Churchill’s call for brevity
Last week, colleagues from the Government Digital Service (GDS) came to visit us at The National Archives. As professional folk in the creative, digital comms world it seemed the perfect opportunity to order up some files we have here that may shed some light onto government communications work of the past.
In the main I ordered up documents from the INF series. These are the records from the Central Office of Information (COI). They also include records from other departments and ministries that had previously provided government publicity and public information. The Ministry of Information, from the time of the Second World War, is probably the most well-known of these departments.
We saw some stunning artwork from the INF 3 series, but it was actually a file from the Prime Minister’s office which really caught my eye – PREM 11/1734. In this file, from the 1950s, Winston Churchill is re-issuing a plea he made in 1940 for the ‘need for brevity in communications’.
The file focuses on some of the key elements of good communication that would resonate with the thinking of any modern communicator. It also shows how the message was cascaded through the civil service.
As well as keeping things brief, the need to avoid jargon and ‘woolly phrases’ is also highlighted. Reports, minutes, telegrams and letters should all be kept to the point in order to save time.
I wonder how much other good advice there is within our files, especially for government communicators. Has anyone else found any hidden gems like this one?
From all the pages, my two favourite ones are as follows:
Firstly, this short note, in which the phrase ‘short-winded-ness’ is used:
And secondly, this letter to the Secretary of States, signed off ‘Forgive this cry of pain’ by Winston Churchill. Anyone who’s had to wade through long, jargon filled reports will know the exact pain he means!