May 4: Churchill’s Memo on Brevity
The advice for writers remains highly relevant today.
Source: UK National Archives
Published: June 2017
Churchill’s Memo on Brevity
While Prime Minister of the UK during World War II, Winston Churchill issued a memo to his staff titled “Brevity.” The advice for writers remains highly relevant today. Excerpts from the 1940 memo include:
“I ask my colleagues and their staffs to see to it that their Reports are shorter.
The aim should be Reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs.
If a Report relies on detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on statistics, these should be set out in an Appendix.
Let us have an end of such phrases as these:
“It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations…,”
Padding can be left out altogether or replaced by a single word.
… the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.”
Bonus: Churchill reissued the memo in 1951, adding: “Official papers are too long and too diffuse. In 1940 I called for brevity. Evidently I must do it again.”
Did you appreciate the fact today?