Craft a tight, persuasive memo

If the purpose of your memo is to educate or explain, then you need to organize your facts and write in clear, descriptive language. But if you want to win over your readers—encouraging them to adopt a proposal, for example— then you also need to consider how you align your arguments to maximize their appeal.

The biggest mistake in crafting a persuasive memo is writing in a stiff or fake tone. In an effort to sound authoritative, you may drain the life from the page. Follow these rules:

Chop away fat. Eliminate excess words. Common phrases to avoid include “per our discussion,” “if you will” or “please note with regard to.” Cut right to the meat of each sentence.

Conclude first. Your first sentence should succinctly summarize your conclusion— or at least establish the main point that flows straight to your conclusion.

Don’t build an elaborate case like a treasure hunt that leads the reader to a prize. Make sure that if someone reads only your first few sentences, your message will hit home.

Write in the active voice. Example: Replace “The adjoining table is intended to show data …” with “This table shows data …”

Preview your arguments. Insert a one-sentence overview. This alerts the reader to what follows. If you’re about to give three reasons why your recommendation makes sense, don’t jump to the first reason. Begin by writing, “This option works best for three reasons: It offers lower costs, higher odds of success and more flexibility to adapt to change.”

Avoid hyperbole. The best way to persuade in print is to line up stark, powerful facts. Don’t puff up your data by making unsubstantiated claims, such as describing “the most dangerous risk we’ve ever faced” or declaring an idea “a historic breakthrough.” Let the reader judge, based on your short, clearheaded analysis.