Writing Print Correspondence

Dawn Atkinson

Chapter Overview

This chapter aims to help you understand how to compose memos and letters, types of correspondence commonly produced in the workplace. It discusses context, audience, purpose, organization, formatting, and style considerations for these genres and presents examples that can be analyzed and evaluated as you learn to construct your own documents. In addition, it provides specific guidelines for writing claim and adjustment letters to help you prepare for the chapter’s homework assignment.

 Context, Audience, and Purpose for Memos

Memos are used for communication within organizations to establish a written record of correspondence. They may be distributed in the bodies of emails, in email attachments, or in paper form and can convey a certain level of authority and formality when used to deliver routine messages; progress, incident, and other short reports; employee safety policies; company statements; brief internal proposals; and other types of in-house information. They can also be posted in workplaces to keep employees who do not have ready access to email up to date on matters of interest.

Memo Organization

Everyday memos follow an introduction, body, and conclusion organizational format. Although the chapter “Organizing Paragraphs” provides a detailed overview of these sections, as a reminder, an introduction indicates the subject of a document and helps guide readers through the document. It should establish context for the rest of the piece, in other words. The body section of a memo delivers the details of the communication, with each body paragraph focusing on one main point that is articulated in a topic sentence. The conclusion unifies the document by emphasizing its central message and reiterating key ideas. The sample memo in Figure 1 follows this introduction, body, and conclusion structure.

An example memo with a clear organizational structure

To:                   Fang Hu, Director of Human Resources
From:              Nicola Maryport, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Date:               April 20, 2020
Subject:           Workload Division Plan for Emma Kontag

Since her hire, Emma Kontag, full-time administrative associate, has been housed in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, helping to support departments within that academic unit. Due to campus restructuring, she will now also assist the Pharmacy Department with its administrative tasks. To help ensure she is able to complete her duties for each area of responsibility, this document sets out a workload division plan for Ms. Kontag, which will take effect during the Fall 2020 semester. It identifies approximately how much time she will dedicate to her areas of responsibility each day and her new office location.

Ms. Kontag’s new schedule will see her working 30 hours a week for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and 10 hours a week for the Pharmacy Department. The day-to-day specifics of this plan are meant to be flexible to accommodate fluctuating times for meetings and other duties that arise and evolve; however, the arrangement establishes a consistent blueprint by which Ms. Kontag can schedule her workdays.

To help ensure the new work plan is feasible, Ms. Kontag’s office will be relocated from Legacy Hall room 200 to Philanthropy Hall room 114. This new office site is centrally located in building space shared by both Humanities and Social Sciences faculty and Pharmacy faculty, meaning that Ms. Kontag will not need to travel far to deliver mail, gather signatures, attend meetings, and attend to other responsibilities. It is a spacious and well-lit office and one that I hope will suit her needs.

To summarize, effective Fall 2020, Emma Kontag will work 30 hours a week for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and 10 hours a week for the Pharmacy Department. Her office will be in Philanthropy Hall room 114, a convenient location that will help to make the new workload division plan possible.

Figure 1. An example memo with a clear organizational structure

This sample memo’s organizational structure and specific and informative subject line help to clearly reveal its message to readers.

Like letters and emails, memos may deliver both routine messages and those that have the potential to evoke more emotive responses on the part of recipients. When writing correspondence, it is thus crucial to consider audience reactions and how you can convey important information in a forthright but polite manner. To this end, you may decide to use a direct organizational approach, which delivers the main message of a document right away, to call readers’ attention to matters of importance. When using this pattern, a writer begins with the main point of the document, follows with an explanation of details, and ends with a goodwill closing that aims to build a positive relationship with readers. Figure 2 shows an example of the direct organizational approach at work in a memo.

A memo that uses the direct organizational approach to deliver a timely message

To:                   All Employees
From:              Travis Summerfield, Physical Facilities Director
Date:               April 1, 2020
Subject:           Boiler Shutdown at Best University

Physical Facilities staff will be shutting down Best University’s main boiler on April 5, meaning many campus restrooms and laboratories will be without hot water for one week.

To conduct maintenance tasks and repair any boiler issues, Physical Facilities schedules a week-long boiler shutdown once each year. Although this shutdown may be an inconvenience, it enables essential work to occur and helps to keep the boiler operating effectively the rest of the year.
The Physical Facilities Department apologizes for any difficulties caused by the boiler shutdown.

