How to Outwit Forms


JOHN E. LEFFLER is professor oF chemistry at the Florida StaTe University. This is his first appearance in the ATLANTIC.

In the November Atlantic, the article “A Matter of Forml(s)" by Celia Darlington described the horrible fate of an organization such as a university when it finally becomes totally submerged in paper. It was suggested that paper itself be elaborated into some sort of device to reduce the stultifying overabundance of forms, blanks, fragenbogen, and so forth, now arresting the wheels and clogging the rushing waters of our otherwise wholly admirable and efficient Western civilization. The present article is a report on a strikingly successful technique recently developed and fieldtested at a large Southeastern university.

Once the psychology of the people who devise and send out forms is understood, the means of defense become almost obvious. The only weak point of these formidable adversaries is their inordinate and compulsive respect for any form or certificate whatever.

An anonymous colleague and I therefore adopted the following tactics: A Pink Slip was stapled to each of the hundred or more intramural forms in our test collection assembled from the offices of a single university. The forms were then returned without comment or return address to the university offices from which they originated. You will note from the sample below that the Pink Slip is designed to be as intimidating and insulting as possible. An especially important feature of the plan is that the Committee for the Abolition of Unprofitable Paper Work does not actually exist; it is merely an interesting hypothesis. Thus the frantic telephone calls and other disturbed-anthill behavior elicited by the slips failed to uncover any agency empowered to overrule the Committee. The flood of forms therefore dwindled to a trickle. When a slight relapse toward the previous unacceptable behavior began to set in after about two weeks, we applied a psychological reinforcement in the shape of a second batch of forms. The second batch of forms bore pink slips on which was scrawled the word urgent.

For use against only moderately objectionable forms we have developed another technique. We actually fill out such forms in part, except that we neglect to answer any impertinent or inconvenient questions. We do not, however, return the required seven copies. Instead, we return just one copy to which is stapled an E Pluribus Unum Replicate Surrogate, shown below.

The misprint identifies this copy as coming from the second printing. The first printing is now quite rare.

So far the Replicate Surrogates are available only in the blue two-copy denomination, but it we are in an especially jovial mood we attach another Replicate Surrogate to the first. Since the second Replicate Surrogate has the effect of tripling the first, the net effect on the substrate document is as though it were accompanied by six copies.

Neither the Pink Slip nor the Replicate Surrogate is protected by copyright, and readers are invited to have their own supplies printed as needed.