Letters, Memos, Emails

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Letters, Memos, and E-mail

Letters, Memos, Emails

  • Three genres you will encounter most often in the workplace
    • Reflects image of you and your company
  • Often act as the “wrapper” to larger technical documents
    • Résumés
    • Proposals
    • Reports

When you encounter a new genre, remember the two most important elements to technical communication:

  • When you encounter a new genre, remember the two most important elements to technical communication:
  • Audience
  • 2. Purpose

Letter Conventions

Ars dictaminis

  • Bizzell, P., & Herzberg, B. (2001). The rhetorical tradition: Readings from classical times to the present (2nd ed.). Boston: Bedford/ St. Martins.
  • “It could be said that the ars dictaminis emphasized the practical application of rhetoric over theoretical considerations and that this practical orientation became increasingly dominant”

Memo Conventions

  • Less formal and shorter than letters
  • Used most often for communication within one organization

E-mail Conventions

Types of Letters and Memos

  • Inquiry
  • Response
  • Transmittal
  • Claim
  • Adjustment
  • Refusal

writing strategies

  • 9

1: Pay Attention to Tone

  • Always consider audience and purpose
    • E-mail to an expert = respectful, friendly and professional
    • Complaint letter = firm, formal, demanding, but not threatening

The word “YOU” really effects your tone.

  • Congratulate and thank with “you”
    • “Your company always provides the best service.”
  • Do NOT use “you” when giving bad or negative information
    • “Your shoddy work produced a bad toaster.”
    • “My toaster no longer works.”
  • Vs.

Not Good.

  • You must have dropped the engine. The housing is badly cracked.


  • The badly cracked housing suggests that your engine must have fallen onto a hard surface from some height.

2: Brief, purposeful Introduction

  • Avoid diving into details too early or before the purpose of the communication is mentioned.

3: Review the context

  • We’re forgetful and busy people
  • Your reader may not be familiar with the situation
  • Image from: http:// www.mchenrycountyblog.com/uploaded_images/T-Shirt-Not%20Now,%20I'm%20Busy-705334.jpg

4: Follow a good-news first strategy

  • Image from: http://blog.1800dessert.com/2006/05/oreo_powered_rocket.html

5. Use a reader-centered strategy

  • Image from: http://www2.fileplanet.com/images/170000/170715ss_sm2.jpg

6: Organize your paragraphs logically

  • State the subject and purpose.
  • Explain the problem in detail.
  • Describe how the problem inconvenienced you.
  • State what you would like the reader to do.
  • Thank the reader for his or her response.
  • Provide contact information.

7: Keep your paragraphs short!

  • No more information than necessary!

8: Use headings, lists, and tables

  • Lorem Ipsum
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9: Have an active conclusion

  • Tell your reader what you want
  • Give your contact information
  • Image from: http://www.masshist.org/cabinet/november2002/hancocksignaturelg.jpg
  • Image from: http://icanhascheezburger.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/hay-be-nice-emokitteh-is-sensitive.jpg

Overview part I

  • Pay attention to tone
  • Have a brief “state-your-purpose” introduction
  • Review the context
    • If writing a response to some other communication, repeat the details of the context
  • Follow a good-news-first, bad-news-last strategy
  • Use a reader-centered strategy
    • Reader and writer usually have a mutual goal – they both want something!! Both parties needs to feel they have gained something.
    • Organize paragraphs logically
      • Intro, Narration, Petition and Justification

Overview part II

  • Keep your paragraphs short
    • Fewer than 8 lines, and use11-point, readable font
  • Use headings, lists, and tables where appropriate
    • Headings indicate sections, bulleted lists for key points, numbered lists of sequential items, and tables to enable comparison information
  • Have an active conclusion
    • Make clear what you expect the recipient to do, avoid weak endings like “hoping to hear from you soon,” and give your contact information!

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