Writing Effective Memos

Effective business writing can be cost effective, enhance communication and advance professional development, but many individuals dislike writing, some even fear it. The sight of a blank page or a blank computer screen can also be stressful. In childhood, writing was a fun process, but it all changed once we became adults. Writing is no longer fun; as adults, our writing is consistently graded and critiqued. Most of the critiquing and grading came from our teachers in school. It is necessary to mention that these teachers were well intentioned. Whether we liked it or not, teachers taught us how to write. Writing for a satisfactory grade intended using big words and filling a certain amount pages, all in an effort to impress the teacher. When we finish school, and we take on roles in business organizations we realize that businesses require a different set of writing skills. Some of the skills necessary are not taught in school unless you take business writing courses. Our audience was our teacher, but in business writing, there is a broader audience. In business “time is money”, the audience does not have time to sift through our reports for the main point.Too many business writers have the notion that big words are signs of literacy and superior intelligence. Communicating in an unknown tongue can be pretentious. A rich vocabulary is important. There are many useful big words for which there is no satisfactory substitute, as long as big words are used correctly and the readers or listeners are not baffled. Big words can add spice to a piece of writing. However, in letters that are written to colleagues, customers, and the general public, it is better to put away the dictionary. Instead, the writer should choose words that are most familiar to people. Even when the writer knows the person he or she is writing to is highly literate, it is still a good idea to choose simple words over the showy words. Not because the reader will not understand the writer but because conversational writing is livelier and more interesting.In addition, many employees write letters, memos and emails that are a good deal longer than they need to be. According to Parish (2010) “E-mails have basically replaced memos and letters, but they are getting longer and longer” (Para. 11). The writer who takes 100 words to say what might have been said just as well in 40 is a nuisance, a time waster. A two-page letter is fine, sometimes the writer may want to include words that are not necessary but that do add warmth and friendliness. Nevertheless, wasted words are those that clutter the message without adding anything to it, but actually detract from the message. Writing effective can save money without tarnishing the organization’s image.A lot of argument can be made over the high cost of business writing. When you think about such elements as stationery and postage, the writer’s time, the secretary’s time, and overhead expenses, the cost of a single business letter can be high. Each time, a new expense report comes out conscious executives are usually on a mad scramble to trim expenses. On average, a letter might cost up to $15 dollars. Frankly business writing costs are much too high in many companies. Much of the expense is a result of the writer’s time. Business professionals may spend an hour or more starring at a blank screen because they do not know what to write.However, let’s be rational. The money spent to write a letter with all overhead costs incurred can be minor when compared to the money lost by writing a bad letter or no letter at all. A short, quickly tossed off message to a highly valued customer may delight the cost conscious manager, but it could result in a reduction or a total loss of that customer’s business. Therefore, it could be an expensive or inexpensive piece of business writing. Letters, memos and emails in business organizations are not merely mediums of communication. They are effective substitutes for face to face visits, making and keeping friends, attracting and holding customers, and building a positive image of yourself and your organization.Even a small improvement in business writing skills might also improve career prospects. However, individuals need first to admit that they have a problem with business writing. Writing is not a gift; it is a skill that is learned the same way as any other activity, by trial and error over a long period of time. There is a specific type of content for specific business writing, for example, the elements that must go into a thank you letter are not the same for a letter of resignation. Individuals will become a skilled writer only writing and writing some more. Further, writing is not a linear process. It is messy and frequently, time consuming. When the individual confronts that blank piece of paper, or, more likely these days a blank computer screen, they will often find that their mind is just as blank. It can be frustrating when their boss wants that report on his or her desk by the end of the day.If individuals have ever taken courses in business writing, chances are they learned that a good letter is brief, courteous, clear and tactful. Further, they probably learned that every letter, memo, and email they write is sales structured. Business professionals are always selling something such as, products, services, company image, yourself, or simply an idea. These students were also cautioned to handle responses to all communications promptly. It is hard to argue with these rules because most