Writing tips you can use now

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For clear writing...think PAFEO
For clear writing...think PAFEO

Adhering to the principles of PAFEO can help biotech brand managers communicate more clearly and efficiently.

It isn't every day I get the opportunity to share good practical advice from one of my favorite teachers. But after rereading John Keenan's Feel Free to Writewhich was published in 1982 to help business professionals with the daunting task of achieving clarity in their writing, here's my chance.

What is PAFEO?

It's a nonsense word that Keenan, a former professor of English at LaSalle University, devised to help his students remember the important steps in constructing a piece of writing. So, the next time you are drafting a memo or email, keep in mind the following formula:

P stands for purpose.

A stands for audience.

F stands for format.

E stands for evidence.

O stands for organization.


Before you begin, ask yourself, “Why am I writing this?” Your answer should be immediate: to remind, to confirm, to clarify. Choose a subject statement that is broad enough to cover your subject, but specific enough to let your reader know what's coming. For example:

Too broad: Revised Labeling

More precise: DDMAC Revisions to the Efficacy Section of PI

Deciding on your purpose will help you narrow your focus. You will need fewer words to convey your thoughts, which will save your readers time and labor.


Most memos and emails we write are directed toward specific readers. After establishing your purpose, ask yourself, “Who am I addressing? My superior? My colleague? How much background does the reader need, and how can I best give him or her this information?”

Considering your audience will help you strike the right tone, or even help you decide whether formal correspondence is necessary. Perhaps you can achieve the same goal with a handwritten note that the reader will toss away (without—you hope-- irritation or dismissiveness).


Even though your company may have a template for memos, you can still vary your format. Adopt headings, tables, and lists. Use bullets and sub-bullets, and don't be afraid to use white space. Dense blocks of text can put readers off.


We gather evidence—the facts to support our argument—in three ways: through careful observation; through intelligent fieldwork; and through research. When providing information, use only what is relevant to your subject. Don't allow yourself to get bogged down with a lot of unnecessary detail.


In memo writing it is usually best to state your main point first—whether that point is a fact, a recommendation, or a conclusion. Organize your ideas in an appropriate sequence. For instance:

Chronological: past to present to future

Spatial: by location—such as east region, midwest region, west region

Problem-analysis-solution: description of the problem, why it exists, what to do about it

Order of importance: most important to least important

Good writing begins with clear thinking. By doing the necessary groundwork before you begin, you will get your point across with speed and precision.

You can order copies of John Keenan's Feel Free to Write on amazon.com.

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