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.

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

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

  1. 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.”


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