Can you spare half an hour, right now? Can you think of a memo you need to write? If so, I suggest you pull out a pad of paper or start up your word processing program. You can put this to use immediately!
Everyone in business today needs to know how to write a useful memo in a short time. Everyone needs to master the 30-minute memo.
The good news is that everyone can. This is how you do it.
Determine Your Purpose (2 minutes)
Question: Do you know where the first two minutes of writing usually go?
Answer: To just about anything other than writing: staring out of the window, sharpening a pencil, remembering an urgent phone call, reorganizing the word processor directory, discovering an acute hunger or thirst that requires immediate access to the water cooler, coffee machine, or cafeteria. The possibilities are almost endless, since their only criterion is escape from writing.
Writers are moved to take these detours when they are not clear on their purpose.
Since effective business or technical writing consists of telling someone something useful, you must first know what you want to communicate, to whom, and why. You must know your purpose.
To define your purpose quickly and easily, spend your first two minutes answering two questions:
1. Why am I writing this to this reader (these readers)?
2. What do I want my reader(s) to do or know as a result of it?
The first question will give you a general statement of intent, with a focus on your reader. The second will clarify the results you want and remind you to tell your readers what you need them to do.
Do an Imaginary Dialogue (3 to 5 minutes)
Once you know your purpose, imagine your reader sitting down with you. The reader says, "What did you want to tell me?"
What is your main message to your reader, in one sentence? Write it down. It is your answer to the reader's first question and the start of your memo.
Next, imagine the questions your reader would have after hearing your opening sentence. Briefly note your answers to those questions.
Finally, imagine your reader asking, "What happens next?" Note the action required: what you will do next or what you need the reader to do next. If there is no planned action, end with the outcome of the subject of your memo.
If you have multiple readers, start with the principal reader. This is the reader who will act on your memo. If several readers will take action, imagine a typical one. Answer that reader's question first; then open the floor and consider the questions your other readers might have. If these are many and varied, you can connect them later in your draft by grouping your answers under a few subheads. Your answers to the reader questions form the outline of your draft.
Freewrite Your Draft (10 to 15 minutes)
Freewrite your answers to the reader's questions, taking up the questions in order of their importance to the reader. Try to write your answers in the words you would use to speak to the reader. Do not think about the writing -- word choice, sentence or paragraph structure, punctuation, or grammar. Just concentrate on getting your thoughts on paper as you answer the questions conversationally, as if you were having a real dialogue with the reader. You can improve the style, tone, and grammar when you come to the editing phase.
Pause Between Writing and Editing (1 to 2 minutes)
You need a break to switch roles from Writer to Editor.
Edit Your Draft (5 to 10 minutes)
Edit your draft in two steps.
First, read it over from start to finish, without stopping to change anything. This run-through is to read for general effect, to see if the memo would achieve your purpose. Read it all through.
Now start reshaping your memo. Note any changes prompted your initial read-through. Then, see that you have been faithful to your imaginary dialogue. Have you put your main message first, answered your reader's probable questions, and asked for action, if appropriate? Finally, look at your paragraphs and sentences. Does each paragraph develop one clear message? Are your sentences varied? Is the style honest, clear, and conversational? Is the grammar correct? Make any improvements.
Check Your Final Copy (1 to 2 minutes)
Read it over once more to check that you have made all the required changes. Then sit back and relax. You have produced a truly effective memo in just 30 minutes!
Copyright (c) 1999 PERC Communications. All rights reserved.
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