Figure 2. A memo that uses the direct organizational approach to deliver a timely message

As Figure 2 illustrates, the direct organizational approach delivers important news right away. In contrast, the indirect organizational approach reveals the core message of a piece of correspondence gradually as the document progresses and can be used to convey particularly sensitive news. A document using the indirect organizational approach begins with context setting, provides an explanation that leads into the main point, and ends with a goodwill closing. The example memo in Figure 3 follows an indirect organizational approach.

A memo that uses the indirect organizational approach to deliver sensitive news


To:                   All Employees
From:              Peggy Kickinghorsewoman, Store Manager
Date:               June 20, 2020
Subject:           Changes Inspired by Self-Service Efficiencies

Butter’s Grocery truly appreciates all the employees at its Oak County location who have helped to make the store among the most profitable in its southeast region of operations. By wholeheartedly embracing the self-service check-out machines installed in the store, you have helped to turn around a once-struggling grocery outlet.

While the self-service check-out machines installed in the store have improved efficiency in store operations, they have also resulted in redundancies in customer service provision. In particular, they have resulted in the need for fewer cashiers.

As a commercial operation, Butter’s Grocery considers profits when making important decisions; however, it also recognizes that dedicated staff members are at the heart of its success. For these reasons, Butter’s will offer retraining for cashiers who wish to move into its other departments of operation. Severance packages will also be available to those cashiers who wish to leave Butter’s Grocery to pursue other employment opportunities.

The Butter’s Grocery management team encourages all employees to bring their questions to the staff meeting tomorrow when the changes described in this memo will be discussed in further detail.

Figure 3. A memo that uses the indirect organizational approach to deliver sensitive news

Although the message in Figure 3 would likely evoke an emotional response from employees, the indirect organizational approach is intended to soften the blow for readers.

Although the points about memo organization discussed thus far may apply to correspondence written in many western countries, take into consideration that different cultures have differing expectations regarding the way information is presented in memos, letters, and emails. For instance, the direct organizational approach may be construed as impolite in some eastern countries where a more nuanced style of communication is favored for messages. As with all technical writing, keep readers at the forefront of your mind when preparing correspondence to help navigate decisions about document organization and content, and when in doubt about what audiences expect, research your target readership. Know who the readers are so you can tailor your message for that demographic in order to create purpose-driven content that they will respond to.


Memo Formatting     

Formatting conventions often help to define genres, and memos are no different in this regard. The following steps describe how to format a standard memo.

  1. Place the word Memo or Memorandum (sans italics) at the top of the page, centered or flush left.
  2. Insert one blank line of white space.
  3. Insert a To: line (sans italics and flush left), and list recipients alphabetically by last name or in descending order of organizational rank.
  4. Insert a From: line (sans italics and flush left) to indicate who is sending the memo.
  5. Insert a Date: line (sans italics and flush left), and list the full date (e.g., May 15, 2020, or 15 May 2020, but not May 15th, 2020) rather than the numeric date abbreviation for clarity.
  6. Insert a specific Subject: line (sans italics and flush left) to clearly identify the memo’s topic. The subject line for a memo, letter, or email functions as its title, and readers should know what the correspondence is about just by looking at the subject line.
  7. Align the information after the colons in the memo header using the keyboard tab key. This formatting detail takes into account the design principle of alignment, which specifies that like items should be lined up with one another to establish visual consistency and to help readers see them easily.
  8. Insert one blank line of white space after the memo header.
  9. Type the memo paragraphs, each separated with one full line of white space.

In addition to the design points specified in the steps, memos are block formatted, meaning they are single spaced, left aligned, and feature a blank line of white space after each paragraph rather than indented paragraphs. Writers generally use one-inch margins when producing memos and may also include informative headings to give the documents visual structure. Follow the design standards outlined here to ensure readers immediately identify your document as a memo.

Formatting features, such as bold text and lists, can cue readers’ attention to important information when used sparingly in memos. Notice, for instance, how Figure 4, which is adapted from the Writing and Communication Centre, University of Waterloo (n.d., p. 4), employs a list to highlight questions for memo readers.

