Brief Guidelines for Writing Action Memos

Abstract

Writing a successful action memo to a superior requires not just attention to the generic features of the form, but consideration of critical factors that affect the reader's reception and resulting action. The writer needs to take into account such factors as the urgency of action, framing assumptions, balanced options — and downside risks, shifting probabilities, issue context, long-term frameworks, limited reading time, likely bias, and the possibility of leaks.

Brief Guidelines for Writing Action Memos offers valuable advice for public policy and management students from a senior academic and experienced public official. Joseph S. Nye, Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, served as dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government and as Deputy to the Undersecretary of State for Security Assistance, Science, and Technology, chairing the National Security Council Group on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, and as Chair of the National Intelligence Council.

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