Effective Memo Writing

April 26, 2007

One issue that we have not covered in class, but is important in the professional world, is that of writing effective memos. We have covered giving presentations, blogging, and e-mails, but memos are another important form of professional writing and are important for office communications. It is important to understand the purpose of a memo, effective language of memos, and the various components to a memo.

Purpose and Organization

-A memo is meant to communicate with others in your office. It may be something simple, like sending a reminder to an assistant about a meeting or letting them know that you need something to be purchased. It may also be more formal, such as sending out a message to everyone in an organization about a new policy or an important company announcement.

-A direct approach can be taken, which would involve stating the most important facts in the beginning of the memo and then giving further details. This is good for relaying news or announcement.

-An indirect approach can be taken when trying to persuade. In this style, you would begin by building a case before stating your main point and then backing it up.

Memo Components

The heading

– TO: (readers’ names and job titles)
FROM: (your name and job title)
DATE: (complete and current date)
SUBJECT: (what the memo is about, highlighted in some way)

-If the memo is especially long (more than a page), include a clearly-labeled summary section to highlight the most important points of the memo before going into detail.

– The context statement states the circumstances you are dealing with. It is an opportunity to elaborate on the background of the problem you are solving and add context for understanding the problem.

-The task or assignment section states exactly what needs to be done about the problem being dealt with. It should be clear to the reader exactly what your aim is and what you are asking of them.

– The discussion segment allows you discuss anything in greater depth, such as listing resources or imputting more personal opinion.

-The conclusion of the memo should include a courteous re-statement of the main purpose of the memo, which is usually the task which needs to be completed. Try to end the memo on a positive note- your employees will be more responsive.

Language

-You should always write directions for action that needs to be taken in the imperative voice. Write in an authoratative, yet courteous voice.

-Here are some effective verbs for beginning commands: develop, creat, establish, implement, esure, produce, address

-Write in an objective voice. Phrases like “I think” and “I feel” should be avoided.

-Maintain an unemotional tone

A few more tips…

-Use an informative, non-generic subject line

-Be concise; check for unnecessary words and keep it as brief as possible

-Find out your company-specific template for communicating through memos and always use it

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Business Dining Etiquette

April 26, 2007

I know our class is primarily about professional writing, but it also seems to be a course in overall success in business. One situation that I believe most of us will face during our careers is the business lunch or dinner. Some experts estimate that about 50% of business transactions are completed over a meal. Whether it be an interview over lunch, or a fancy dinner with clients, its important to know some basics to impress your fellow business diners. I’ve found a few websites with some great advice on them, which I’d like to pass along. At the end of the post are links to a few good sites which could be helpful if you are ever in this situation.

-When arranging a dining meeting, don’t experiement. Go with a restaurant you are confident (through personal experience) will serve your purposes

-You should always arrive on time! This will make a positive impression on the people you are dining with. If you are in charge of the meeting, be the first to arrive at the meeting so you can greet clients or employees. If you are a client, employee, or prospective employee, it is vital that you are on time. In the event that you must be late, be sure to call the restaurant ahead of time so they can inform other members of your party.

-When you arrive, don’t put anything (purse, briefcase, cell phone, etc.) on the table; check items at the door or place them in an out-of-the-way space on the floor next to your chair. Be sure to turn off your cell phone or pager.

-Don’t re-arrange items on the table.

-Because I want to focus primarilly on business dining etiquette, I won’t go into details about proper use of silverware and plates. However, if you are unfamiliar with issues like which utensil to use for what dish or which is your salad place, you should review a general dining etiquette guide prior to any meeting.

-When ordering, follow the lead of the server. Follow the lead of your boss or person in charge of the meeting for what is appropriate to order. Don’t order the most expensive item on the menu and its a good rule of thumb that ordering alcohol is innapropriate. Try to avoid messy foods, such as ribs or crab.

– Have proper posture and keep your elbows off the table. Never use your napkin as a tissue, and turn your head away from the table to cough or sneeze.

-While eating, follow basic dining common sense. Chew with your mouth closes, don’t talk while eating, cut food into small bites, and pace yourself. If you must leave the table, excuse yourself politely and place your napkin on your seat.

-Only send back food if it is extremely incorrect. If it is a minor error, ignore it. Being too fussy about very small details can give the wrong impression.

-When finished, place your napkin to the left of your plate. Never push your plate away from you to signal that you are done.

-It is usually assumed that if you are hosting the meeting, you will be the one who pays.

