Writing at Amazon

Amazon takes writing seriously.

Yes, there’s a house style. Yes, it must follow a narrative. And yes, there’s a reason why.

Writing forces you to clarify your thinking. While this is difficult for people who like the sound of their own voice, writing distills ideas down to their essence. Shouting louder doesn’t help.

Amazon doesn’t use PowerPoint. For any meeting, people write a document. And at the beginning of a meeting, everyone reads the document in silence before opening discussions. This simultaneously sets the agenda and sharpens decision-making.

There are some rules. You can’t list bullets points. You can’t go round and round in circles. You can’t dawdle.

You can’t write more than six pages. (Depending on context, two and four-page document are preferred.) Documents open with a background, tenets and an executive summary, and end with guidance and supporting data. Both sides of a debate are presented with a push for a decision.

Language should be crisp and to the point. Less than 30 words per sentence. Replace adjectives with data. Eliminate weasel words.

Style? Use shorts words instead of long words. Use common, plain language. Simple is great. State the purpose and goals of your document at the beginning with extreme clarity. This will keep the entire room focused on the objectives. Explain your thought process in a logical order. Reveal your thinking from the problem to the solution step by step. Build a story and do it in sequence. Move from insight to recommendations.

Font? Calibri is a good, readable font to use. 12 points for headline, 10 points for body. Format is single-spaced, double-sided. Appendices must be relevant and cited in the body save for the first two appendices, which tend to be Frequently Asked Questions followed by a customer-focused Press Release.

What to avoid? Clip art, bad grammar, different fonts, coloured fonts (the horror, the horror), screenshots, jargon, vagueness, adverbs, typos.

Make sure you review your document with multiple people. Especially someone outside your area of focus. 

Someone without any context about the problem should be able to understand the point and implications of your document.

If not, it’s time to rewrite.

Older note Newer note