How to Write a Memo or Report

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Management

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No. U9711C

How to Write
a Memo or Report
by Monci J.Williams

Management
HARVARD

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communication

How to Write a Memo or Report
by Monci J.Williams

W

E’D LIKE TO offer
“Ten Tips to Make
Writing Easy” instead,
but, alas, we’d be fudging.
Writing isn’t so easy, especially for
those of us most comfortable with the
language of numbers. But there are
people—consultants, teachers, trainers—who say that writing clear reports, analyses, and other business
documents can be easier than we
think. If only…

says, good business writing manages
the relationship of those ideas to the
reader.
The value of these insights—that
modern managerial and professional
writing is about presenting ideas to
people—should not be overlooked.
For years we’ve been given all sorts of
near-useless observations about what
good writing looks like. They masquerade as admonitions such as “Clear

Minto’s system rests on her “Pyramid
Principle,” which holds that “ideas in
writing should always form a pyramid
under a single thought.” This principle,
expounded upon in a self- published
book, is most easily
learned, appreciated, and applied after
you’ve tried it a few times. Minto says
that we should, when we write, aim to
get across one idea. This means we
must boil down a juicy mass of
history and policy and strategy and
financials and objectives into (egad!)
one clear recommendation. In other
words, Minto insists, we must come
out and say something.

No hemming. No hawing. No hiding
in and under and around all that empty
phraseology. No, not in Minto’s book,
which tells us (with some
If only we had someone
of the stiff-spined sternness
else to write them for us?
of a piano teacher whose
No (but nice try). If only
student has failed to pracwe follow this or that pretice) that we may not write Most reports, memos, and business documents answer one
scription? Fine. (But which
what she calls intellectuof four questions. The introduction summarizes the situaone?) Of the many availally blank assertions. “The tion, sets up the question the document addresses, and
able, one approach to
company has five probbriefly gives the reader the answer.
business writing worth
lems” is not the expression
considering is “The Minto
of an idea because it lacks
SITUATION
COMPLICATION
QUESTION
Pyramid Principle,” named
a “revealing insight.” The
(Established truth
(What happened next to
by and for Barbara Minto,
statement “The major orgaabout the situation)
trigger the question)
a former McKinsey consulnizational problem we face
Something stops us from What...
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