Here are a few links that could be helpful for further information about etiquette in business dining situations:

http://www.career.vt.edu/DiningEtiquette/QandA.htm

http://www.bsu.edu/students/careers/students/interviewing/dining/

http://www.udel.edu/CSC/BusinessDiningEtiquette.pdf

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1365/is_1_35/ai_n6148221

http://www.ecst.csuchico.edu/~lenn/Bus-Din.htm

Write Up the Corporate Ladder, Part III

April 12, 2007

Part III of Write Up the Corporate Ladder focuses on interviews were executives at various corporations about the role writing plays in their companies. They are asked questions about how their particular organization evaluates good writing, the cost of bad writing, the benefit of good writing, and what they do to improve the writing skills of their employees. Part III provided a good contrast to Part II in that it examined what the companies look for in their employees, as opposed to what people expect from themselves. One question I found interesting had to do with what kind of training organizations provide for their employees in terms of sharpening their writing skills. I had actually never really considered the fact that I may be trained by a company I work for in this way. I had always assumed that in school I would learn the skills and in the workplace I would sharpen them. It was comforting to know that many organizations provide training programs and skills specific to the job may be taught to me instead of having to figure them out through trial and error. Most of the executives interviewed said that they provide some form of writing training, whether its an informal workshop or a full-blown “corporate university.” Another question I thought elicited interesting responses what “Does bad writing cost your company?” I think it really illustrates how important good writing is to see exactly how bad writing can negatively impact and organization. Most responded that the main way bad writing can cost a company is that if a message is unclear or confusing, the process must start over again, and this can be unnecessarily time-consuming, and that in turn costs money. Deloitte Consulting’s Victor Nau had one of the strongest responses, saying that beyond costing time and money, bad communication can cost an organization its entire livelihood because without good communication, they would fail to give their customers the service they demand; he says that good communication is the “life blood” of an organization. I completely agree with this statement, and without a doubt, good communication skills are probably your most valuable asset in the professional world.

Write Up the Corporate Ladder, Part II

April 12, 2007

I found Write Up the Corporate Ladder to be an interesting read, because it gives real insight into the writing styles of people who are successful in their chosen professions.  A book about writing can spout out tons of information about “good” writing styles, but I think hearing it straight from the people who employ the writing practices has much more practical use.  One of the questions I thought was most interesting was about how their writing styles utilize writing practices learned in school and how they differ.  This question was asked in most of the interviews, and the response was generally the same.  Most said that in school, you’re taught to think about the mechanics of your writing and in the real world, its all about communication.  I think this is a very good point.  If you’re not communication your point and getting it across to your audience, then you’re writing is basically worthless.  Of course grammer and spelling and sentence structure are important, if you get too caught up in the mechanics of writing, you may fail to communicate, and that is really the most important part.  Once you have solidly expressed your point, you can always go back and fix the mechanics (or better yet, have someone else do it for you, if your job provides you with that luxery.)  Another question I found interesting was about when each person realized they were a good writer.  The responses to this questions were much more varied.  One person said they realized they were a good writer in fourth grade when he read a story to his class and realized it has hysterically funny.  Many of the other interviewees realized they were good writers in school and some not until beginning their careers.  I found it interesting that many of them were told that they were bad writers, but stuck with it and have become very successful as writers in many different professional contexts.  What I got most from these responses is that you can’t be discouraged by a bad review of something you’ve written and if you stick with it and try to sharpen your skills, virtually anyone can become a good writer.

Profile Assignment

April 12, 2007

For my profile assignment, I actually got very lucky.  On Monday, I had an interview for an internship with the director of promotions for KOMU, Monica Stoneking.  The interview went wonderfully and I got along great with Monica.  Luckily for me, she’s a very laid back person and willing to help me out with whatever I need.  I was offered the internship for this summer/fall.  Monica’s job at KOMU involved writing scripts for promos and composing press releases.  I realized that she would be the perfect person to interview and it would also allow me to get a feel for her writing style before beginning work with her.  I e-mailed her and she was more than  happy to oblige.  I am going to conduct the interview by e-mail because she’s very busy with her many responsibilities at KOMU.  After reading part II of Writing Up the Corporate Ladder, I picked some questions that I thought would give me the best insight into her writing style.

Naked Conversations; Chapters 10-12

March 20, 2007

Chapters 10, 11, and 12 begin the second half of Naked Conversations called “Blogging Wrong & Right.” This was definately a refreshing change of pace. The entire first half of the book was dedicated to heralding the importance of blogging in modern business. Because the idea of blogging for practical business purposes was completely new to me, I found the first couple chapters in the book interesting. However, after a while, it becomes pretty redundent. It was nice to actually switch gears and hear about how to blog right (and wrong). Chapter 11 was the longest of the three, and basically detailed what to avoid when blogging. The author’s discuss how “character blogs” can adversely affect a business. While the term character blog was new to me, I had often thought that the concept of creating a blog under the pretense of a fictional character touting a product or service was a little annoying; the author’s agree with this assesment and call the practice “lame.” I also found it interesting how an adverse blog can “silently” damage a company if it is left ignored.  They also discuss the idea of mediocre blogging, and how a boring blog can be just as damaging as a blog that incites outrage in the blogosphere.  In Chapter 11, 11 tips for blogging correctly are discussed.  They all seem like completely resonable suggestions for how to maintain a successful blog.  I don’t want to re-hash the chapter by listing all their points, but I think its probably safe to say that if you only read one chapter in the book, this would be the one (plus its the shortest chapter in the book, only about 10 pages).  In the “How to Not Get Dooced” chapter, the issue of keeping in line with your business’ policies about blogging are discussed (by the way, “doocing” refers to being fired because of something written on a blog).  This was a chapter I found particularly interesting because I had been wondering about these issues while reading the preceeding parts of the book.  The authors provide many relevent suggestion of things you should think about while blogging about your company (or prior to beginning a blog).  I feel like this chapter is extremely important for anyone thinking about blogging about the organization you work for, whether it be the products or services they offer or the work environment itself.