of them make good sense for “most” letters. It easy to make a list of rules for writing, and most business professionals can do it. Organizations also publish manuals which are essentially rulebooks or manuals for business writing.Unfortunately, the rules do not always work. The reason is that they are typically established to fit ideal conditions, and, unfortunately, communication situations are not always ideal. For example, if an employee is answering a question from a potential customer who is genuinely interested in the company’s products, employees can grab the list of rules and start writing to the customer. This letter is friendly, personal and sales structured. However, what if you are a credit manager and you have to write a fourth letter to a dealer who appears to have no intentions of paying an account that is months past due. In this situation business, employees can not be friendly, personal and sales structured. Employees can not use a rulebook in this situation. All the good, friendly rules were used in the first few letters. Now in this situation, the employee will probably have to write an unfriendly letter yet maintain a good image of the company and themselves. Business writing will largely depend on who the writer is, who the reader is, what the problem is and what the writer expects to accomplish. There are many different ways of writing a good piece of business writing.Although, every piece of business writing should express yourself as you were facing the reader. Business writing is written by people to people. According to Connor (2010) “Try to imitate, on paper, the voice with which you normally talk” (Para. 3). Even though, a company letterhead is used, and you represent that organization when you write letters, it is still you who delivers the message. This means that the audience should be treated like humans. People are different, and when possible these differences should be taken into account. On the other hand, people are very much alike in certain respects. They want to be treated as though they have above average intelligence. Further, that they are important to the company they work for.So how can individuals improve their career prospects by improving their business writing skills? First individuals can start by improving their resumes. In job searching, it is vital to have a good resume. Resumes are a critical tool in evaluating potential candidate’s qualifications. Employers look for key phrases, words, and they review accomplishments. Further, employers are critical in assessing the quality of the written document. Therefore, resumes must be perfect in visual presentation and the quality of the written word. Although, somewhat formal in setup, mainly for quick reading and reference purposes, the resume is essentially a sales instrument. It is used to emphasize in it those events and accomplishments that make us look good to prospective employers. Resumes are not razzle- dazzle documents neither are they merely a condensed biographical sketch of one’s life and work. As with any business writing, there is no magic formula the writer can use to produce an effective letter for every occasion. Most of business writing must be tailored to fit the particular situation one is faced with. The same is true of a resume.However, every good resume contains some essential parts. A good resume must contain an objective, a heading, a description of the jobs held, degrees, major courses taken and a list of people whom an employer can contact for information about the applicant. Form and design is important in a resume because it is the first contact with prospective employers, so it must be kept simple and clean. Objectives must be specific, and tailored to each employer targeted to every job one seeks. People may find this time consuming but worth the effort. In the work experience section, you give an overview of the credentials and skills. It is a good idea to use action words such as achieved, acquired, supervised, etc. According to Pace (2006) “Your credentials include education and professional knowledge, degrees and certificates” (p.84).If one is a recent graduate without much work experience, then education should be listed first.Reviewing the work is the last step in the resume writing process. It is important to check it for spelling and grammatical errors. Before anyone looks at the resume, it should be run through spell check on a computer. Also, it is wise to ask someone to read it over and comment on it. The more people who read the resume, the more likely it is that misspelled words and awkward phrases will be noticed and corrected.An effective resume may lead to employment. Once individuals start working within organizations, they will encounter varies writing responsibilities. Nearly everyone with writing responsibilities occasionally faces problem composing “just the right” memo or email in situations they have not met up with before. This statement can be verified by supervisors, managers, business owners, etc.Although there is no magic formula, every good piece of business writing identifies its purpose, indentifies its audience and contains a good formulated thesis. Most people rarely write without a purpose in mind, and business writing, in particular, always has a goal, something to be accomplished. Clarifying the reasons for writing will immediately put individuals on the right track. Further, much of the time, when business professionals write, they know exactly who the audience is. It could be a customer requesting