I’m reading Erik Larson’s latest book The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz and appreciated his spotlighting a memo Churchill sent out to his cabinet with the title “Brevity.” Highlights:
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. …
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.
Despite being a fan of all things typewritten, I don’t envy all the poor secretaries who had to bang out said “woolly phrases” in countless memos and copies of memos and replies to memos—all of which would have required a lot more physical exertion than whipping out an email does today.
The full memo: