I started a new job and my manager emailed me several documents, probably about 100 pages in total. They explain the concept behind the program I am a dev for. The first page of the first document I have almost no clue what it's saying, and it doesn't get better from there.

Here is the first portion of the first page of the first document. I changed some information to maintain privacy and confidentiality. XYZ is the project name, ABC was an acronym I had no clue what it stood for.

XYZ projection, Conceptional description (pre-ABC)


  1. Terms and conventions

    • Photoplot = generic term for any or all XYZ 4 x 4 km sample units located on the national sampling framework, irrespective of info source
    • LC = XYZ photoplot land cover layer
    • Projected year = aclendar year selected by the update process user to which LC attributes for all selected photoplots are projected
  2. Goal

To project photoplot LC attributes (required for estimation) for a user-selected group of photoplots to a user-selected projection to privde the best possible information of forest status in the projection year:
-The most recent XYZ photoplot measurement data

How do you read something like that? I asked my manager if there were any sections in particular that he wanted me to focus on and he said it's all important. I have zero background in whatever concept this is covering (I guess it would be geography). My manager told me to come back to him when I've understood it. Given there's 100 pages of this (at least half of which is written in this way) it may take a while.

At least for dev, I'm the only one working on the project. But that's a good question, it sure seems unlikely that I'm a solo developer when there's so much documentation.

  • 4
    Apart from other answers (which really address your issue): please note that if you read something that is entirely new to you, parts of it will fall into place 'in retrospective': you are at page 20 and suddenly you think "Ah, that's what they meant with XXX at page 2!"
    – user8036
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 9:18
  • Check and see if it has an acronym dictionary in it. Most large documents like this either have an apprendix withthe acronyms or deifne them the first time they are used.
    – HLGEM
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 15:04

3 Answers 3


In such a situation I'd ask my manager if there's anyone I could speak to to get some context for this information. The text you've been given is clearly a complex text with a good deal of jargon, it's unrealistic to expect that someone who's just been hired and has no experience in that particular field to be able to make sense of it on their own. Keep in mind that your boss may not be aware of this fact, when you've been working with something for a long time it starts to seem like it's all common sense.

  • "In such a situation I'd ask my manager if there's anyone I could speak to to get some context for this information." what exact questions would you ask them? I don't want to go up and say "teach me about the project". Commented May 7, 2015 at 20:57
  • I'd pretty much ask specific questions on the text and hope that this will prompt the person I'm speaking with to start explaining the text. If they don't, after having asked a few questions I'd say something along the lines of "Sorry for the mountain of questions, but I'm having a really hard time understanding all of this" to give them another hint. If that doesn't work, just keep asking questions, it's all you can do.
    – Cronax
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 6:44

The way you say it, the document could be part of the Requirements Analysis. However, as you have already seen it may no be clear enough for a new dev, specially juniors.

What you could do is talk to your manager and ask him if there is some kind of documentation for your case. In some companies PMs, Software Architects or senior devs write an internal wiki or cookbook, designed to help the newcomers. If there isn't any of these in your project, you can suggest your PM to pair you with someone who has some time in the team and write it. By doing this you could leave a good impression (as far as you don't blame someone, of course!), avoid wasting time for the people that arrive to the project in the future, and even leave a first draft for the client documentation.


Work place usually know if something is complex to understand and since they do want developers to do the right coding they are always willing to help But don't confuse the total project for what you have to develop. For now start asking questions, and seek help understanding the project. It will show your interest and motivation, if you sit quite it won't help anyone.

Probably they hand over the document like that because they want to give you some time and waiting for the new sprint or iteration.

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