Naked Conversation; Chapters 4-6

March 13, 2007

In the second set of chapters I’ve read in Naked Conversations, the author’s continue to examine how blogging is changing the business world.  They look at blogs as “direct access” to the public, which is actually the name of the fourth chapter.  My businesspeople and CEO’s have expressed their frustration with the media in regards to how they are presented.  Many say that whether the portrayal is positive or negative, it is almost inevitably riddled with errors.  As a way of bypassing the media, business has discovered blogging as a direct pipeline to the public, through which they can communicate exactly what they want without relying on a third party who has the potential to misrepresent their message.  This point is illustrated through stories of CEO’s who use blogging for exactly this purpose, such as those at GM and Sun Microsystems.  In chapter 5, blogging’s impact on smaller companies is discussed.  There was a quote I found especially interesting a few pages into the chapter from Jim McGee.  It said that “bloggers are the agents that tech companies tried and failed to produce with artificial intelligence.  Those agains were supposed to go and fetch useful information and rerieve precisely what users wanted, but the stuff never worked, in part because computers lack common sense.  Bloggers have become the intelligent agents.”  I’m not sure why I got hung up on this quote, but it just seemed to present blogging in an entirely different light.  Bloggers have created a technological tool for the public to use which could not be created through technology alone; blogging works because it is a unique marriage between technology and human characteristics.  I have to admit, the first three chapters of the book were more interesting becuase I had never really thought about blogging as being more than merely a form of self-expression and could be a valuable business tool.  However, after six chapters, I’m getting a little weary.  Indeed, each chapter does look at blogging from different aspects.  I am convinced that blogging is good by this point, and I’m ready to move on to how to do it well and what to avoid.

Naked Conversations

March 6, 2007

For class tomorrow, our assignment was to read the first three chapters in Naked Conversations by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.  The book can basically be summed up in its tagline: “How blogs are changing the way businesses talk with customers.”  The first part of the book is basically about how useful a tool blogging can be for businesses and the power of word of mouth over traditional advertising and marketing.  The authors give lots of real-world examples of this.  The example discussed in most depth is how Microsoft utilized employee blogging to try to correct their public image as an “evil corporation.”  Through blogging by employees and even an uneditied “reality show” about life inside the company, they were able to begin an open conversation with customers and the public which helped to soften their image.  The book also talk about the power of word of mouth and how it is an easy, CHEAP way to generate busines that actually gets better returns than conventional form of advterising, like broadcast commercials.  Honestly, I had never given blogging much thought.  It was simply what people with too much Myspace time did or a tool for political activists.  I had never even considered it implications in the business world.  I’m interested to read the rest of the book and open my mind to what can really be accomplished through blogging.

Cover Letter Thoughts

February 12, 2007

The first reading from Ask.com did not prove very useful to me.  I’ve been doing extensive research about resume and cover letter writing before this class began, and I’ve found that sites like monster.com and yahoo!hotjobs have more useful information about the topics.  I guess it could be somewhat helpful to read the posts on this site, but only after looking through the more professional sites; on their own, I don’t believe these posts would help you much.  They would be better used as supplementary information.  I couldn’t even find the second two sites.  I think it would be much more helpful for us to be able to actually click on the links.  Its possible that I just don’t know how to click on links in a pdf file, but if they is a way, I’m not aware of it.  I tried both of the other sites a few times and kept coming up with error pages.  In order to complete the other part of the assignment (actually writing a cover letter), I used the websites I mentioned earlier (yahoo! and monster, etc.) for advice.

Job Search

February 8, 2007

I began my job search through monster.com. I specified a location (San Francisco, CA) and used key words like “promotions” and “media”. Here’s are a few I found:

Entry Level Position with The Merrimack Group

This is an entry-level position with the Merrimack Group in San Francisco. I am still not certain what field I want to go into, so this was a perfect posting for me because they have positions open in all the areas I am interested in, like marketing, PR, and promotions.

Entry Level Position with 5th Dimension Promotionz

This posting is for an entry-level position with a San Jose-based company. They organize promotional and marketing events around the city for various companies and organizations. This posting appealed to me because I enjoy organizing events and don’t want to be sitting behind a desk all day; I would rather be out there interacting with clients.

Media Internships in San Francisco

This would be a good opportunity to explore career options in the field I want to work in (media and public relations) in the city I want to live in. I believe it would be a good way to make important connections and explore options.