A memo that uses a bullet list to draw readers’ attention to important content


To:                   All Staff
From:              Mandy Penney
Date:               June 1, 2020
Subject:           Input on a Casual Dress Policy

The human resources office is considering implementing a casual dress policy in the workplace. Please provide feedback on the questions below as management considers changing its current policy.

Staff members have commented that they would feel more comfortable and productive at work if they were able to dress casually. However, our company has not agreed what constitutes acceptable casual attire in the workplace. Here are some questions to consider.

·       What can be considered casual dress in a professional work environment?
·       Should our policy restrict the open display of body art, such as tattoos or piercings?
·       What procedures should we implement if clothing is deemed offensive?
·       Should we institute a casual dress policy?

Please forward your responses to me by June 25 so company managers can discuss your input during their July 1 meeting.
Thank you for providing feedback on the casual dress policy. Please email me at mpenney@XYZ.com if you have any questions or concerns about the policy.

Figure 4. A memo that uses a bullet list to draw readers’ attention to important content

Lists, such as the one in Figure 4, can be used in both memos and letters to direct readers to key pieces of information. The “Writing Instructions” chapter of this textbook discusses the use of lists in some detail.


Context, Audience, and Purpose for Letters

In comparison to memos, business letters are typically used for formal external communication and to share information with individuals who tend to rely on postal mail for correspondence as opposed to electronic mail. Business letters may be used for a variety of purposes, as the following list indicates.

  • Cover letter: accompanies a résumé or other job application materials
  • Recommendation letter: recommends someone for a job or other opportunity
  • Acknowledgement letter: thanks someone
  • Inquiry letter: asks for information
  • Response letter: responds to a request for information
  • Sales letter: sells a service or product
  • Order letter: purchases a service or product
  • Collection letter: requests a payment
  • Claim letter: articulates a complaint
  • Adjustment letter: responds to a complaint
  • Transmittal letter (or memo): precedes another document, such as a formal report
    • Supplies details about the accompanying document: what it is, who it is intended for, and key information provided in the document
    • Offers to answer readers’ questions
    • Provides the writer’s contact information

You will find these content elements present in the sample transmittal letter in Figure 5, which is adapted from Last (2019, p. 166).

A letter of transmittal that precedes an accompanying report

Work Right Consulting
325 Collins Way │ Redmond, OR 97756 541-567-2546 www.wrc.com
May 24, 2020

Tina Blakely, Owner
Three Creeks Spa Service
12129 Lone Tree Place
Sisters, OR 97759
Dear Ms. Blakely:

Enclosed you will find my final report on team building strategies for employees at Three Creeks Spa Service. I hope this report will serve your business well.

The report details approaches that have been successful for other organizations like Three Creeks, and it makes recommendations for specific team-building exercises based on the findings of interviews conducted with your staff, as well as best-practice guidelines for fostering collaborative workplaces. As a result of informal conversations with staff at Three Creeks, I know they are excited to try some of these team-building activities.

If you have any questions about the report, please call or write to me using the contact details listed herein. Thank you for giving Work Right Consulting the opportunity to serve your business.

Thomas McMahon

Thomas McMahon
Director, Work Right Consulting

Enclosure: Team Building Report

Figure 5. A letter of transmittal that precedes an accompanying report

Regardless of the circumstances that prompt a letter or who its readers might be, a business letter should communicate in a respectful manner to accomplish its purpose.

Letter Organization

Like memos, letters follow an introduction, body, and conclusion format, although these sections may also be expanded to include subsections in the case of short reports formatted as letters. The sections and subsections might be identified with informative headings to help readers navigate document content.

As is the case with memos, research your target readership when writing a business letter to identify contextual and cultural considerations that may impact document content and its organization. The direct and indirect organizational approach may be used in business letters, and it is important to know what readers will expect and respond to in order to accomplish your purpose for the correspondence.

Letter Formatting   

Letters may be laid out in different ways, for instance, with indented paragraphs or without, but this chapter focuses exclusively on full block letters since they follow a straightforward design. Full block means that the entire letter is aligned with the left margin; in other words, single space the entire document, left align all the text, and insert a blank line in between paragraphs instead of indenting them. The following steps explain how to format a typical full block letter. Omit the first step when using letterhead paper.

