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Discover the secrets to effective business writing and crafting messages that others want to read and act on. Judy Steiner-Williams, senior lecturer at Kelley School of Business, introduces you to the 10 Cs of strong business communication and provides you with before-and-after writing samples that give you the opportunity to apply each principle and sharpen your communication skills. Judy also points out common grammar and writing mistakes and shares special considerations for formats like emails and reports.
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How many paper memos do you read compared to emails you receive? Obviously, memos are declining as email messages increase. Those memos that are used are almost always sent internally, whereas the letter is sent to external business readers. However, even though the majority of information today is conveyed through email, the memorandum, or memo, for short, is still used in business. What are some situations for which you might choose the memo as the best medium to use? A memo might be an attachment to an email message, or it may be something that's posted on the bulletin board for all employees to see.
Therefore, business writers still need to know the correct style and parts of a memo. In all the following examples, the memo could stand alone, or it could be that attachment to an email message, or both. Company policy changes. Hours, products sold, insurance. Anything employees need to know. Or announcements. A promotion, a welcome to a new employee, holiday parties, a congratulatory message that an employee might want to frame. Maybe a request for action.
Do employees need to sign up for something by a specific time? Are volunteers being requested to help in the community? Or that memo might be sent as a reminder to clean up the break room or a company wide picnic. So basically, the purpose of a memo is to convey information, and like all business writing, should be concise and clear, easy to read, and mechanically correct. The reader's name is in the "To" block. The writer's name is in the "From". Then the date, and the subject line. Subject lines are always important in quickly identifying for the reader the purpose of a memo.
If a reader has four or five memos on the desk to read, she will probably glance at the subject line, along with the writer's name, to decide which to read first. The other thing the reader will see immediately is how inviting the memo is to read. A 25-line paragraph doesn't make the reader eager to wade through that message. A couple 5-6 line paragraphs combined with a bulleted list or a numbered list lets your reader scan and skim that message quickly because it looks and is easy to read.
As the reader glances at the memo, he expects a brief introduction to tell the reader the memo's purpose. The subject line does not replace the introductory paragraph of a memo. Even though they may sound similar, each is independent. For example, the subject line might say, "New Operating Hours Begin Friday." The first paragraph should be, "Beginning Friday, our stores new operating hours "will be 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, rather than our current "9:00 to 5:00 hours." Memo readers expect to learn information efficiently, so each section of the memo needs to help the reader find the key information with headings and lists.
Include only the information that the reader actually needs, but do include supporting ideas, facts and research to back up your key points, if necessary. The concluding section will summarize those key points. Give the reader a strong takeaway, such as the action needed. For example, "Be sure to set your alarm clock "an hour earlier Thursday night." The ending section may also indicate to whom questions should be directed and contact information for that person. Because the sender is listed in the "From" position in the heading, no signature is needed, but typically, the memo writer signs a memo by initialing beside the typewritten name.
Although the length of memos will vary, most are 1-2 single space pages with possible attachments such as graphs or other illustrations. If you decide the memo is the best choice for the information you need to write, keep in mind that different organizations may have different memo requirements and procedures, so be flexible when preparing a memo.
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