Quite some time ago, I read a book titled Work 2.0by Bill Jensen. While the book was published in 2002, there are still some key learnings that still apply. One of them is the concept of memo writing.
On the very last page of his book, there is a one-page summary of the entire book. In the spine of the page is the following statement:
“Grand Poobah Law: There’s a running joke about CEO’s: If it has a staple in it, it doesn’t get read. This one-page summary is dedicated to senior executives everywhere who love this law.”
I hadn’t heard the Grand Poobah Law before then…but since, I learned that Proctor & Gamble used to have a one-page memo discipline. Check it out here. This convinced me that clear and concise communication needed to be a business goal. It’s so important – the way you express your ideas and thoughts in writing can make you or break you. In the spirit of preserving the Grand Poobah law, let me share some useful tips I’ve learned over the years:
Plan what you need to say. I know, this seems elementary but you wouldn’t believe the number of people who just write with no regard. I’m not even talking about difficult, negative, or CYA messages. Simply put, think about how you introduce the subject, the key points you’re trying to make, and a compelling closing.
Use bullet points and numbers. Not only does this make your writing easy to read but it can visually make your memo or correspondence look short and to the point. Hence, people will stop to read it.
Use widely accepted font styles and sizes. I don’t want to turn this into a Comic Sans bashing…my two cents, not a fan. But I’m also not fond of Times Roman. Ariel and Calibri appear to be commonly used business fonts. I try to keep font size to 11. When you start to get 10pt and under, people will see the smaller font, view the memo as ‘full’ of stuff to digest and save it for another time to read (maybe – probably not).
Keep margins at a setting where there is some white space. That white edge around a document is visually appealing. People won’t view reading it as a chore. If you have a 0.25margin…it looks painful. And, people will wait to read things that look painful…if they read them at all.
Lastly, find an editor. No – it doesn’t have to be a professional one. Although that would be nice. But find someone who will review your work and offer good constructive criticism. You want someone to tell you when your writing is not logical or you’re coming across as overly snarky (unless of course your goal is to be illogical and overly snarky). You also want them to correct the stupid mistakes we all make – like using “there” when it should be “their”.
Writing is a part of our everyday lives. While I’m not in a Corporate setting anymore, I still have to write memos and correspondence as a consultant or a volunteer leader. I’ve also found these tips really helpful in writing the blog or helping someone with their resume. So they translate to many settings.
If you want to make a real difference in this world of business, developing solid writing skills is a must.1