  1. Type the sender’s mailing address minus his or her name.
    • Spell out street words, such as avenue, first, and west (sans italics).
    • Spell out the state name if the letter is addressed to a recipient in the U.S., or use the United States Postal Service’s abbreviation for the state name. Be consistent with your choice when typing mailing addresses for the sender and recipient.
  2. Insert one blank line of white space.
  3. Type the full date (e.g., June 12, 2020, or 12 June 2020, but not June 12th, 2020).
  4. Insert one blank line of white space.
  5. Type the recipient’s name, title, and mailing address. Spell out street words.
  6. Insert one blank line of white space.
  7. Type Dear (sans italics), the recipient’s title and last name, and a colon to create the salutation.
    • Use the courtesy title when addressing a female, unless the recipient prefers Mrs. or Miss; however, know that professional titles, such as Dr., take precedence over courtesy titles for both females and males in salutations.
    • Use a salutation appropriate to the letter’s context: for instance, Dear Customer: might be useful when addressing a patron whose name is unknown.
    • Use Dear Colleagues: or similar in a salutation for a letter with multiple recipients.
    • Avoid sexist salutations like Dear Sirs: and Dear Gentlemen: that may exclude and alienate readers.
  8. Insert one blank line of white space.
  9. Type the subject line, if applicable (e.g., Subject: Promotion from Assistant to Associate Laboratory Director). This line functions as the document’s title and can help with filing and retrieval.
  10. Insert one blank line of white space.
  11. Type the letter paragraphs, each separated with one full blank line of white space. Do not indent the paragraphs.
  12. Insert one blank line of white space after the final paragraph.
  13. Type a thank you.
  14. Insert one blank line of white space.
  15. Type the complimentary closing and a comma. Sincerely, (sans italics) is always appropriate.
  16. Insert two to four blank lines of white space depending on the size of the sender’s signature. You will sign the letter in this white space if required.
  17. Type the sender’s signature block: name, professional title, and contact details minus mailing address.
  18. Insert two blank lines of white space.
  19. Type the enclosure line, if applicable.
    • Provide an enclosure line if other documents accompany the letter: state the enclosure number, if there is more than one document, and indicate what the document is (e.g., Enclosure: Cage Washer Operations Manual; Enclosure 2: Cage Washer Temperature Readings).
    • Align the enclosure line(s) with the left margin.
    • Mention the enclosures in the letter so readers know why they are being sent.
  20. Type the copy line, if applicable.
    • Provide a copy line if you want recipients to know that the letter is being sent to multiple people.
    • Type cc: (sans italics) followed by the other recipients’ names, listed by organizational rank or alphabetized (e.g., cc: Dr. Jan Horák, Chair of the Institutional Care and Use Committee).
    • Align the copy line with the left margin.

Apply one-inch margins to a letter when using these formatting steps in accordance with genre conventions.

Sample recommendation letter that follows established formatting conventions

1420 South Bend Street
Crabapple, OH 12345
March 31, 2020
Alicia Duran, Principal
Crabapple High School
789 Dolphin Way
Crabapple, OH 12345
Dear Principal Duran:
Subject: Recommendation for Evan TomkinsI write to support Evan Tomkins as he applies for your position. I know Mr. Tomkins through his work as an adjunct instructor in the Writing Program at Best University and am pleased to serve as his reference. Although he brings a wealth of diverse professional experience and skills to the workplace, this letter will focus primarily on Mr. Tomkins’ performance in the classroom since he is applying for a teaching position at Crabapple High School.
With a master’s degree in technical communication and experience working as a freelance writer; phlebotomist; and college, high school, and clinical instructor, Mr. Tomkins has the knowledge and diverse skill set to engage learners in the classroom and to support their efforts to meet course outcomes. He draws upon his background, in particular, when teaching developmental writing and introduction to technical writing at Best University in order to emphasize to students the need for strong communication skills in the workplace. Although he rightly insists that students produce quality writing, he also scaffolds their efforts to succeed by supplying supports, such as checklists to use during in-class editing sessions, so that they have a clear understanding of the standard conventions of written English, as well as assignment expectations. He also spends considerable time seeking out and developing materials for lessons to reinforce key skills that students may initially struggle with, again to support their success.
Mr. Tomkins’ training in technical communication truly shines through when he encourages students to develop well-organized documents that prioritize audience and purpose. To this end, he emphasizes the development of strong thesis statements and topic sentences, providing the rationale that these features exist to guide readers as they navigate texts. He also encourages students to compose clear and cohesive introductions that forecast document contents, again prioritizing the development of reader-friendly texts. Several semesters ago, I taught a student who had previously taken Mr. Tomkins’ developmental writing course, and I, Principal Duran                                                     2                                                    March 31, 2020

was genuinely impressed with the importance she placed on document organization. She shared with the class that Mr. Tomkins’ lessons had prompted this emphasis in her writing.

