It was sometime in the 1970s when I first ran across the Procter and Gamble one-page memo policy. I was a journalist then, interviewing an executive from P&G. It seemed to make so much sense. The people who worked there, I was told, loved it.
What can’t you say in a full page?
Think about emails, which are the memos of this millennium. What can’t you say in a page? Sure, there are special cases, but those are special cases. Most of the time, shorter is better.
A great learning moment for me, years ago, was when the editor of the business school resume book insisted that no resume be more than one page.
“Even the president of the United States can do a one-page resume,” she said. “Summarize.”
For better or worse, one of the things happening to us as we approach the second decade of the third millennium is fewer words. And I hope better words.
Blog posts seem to do better when they’re shorter. The better books break things into smaller pieces.
In Zen Habits, Leo Babuta calls it “The Elegant Art of Writing Less.”
Novels? A good novel contains no extra words. Emphasize “extra.”
White papers? There’s a medium built around words, and sections, and subsections, and organized, structural writing.
How does the saying go? “I’m sorry for this long memo; I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”