by Deborah Healey
A lot of email these days is highly informal, filled with initials such as BTW for by the way, F2F for face to face and with other typing shorthand that has its origin in the fast typing done for chat rooms - i c yr in skool (translation: I see you're in school). Misspellings are also prevalent. When students are writing to each other or to a generous teacher, none of this matters. The focus is on fluency, rather than on form.
Business writing, however, is far from informal or forgiving. Teachers of English for Business spend considerable time talking about formats of memos and the register - the "tone" of business letters. With more and more communication taking place on email, Business English teachers now need to add e-memo writing to their syllabus. This Tech Tip is designed to help in that endeavor.
A sample may look like this:
TO: Jane Miller
FROM: Deborah Healey DH
RE: Last week's meeting
DATE: June 9, 2001
Thanks for the information at the meeting last week. We'll talk about the points you raised and get back to you sometime next week with a response.
A business e-memo format will have some of the same features. There will be a recipient (TO) and the email program will add the sender and the date automatically. However, the Subject line can be substantially different from the typical print memo. The email program will automatically add RE: for a reply or FW: for a forwarded message. More importantly, the subject line is often used to communicate the major point of the e-memo message. For example, a memo about a meeting on Monday, June 25 at 9:00 in the conference room would have that information as its subject line:
Subject: Mtg Mon June 25, 9am in conference roomNote the abbreviated format of the subject line. The information would be repeated in the message text, spelled out more completely and with any added information:
[message text]Our next meeting will be Monday, June 25, at 9am in the conference room. Please bring your notes from the last meeting with you.While the salutation (Dear __) may be missing from this type of message, a name is at the bottom. There may also generally be a signature block attached (the part under the =========== in the message above), though the signature is less likely with a message to one's colleagues than to someone less well known. It's polite in general to keep the signature block relatively short - no more than four or five lines, usually. Telephone and fax numbers are much more important than a cute quotation. When the signature is longer than the message, it's definitely a problem.
Deborah Healey, email@example.com
ELI, Oregon State University
E-memos to people you don't know very well will be more formal than those to colleagues. The subject line should still be as informative as possible, so the reader can tell at a glance what kind of attention it requires. A salutation (for example, Dear Ms Smith, or Dear Sam,) is typical with these more formal memos. Some people start with "Hi" or "Hello" as the salutation in order to have a somewhat less formal tone when talking either to people they don't know very well or to a group of people at once. The signature block is a very good idea in this case, as well. A sample memo about a new product might look like this. It assumes that Bill and Deborah have communicated before.
We have a new software program for saxophone players that you may be interested in seeing. A demo is at our website, http://great.saxsounds.com. If you would like more information, just let me know.
Bill C. Linton, firstname.lastname@example.org
333 F Street, New York, NY 10001
Tel: 202-555-1111; fax: 202-555-1112
A caution about marking messages as being of high importance - while most email programs will let you mark the importance of a message, it's wise to use the "high importance" mark as rarely as possible. Do use it when immediate action is required, such as a deadline today or tomorrow. Overuse is abuse, and busy readers will not forget it.
See sample answers
Use of email in business is growing rapidly, so the conventions are still in process. These are suggestions, not absolute rules, based on extensive business correspondence. For more ideas about memo and email writing, check the following websites:
Please feel free to email me with questions and comments -- and suggestions for other tech tips -- at Deborah.Healey@orst.edu.
If you have questions, comments, or for more information, contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu
Last updated 26 June, 2009