The support that Mr. Tomkins supplies in the classroom also extends to his spoken discourse, as he works to foster a learning environment in which all students feel included and valued. When I observed one of Mr. Tomkins’ developmental writing lessons at Best University in November 2019, I witnessed several strategies he uses to build rapport with students and sustain a positive learning environment: for example, he addresses students by name, supplies positive reinforcement by praising their work ethic, and explains that everyone supports one another in the classroom. I enclose Mr. Tomkins’ observation report for your reference.

To draw this letter to a close, Mr. Tomkins’ professional background and dedication to teaching and supporting learners make him an excellent candidate for the career opportunities he chooses to pursue. For these reasons, I wholeheartedly support his hire.

Thank you for your time and review. If you would like further information to support your hiring decision, please do not hesitate to ask.


Dr. Alma Stornberg

Dr. Alma Stornberg
Writing Director
Best University

Enclosure: Observation Report
cc: Evan Tomkins

Figure 6 provides an example of a multi-page recommendation letter that follows the formatting steps listed.

As you may notice, Figure 6 contains a running header at the top of document page two. When a letter or a memo is two or more pages long, place a running header at the top so readers associate all pages with the document. Multiple running header styles exist, and Figure 6 exemplifies a style commonly used in workplace correspondence: the recipient’s name appears in the upper left corner, followed by the page number, which is centered, and the date of the correspondence, which is in the upper right corner. This type of running header begins on document page two. Figure 7 shows an alternative version of this type of running header.

Example of a running header that can be used in business correspondence

Ms. Beverly Robinson
Page 2
July 1, 2020

Figure 7. Example of a running header that can be used in business correspondence

When using the running header format shown in Figure 7, place the recipient’s name, the page number, and the date of the communication on separate lines in the upper left corner of the document. Start the running header on document page two.
Writing Claim and Adjustment Letters

Claim letters express complaints about inadequate products, services, or experiences and typically request some sort of compensation in return, while adjustment letters address the complaints. Both varieties of letters can be effective, if they are produced with care.

Claim Letters (adapted from McMurrey, 2017c, “Complaint Letters”)

The essential rule in writing a claim letter is to maintain your poise and diplomacy, no matter how justified your gripe is, to avoid making the recipient an adversary. Ensure your complaint is articulated in a clear, complete, and composed manner by observing these guidelines.

  1. Identify the reason you are writing early in the letter—to register a complaint and ask for some kind of compensation—but avoid leaping into the details of the problem in the first sentence.
  2. Provide a detailed description of the problem to evidence your complaint.
  3. State exactly what compensation you desire, either before or after the discussion of the problem or the reasons for granting the compensation. (It may be more tactful and less antagonizing to delay this statement in some cases.)
  4. Explain why your request should be granted. Presenting the evidence is not enough: state the reasons why the evidence supports your request.
  5. Suggest why it is in the recipient’s best interest to grant your request: appeal to the recipient’s sense of fairness or desire for continued business, but avoid threats. Find some way to view the problem as an honest mistake; do not imply that the recipient deliberately committed the error or has no concern for others. Toward the end of the letter, express confidence that the recipient will grant your request.

A sample claim letter that maintains a levelheaded tone

111 White Horse Lane
Pittsburg, PA 5432124April 2020Director of Consumer Relations
One Microwave Plaza
Miami, TX 75249Dear Director:I am writing you concerning the purchase of a Waveport 5000 I made on 10 March 2020 in the amount of $225 and its subsequent return.  My Waveport 5000 purchase included two-day delivery and a 60-day money-back trial offer, and the $225 price for the product was immediately charged to my Ritz card. However, this product did not perform satisfactorily, and on 15 March, I decided to return the Waveport 5000 to your company. When I spoke to one of your company’s representatives by phone, I was informed that any shipping charge, as well as the price of the Waveport 5000, would be credited to my account. I shipped the item back by UPX 0and was notified 20 March of its receipt. Regardless, when I received my April Ritz card statement, I noticed that the credit had not been applied to my account for either the Waveport 5000 or for the shipping charge.If the Waveport 5000 was charged to my account immediately when I ordered it, I cannot understand why the same promptness was not used to credit my account upon receipt of the returned item. I request that the refund be processed right away and that your company pay for the finance charges applied to my Ritz account for the item.Your company’s products have helped me in the past, and I would like nothing more than a quick solution to the problem described here so that I may continue to support your business.

