risks of documentation by oral history

Will Kelly
2 min readMar 4, 2023


There’s a phenomenon in some organizations that I call Documentation by Oral History. It’s that decision or process that nobody will write down. Documentation by Oral History is hardly ever about laziness, in my experience. It often equates to a passive-aggressive power play.

Take, for example, not capturing writing standards and placing them in some place where teams can access them during the writing process. It’s a standard best practice to document this sort of information. Such a simple act means that authors have one less thing to remember at deadline time. It also allows reviewers and editors to throw down a passive-aggressive power play as they let their personal whims affect the project.

Documentation by Oral History is another symptom of micromanagement that nobody ever speaks about because it only affects the people doing the work. One of the biggest tells of a micromanager is somebody who doesn’t commit to written standards to cast themselves as the story's hero when they’re putting themselves ahead of the customer and the project team to boost their fragile ego.

Will Kelly is a technology industry writer and marketer. Medium is home to his personal writing. He’s written for TechTarget, InfoWorld, and others. His career includes stints in technical writing, training, and marketing. Follow him on Twitter: @willkelly.

Originally published at on March 4, 2023.