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Blog: how telegrams can teach us all a lesson in modern business communication

By John Chapman, Programme Director | Thursday 3rd March 2016.

John Chapman
A booklet from 1928 called “how to write telegrams properly” may provide insight in an era where we are all swamped with emails and digital content.

Let us take an ordinary, every-day message:

“We received your very fine letter and your telegram this morning stop on the morning after you left us there were so many things to be done that all we could do was to pack up and get a taxi in time for the train we are leaving now.”

This would do quite well for a letter, but for telegraphic purposes it can be greatly simplified:

“Received your very fine letter and Telegram this morning so many things to be done morning after you left all we could do was pack and get taxi for train are leaving now.”

The original message contained 49 words. 14 words are deleted in the second example without any sacrifice of clearness.

Project reporting

In this age of copious quantities of information, an overwhelming number of emails, text messages, project documentation, Instagram messages, Facebook messages and so forth should we not be saying: “brevity is the soul of the project report”?

So instead of:

This is the project report for the finance systems upgrade. I am pleased to report that the project is progressing well. The team has settled in, productivity is good and morale is high. We have a morning stand-up planning session, lasting a maximum of half an hour, at which the minutiae for the day are agreed.

The project is divided into six stages (based on the PRINCE2 Methodology) with the first stage due to complete in 12 weeks from now. At the end of this stage there is an end stage assessment. Invites have been issued to all project board attendees. Three days in advance of the project board meeting, project papers will be issued.

A more concise version:

  • Finance systems proje
    ct progressing well.
  • Team morale good, productivity high.
  • Daily stand up planning sessions.
  • Six project stages.
  • First stage ends in 12 weeks.
  • End stage meeting invite issued.

The first consisting of 115 words, the second 29 words.

In a world where we are all skim reading and short of time, it’s something to think about every day as we want to convey as much information as possible in the most concise way.

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