John Flanders

John Flanders

Figure 8, adapted from McMurrey (2017d), demonstrates these guidelines at work in a claim letter.

As with any piece of correspondence, maintain a reasonable, polite tone when writing a claim letter to increase the chances of achieving your purpose.

Adjustment Letters (adapted from McMurrey, 2017c, “Adjustment Letters”)

Adjustment letters should also be handled carefully, particularly when the requested compensation cannot be granted. Here are some suggestions that may help you write an adjustment letter:

  1. Mention the date of the original complaint letter and the purpose for your letter early on, as this example, adapted from McMurrey (2017b, “Style in Business Correspondence”), shows.


    Dear Mr. Stout:

    I am writing in response to your May 20, 2020, letter in which you describe problems you had with one of our chainsaws. I regret that you suffered this inconvenience and expense and…

If you deny the request, do not state the refusal right away unless you can do so tactfully.

  1. Express your concern over the writer’s troubles and your appreciation that she or he has written to you.
  2. If you deny the request, explain the reasons why it cannot be granted in as cordial and non-combative a manner as possible. Conversely, if you grant the request, do not express a begrudging tone when doing so.
  3. If you deny the request, try to offer partial or substitute compensation or friendly advice (to alleviate the claim writer’s aggravation about the denial).
  4. Conclude the letter cordially, perhaps expressing confidence that you and the claim letter writer will continue doing business.

The adjustment letter in Figure 9, adapted from McMurrey (2017a), follows the guidelines listed here.

A sample adjustment letter that communicates in an amicable manner

Green Tree Freight Company
323 Wiley Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 45453
March 27, 2020
Marcia Hughes, Owner
Complete Table, Inc.
P.O. Box 3132
Austin, Texas 78703
Dear Mrs. Hughes:
Subject: March 23 letter about damaged stemwareI have just read your March 23 letter about the damaged shipment you received through Green Tree Freight and regret the inconvenience the damage has caused you.From your account of the problem, I am certain that your request for a $350 adjustment for damage to two crates of Valjean Cristal stemware will be granted. A certain amount of breakage of the sort you describe does unavoidably occur in cross-country shipping, but I am sorry that your property was so extensively damaged.Please keep the damaged crates in the same condition in which you received them until a Green Tree Freight representative can inspect them. That inspection should take place within two weeks.If all is in order, as it sounds to be in your letter, you can expect the full reimbursement two weeks after the inspection. I hope this unfortunate accident will not dissuade your company from using Green Tree Freight in the future.
David MorganDavid Morgan, Customer Relations Associate
Green Tree Freight Company
(315) 565-6789

Figure 9. A sample adjustment letter that communicates in an amicable manner

Maintain your diplomacy and tact when writing an adjustment letter by placing the reader and his or her perceptions at the center of your communication.
Writing Style Used in Memos and Letters

Establish yourself as a competent professional who takes readers’ perceptions into account by composing memos and letters that communicate in a constructive manner. The following list, which is adapted from Last (2019, pp. 39-40), specifies what a constructive communication approach entails.

  • Write from one adult to another: In other words, avoid talking down to your reader in a patronizing tone, and likewise avoid sounding petulant or unwilling to take responsibility. Instead, aim to communicate respectfully, responsibly, confidently, and cooperatively—as one mature adult to another.
  • Focus on the positive: Emphasize what you can do instead of what you cannot. Try to avoid negative words (e.g., no, not, never, none, cannot, do not) by concentrating on encouraging details.
  • Be genuine: Be authentic in your expression. Specifically, articulate reasonable viewpoints that can be backed with concrete evidence. In addition, commit to making improvements when errors occur, but think carefully about whether to use I or we in such situations. Readers may interpret we in the context of a company memo or letter to mean the company as a whole, while I clearly points to the writer.
  • Be courteous: Keep the reader foremost in your mind by prioritizing that individual’s viewpoint. When addressing a specific person in a memo or letter, the words you and your are acceptable and can be used to create reader-focused writing, as these examples show.
  • Writer-centered: If I can answer any questions, I will be happy to do so.

