Many professionals spend more time on letters and memos than on any other writing task. While most correspondence may seem routine at the time, a particular letter or memo may turn out later to be crucial. So don't underestimate their importance. They, too, need your focused attention.
For short or routine documents, trim the steps down to essentials. The procedure described below does this. You can also use it for dictating as well as for writing.
First, focus on the situation. Letters and memos have a history. Be sure you are aware of that history, what events may have prompted your readers to have written to you, how they are likely to react to what you are telling them.
Keep your focus on the actions that you want to happen. All communications are ultimately action-oriented, even a memo to the file that puts your information or position on record. Be sure you know exactly what you are trying to facilitate and state that action clearly and directly. If directness makes you uncomfortable, either live with it or change your position on the issue. But don't beat around the bush. Ambiguity does not lessen the blow; it just confuses the matter.
Structure your communication. An overview at the beginning puts the letter or memo into context, tells your reader(s) what points will be discussed, and outlines the major actions or recommendations. Some readers will stop reading at this point and pass the document to someone else for action. Others who read the entire letter or memo will read more efficiently if they're given an overview. Use brief headings, even if the letter or memo consists of just an overview and two or three main points. And don't forget to set off the actions or recommendations visually so that the reader's eye is naturally drawn to them. Bulletted lists work well. So does underscoring within paragraphs.
This procedure will work for dictated as well as written correspondence. Follow all the steps down to the writing stage. At that point, dictate as you normally do, but with with your notes and Tree in front of you. As you dictate, indicate headings and other formatting you want included. While most dictated communication gains in informality and naturalness, it also tends to be wordy and inconsistent. So, don't scrimp on Verification and Revision. Take an extra few minutes to make sure your letter or memo is well-structured and your sentences crisp and clear.
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