information about a product or informing colleagues about a meeting. In other situations, however, business professionals need to think more thoroughly about their audience. What kind of people might comprise their audience and what their needs and expectations are? Identifying the audience early in the writing process will help determine what kind of information they need and how much they need to tell them. An important aspect of writing is deciding what information to provide and what information can be safely omitted. The writer must assume that the audience has limited time to read business documents (Handouts and Links, n.d., Para. 3).So to be a good business writer, business professionals have to know as much as possible about the person or persons who will read the correspondence. For some individuals, this is fairly easy. A lot of writers know their readers simply because they deal with them often. Others have to depend mainly on their imagination, since most of the individuals they write to are strangers. However, even here there are often clues, such as, the company they work for, their importance as revealed by their job title, something about their personality as indicated about what they do. Even the person who writes promotions to persuade people to buy or subscribe to something will usually have some information about the target. For example, educational level, approximate income, family size and so on.Further, writing for a general audience is quite different from writing for a group of specialists. General readers might know a few terms in a specific field. The writer will obviously need to provide them with more detail and explanation than one would a group of colleagues who share your training and expertise. The writer does not want to lose general readers interest by assuming they know as much as you do about the topic or overwhelming them with technical jargon. According to Pace, (2006) “Jargon consists of words that are used in specific fields and trades” (p. 82). A bit of humor might lighten the reading for a general audience, but it would be out of place in a formal report to the board of directors.Once the purpose and the audience are identified, the next step is organizing the ideas. Two methods that can be used are brainstorming and mapping. In brain storming, the writer creates a list of ideas, whether or not they seem irrelevant or off the wall and without worrying about how you might organize them or connect them. The purpose is to generate ideas at this stage. The more ideas the writer has the more likely the writer is to end up with some that will be useful when beginning to write. Mapping is a way of using words to construct a conceptual map around the topic. It can be done by writing the subject topic in the middle of the page, and then thinking of concepts related to the topic writing them down around the topic.The writing process continues with the next step, which is to formulate the thesis. The thesis is the main idea one will be writing about, the central point the topic that one wants the audience to remember. Generally, a thesis is formulated after one has chosen a topic, developed a question or opinion to answer or elaborate on generated ideas from experience or research. The thesis is what all the preparation leads up to, and a good thesis accomplishes important writing objectives. The thesis narrows the topic to one central idea that one will write about. Further, it makes a generalization that one will support with details, facts and examples.One of the rewarding outcomes of the writing process is a polished piece of writing of which one can be proud. Good, effective business writing will make a favorable impression on your managers and colleagues. Unlike speaking, writing gives us the opportunity to refine the way we express our ideas and revise until we are satisfied with whatever time limit the writer face. When the first draft is complete, one can begin the long process of polishing, rewriting, and rethinking. It is important in business writing to reread the first draft several times, preferably several hours to a day after writing it, if it is possible. A badly written piece of business writing can be costly for your organization. It is wise to ask a friend or colleague to read the work and give feedback, not only about grammar and spelling, but also about the word choice and the expression of the thesis and evidence.These basic principals can provide business professionals with a solid foundation for communicating effectively. Almost every career requires excellent writing skills. The way business professionals acquire these skills is, to a great extent, up to them. Without the skills, no matter how bright and knowledgeable the individual may be, successfully performing on the job will be extremely difficult if not impossible. The most likely way to obtain business writing skills is through courses, reading, on the job training, extracurricular activities, and participating in writing workshops. Acquiring the skill requires training and practice. Fortunately daily reading of well written material has the added benefit of providing a model for writing good, clear English. All courses taken in college such as, finance, advertising, marketing, etc will not advance a career, unless individuals learn to write clear, simple English. Acquiring the skill will enable individuals to reap benefits in career development and promote positive interpersonal relationships with colleagues of diverse cultural backgrounds.