Reader-centered: If you have any questions, please ask.

  • Writer-centered: We shipped the order this morning.

Reader-centered: Your order was shipped this morning.

  • Writer-centered: I am happy to report…

Reader-centered: You will be glad to know…

  • Writer-centered: We cannot process your claim because the necessary forms have not been completed.

Reader-centered: Your claim can be processed as soon as we receive the necessary forms.

Readers may respond in kind to messages that use a constructive approach to communication.

In terms of specific style considerations for memos and letters, aim to use everyday language that target readers will likely understand without difficulty. To this end, avoid correspondence clichés, overused sayings and strings of text that are stale, wordy, and hold little meaning for readers. Instead, select precise words that articulate your exact meaning to encourage message comprehension. Table 1 lists clear, concise wording that can be used in place of common correspondence clichés.

Table 1. Alternatives to common correspondence clichés

Cliché Alternative
Without further delay Now
Until such time as Until
Due to the fact that Because, since
First and foremost First, firstly
Last but not least Lastly, finally
Sent under separate cover Sent separately
In the event that If
Despite the fact that Although
Pursuant to our agreement As we agreed
In many instances Often
In the course of During
In view of the fact that Because, since
Per our conversation As we discussed
To whom it may concern: Dear XXX: (replace with the recipient’s name)

When writing memos and letters, avoid the clichés listed in Table 1 so readers can proceed through your text without difficulty.

In addition to the points already listed, maintain a level of formality appropriate to the context, audience, and purpose for your genre. In a formal piece of correspondence, avoid contractions, slang, and other casual, conversational expressions, and replace wordy phrases with succinct alternatives (e.g., use many instead of a lot of). Intensifiers (e.g., really, very, tremendously) can also convey informality and add unnecessary words to documents, so omit them. Lastly, avoid using exclamation marks when writing memos and letters to maintain a composed, professional tone; let the force of your message come across in the strength of your writing.


Chapter Wrap-Up

Your correspondence can cogently deliver its message and fulfill its purpose, if it prioritizes the needs and wants of readers and aligns with expectations regarding organization and formatting. Use the advice provided in this chapter to gain confidence when writing memos and letters.


Activity A: Consider Language that May Cause Offense

This chapter emphasizes the importance of maintaining a courteous and constructive tone in print correspondence by always keeping readers’ perceptions in mind. Consider how the following scenarios violate this principle, and be prepared to discuss your responses in class.

  • Referring to employees as grunts in a company memo
  • Using the term rightsizing to describe layoffs in dismissal letters to personnel


Activity B: Find and Critique Memos and Letters

Locate one memo and one letter: look for samples on the internet or select documents that you or someone you know has received. Bring paper copies of the documents to class, exchange them with a partner, and compare the following aspects in the samples.

  • Formatting
  • Use of color or visuals
  • Overall organization
  • Introduction structure
  • Clarity
  • Formality level
  • Tone (reasonable or unhelpful)
  • Specificity of purpose

Do the samples follow the guidelines discussed in this chapter? If not, how might they be improved? Discuss your responses with your partner, and then share them with the class.


Activity C: Work with a Text that Focuses on Cultural Considerations and Writing

The essay “Writing in Global Contexts: Composing Usable Texts for Audiences from Different Cultures” (St. Amant, 2020), located at https://writingspaces.org/sites/default/files/stamant-writing-global-contexts.pdf, discusses the importance of taking cultural considerations into account when writing and explores means for accomplishing this task. Read and engage with the essay by following these steps.

  1. Survey the text to grasp its overall gist. Look specifically at the essay’s title, overview section, introduction, topic sentences, conclusion, headings, subheadings, and visuals.
  2. Read the text carefully while focusing on its content. Annotate as you go by underlining or noting down unfamiliar terms, questions, and thoughts regarding the reading.
    • After reading, try to define the unknown terms you identified.
    • After reading, try to answer your questions. You may need to review the essential details of the text again to do this.
  3. Respond to the “Discussion Questions” on page 161 of the text. In addition, answer this question: How does the essay relate to the points covered in the current textbook chapter?
  4. Discuss your responses in class.


Activity D: Consider How to Collaborate with Integrity

The ability to work positively and productively with others in the workplace is crucial to professional success, and students are often asked to collaborate with others in university classes to promote the development of team working skills. Nevertheless, when teamwork leads to accusations of cheating or plagiarism, the situation can have particularly negative consequences. This activity asks you to consider how to collaborate with integrity by reading the following information, adapted from Contract Cheating and Assessment Design (n.d., p. 1), and discussing the accompanying scenarios (McGowan, 2016, as cited in Contract Cheating and Assessment Design, n.d., p. 2) with your classmates.

While educators recognize the importance of collaboration, employers and the public expect that universities award grades that accurately reflect the abilities of individuals. Educators need to have confidence that the marks they give a student fairly reflect that student’s knowledge and skills. If they don’t, the public is at risk from engineers, scientists, accountants, nurses, designers, etc. who are not competent to practice. The challenge for students is that the desire to help friends can sometimes conflict with responsible approaches to learning.

Not all cheating is deliberate. Lack of awareness or care can lead to breaches of academic integrity, so it is useful for students to know the criteria that educators use to judge assignments. Educators will be concerned about the integrity of an assignment if:

·       It misrepresents a student’s abilities.

·       They cannot assess a student’s abilities based on the work submitted.

·       A student has somehow gained an unfair advantage over others in the course.

On the following page are 10 scenarios. They have been placed on a continuum with appropriate collaboration at one end, and cheating or ‘collusion’ at the other. Consider where the behaviors cross a line into cheating, and how each scenario might be viewed differently, using the alternative circumstances shown on the right. This activity is intended to generate discussion rather than provide a hard and fast correct answer.


Activity E: Brainstorm Ideas for a Claim Letter

Think about a poor-quality product, service, or experience you recently encountered. Answer the following questions to brainstorm ideas for a claim letter.

  • What was the product, service, or experience?
  • What happened? Why was the product, service, or experience of poor quality?
  • What can be done (within reason) about the problem to satisfy you?
  • Who is the target audience for the complaint letter?

Homework: Compose a Claim Letter

Draw upon your answers to the questions in Activity E, as well as the guidelines supplied in this chapter, to produce a full-block formatted claim letter. You will need to find the correct name and address for the recipient and include them in your letter. If you use any outside sources in your document, remember to cite and reference them.

Once you have drafted your letter, use the following handout, produced by Yuba College Writing and Language Development Center (n.d.), to check that your language clearly reflects your intended meaning.

 Easily Confused Words



Contract Cheating and Assessment Design. (n.d.). Collaborating with integrity. License: CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0.  https://cheatingandassessment.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/STUDENT-RESOURCE-Collaborating-with-integrity.pdf

Last, S. (2019). Technical writing essentials: Introduction to professional communications in the technical fields. University of Victoria. License: CC-BY 4.0. https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/technicalwriting/

McMurrey, D. (2017a). Adjustment letter. License: CC-BY 4.0 https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/examples/adjex1c.html

Murrey, D. (2017b). Business correspondence overview: Write a nice professional letter. License: CC-BY 4.0. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/genlett.html

McMurrey, D. (2017c). Complaint and adjustment letters: Go ahead and gripe—but in a professional manner. License: CC-BY 4.0. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/complnt.html

McMurrey, D. (2017d). Online technical writing: Complaint letter. License: CC-BY 4.0https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/examples/complaintx1c.html

St. Amant. (2020). Writing in global contexts: Composing usable texts for audiences from    different cultures. In D. Driscoll, M. Stewart, & M. Vetter (Eds.), Writing spaces: Readings on writing (Vol. 3, pp. 147-161). Parlor Press. License: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 https://writingspaces.org/sites/default/files/stamant-writing-global-contexts.pdf

Writing and Communication Centre, University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Writing professional emails  in the workplace. License: CC-BY-SA 4.0. https://uwaterloo.ca/writing-and-communication-centre/sites/ca.writing-and-communication-centre/files/uploads/files/emails.pdf

Yuba College Writing & Language Development Center. (n.d.). Easily confused words. License: CC-BY-NC. https://yc.yccd.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/EasilyConfusedWordsAccessibleFebruary2020.pdf


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