Writing framework by Amazon

There is no way to write a six-page narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking

- Jeff Bezos

Bazos made Amazon into a writing culture by banning PowerPoint and forcing everyone to write memos (usually it’s 1-2 pages and max 6 pages) for meetings. He called them “narratives“.

Amazon uses a tailored process and specific writing guidelines to make this happen.

Each memo is structured around the same 6 components:

  • Intro

  • Goals

  • Tenets

  • Current state

  • Lessons learned

  • Strategy

Meeting attendees get 20 min to read the doc.

Then they spend the rest of the meeting tearing apart the ideas it presents.

After the meeting, the memo owner makes edits and sends out a final version to all involved parties.

To keep it consistent, Amazon uses 9 rules for writing its memos:

  1. Use less than 30 words per sentence

    1. Due to the fact that → because

    2. Totally lacked the ability to → could not

  2. Replace adjectives with data

    1. we made the performance much faster → we reduce server side tp90 latency from 10ms to 1ms

  3. Eliminate weasel words

    1. nearly all customers → 87% of Prime members

    2. significantly better → +25 basis points (bps)

  4. Does your writing pass the “so what“ test?

  5. If you get a question, reply with one of the for-Amazon answers:

    1. yes

    2. no

    3. A number

    4. I don’t know (and will follow up when I do)

  6. We objective: avoid adjectives and adverbs

    1. Adjectives are imprecise and don’t contribute to making a decision

    2. Most Amazonians react negatively to buzz words and qualifications without data

  7. Avoid jargon and acronyms as they exclude non-experts and newcomers

  8. Always explain technical terms, acronyms, and abbreviations the first time they appear

    1. Example: “After we sign the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA)…“

  9. Weasel words are vague and create the impression of the meaning. Don’t use them!

    1. “would help the solution“

    2. “might bring clarity“

    3. “should result in benefits“

    4. “significantly better“

    5. “arguably the best“