October 17, 2017

‘Nearly all of them are far too long’

Churchill calls for shorter communications

Do your executives add words to every communication they review? Not so Winston Churchill. He called for shorter pieces to save staff time and energy.

Nearly all of them are far too long

British bulldog Churchill was bullish on short memos, short paragraphs and short phrases. Image by Laurel L. Russwurm

In a memo to his war cabinet titled “Brevity,” the British Prime Minister called for short pieces, paragraphs and phrases as an aid to clearer thinking:

To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.

I ask my colleagues and their staffs to see to it that their Reports are shorter.

(i) The aim should be Reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs.

(ii) If a Report relies on detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on statistics, these should be set out in an Appendix.

“Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversational.”

(iii) Often the occasion is best met by submitting not a full-dress Report, but an Aide-memoire consisting of headings only, which can be expanded orally if needed.

(iv) Let us have an end of such phrases as these: “It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations,” or “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect.” Most of these woolly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether, or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversational.

Reports drawn up on the lines I propose may at first seem rough as compared with the flat surface of officialese jargon. But the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.

Churchill practiced what he preached: This memo is 241 words long — little more than a one-minute read.

Tip: Share this memo with your executive to jump-start a conversation about crisp communications.

  • Cut Through the Clutter

    Is your copy easy to read? According to communication experts, that’s one of the two key questions people ask to determine whether to read a piece — or toss it.

    Fortunately, academics have tested and quantified what makes copy easy to read. Unfortunately, that research virtually never makes it out of the ivory tower and into the hands of writers who could actually apply it.

    Catch Your Readers - Ann Wylie's persuasive-writing workshop in Kansas City on Nov. 16-17, 2017 imageAt Catch Your Readers — a two-day Master Class on Nov. 16-17 in Kansas City — you’ll leave this session with “the numbers” you need to measurably improve your copy’s readability.

    Specifically, you’ll learn to:

    • Apply a seven-step system for making every piece you write clearer and more concise.
    • Use a cool tool (you probably already have it, but you might not know it) to measurably improve your message’s readability.
    • Drastically condense your copy using the fastest, most effective approach. (The way we do it every day takes far more time and makes your message less interesting.)
    • Hit the right targets. How long is too long for your paragraphs? Your sentences? Your words?
    • Increase reading by hitting one key on your keyboard more often.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Catch Your Readers - Ann Wylie's persuasive-writing workshop in Kansas City on Nov. 16-17, 2017


    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Catch Your Readers workshop? Contact Ann directly.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!


%d bloggers like this: