A4 Insanity: Against the humble ‘One Pager’

If you’ve ever worked in an office, especially in a large organisation, have you ever been asked, ‘just give me a page on that’? Yes? Often? Yes? Too often? If so, I hope the following observations are of interest.

From one job to the next, requests to produce a ‘one pager’ have followed me around like a bad smell. A page on a policy idea, a page on why we should buy some bit of kit, a page on a website someone should build, a page outlining the contents of another document consisting of more pages.

The motivations behind these requests vary, as do their levels of estimableness. At the virtuous end of the spectrum, I can understand the desire to be consise and not to impose too much (often un-remunerated) work on the recipient of the request. However, there are some things that are bad and wrong about the classic ‘one pager’ that I feel a need to share with the rest of the world.

1. The one pager is inevitibly written as a Word document, and then attached to an email. This means that instead of simply getting the content you want from the mail you’ve just been sent,  you have to click to open the attachment, then wait for Microsoft Word to load. How many seconds a day around the world are being wasted like this? It makes me vaguely queasy when I start to do the sums in my head.

2. The one pager attachment is in a proprietary data standard which assumes that the person at each end will have paid around £500 somewhere along the line for Microsoft Office. £500? Come on, people! That’s more than most of our computers cost, in this case being deployed for a text editing purpose that could have been achieved equally well on a tiny-brained 80s electric typewriter. I’m not saying Office is a bad piece of software, merely that using it to bang out a few hundred words on an A4 page is like using the Manhatten project to crack a walnut.

3. The one pager attachment is by definition an attachment and therefore not universally addressable on the internet. It doesn’t have a URL, in short, and public, non-sensitive one pagers can’t be found in Google by default, unless someone goes a long way out of their way to upload them.  And not having URLs make things incredibly easy to lose, and harder to share across commes networks that don’t treat attachment so nicely (text messages, anyone?).

4. A one pager is by definition a page of paper. It doesn’t move. It might just possible have un-fetching bright blue links in it, but because it’s probably going to be printed out, it won’t normally have much linking embedded. They can’t contain YouTube videos, or widgets. This insistance on an electronic way of sending a paper format message is quite simply a way of saying “please don’t use state of the art presentational methods, they’re just for the little people on the outside of my organisation. We all know paper is really still king and will be until after I’m dead”

5. There is no discoverable context to a single one pager, except what’s written in it. I can’t find a list of related files. I can’t find how it changed over time. I can’t find who contributed what. I can’t find what people are saying about it in the Netherlands. I can’t reformat it easily to view on my phone, or be read to my via my headset. I can’t hit a key to record a version of me reading it out loud to video, and share that instead. I can’t do anything much except print it out and add to the world’s daily tree massacre.

Still, why am I complaining about the one pager, rather than any other piece of organisational cruft? Why pick on something so innocent?

The answer is precisely because it is often those things that look the most innocent that do the most damage. After all, it’s just a little tube of tobacco that makes people get through the day…


  1. what do you mean by “organisational cruft”

    Isn’t a request for one page simply a request to keep it short. You don’t have to fill the whole page.

  2. you just need to keep it within a size of one page,
    can be in any format as long as it is clear and short
    if it is sent in a mail of course it is attachment, because it is easy to save it and prevent overload of mailbox
    the main idea is: time saver