English Corner – On Writing Memos

“What is a memorandum you may ask? A memorandum or ‘memo’ is a type of written message passed along in a business for internal changes and review. Being able to edit, write, and understand memos is a key part of being successful in the business world.”

What is a memorandum you may ask? A memorandum or ‘memo’ is a type of written message passed along in a business for internal changes and review. Being able to edit, write, and understand memos is a key part of being successful in the business world. Memos are usually shorter in terms of written length and can range from as little as 100 words to about 1000 words depending on the subject matter. Memos are not only used in the business world, but they also carry over to governments as well as to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at times.

While memos are not as popular anymore due to the rise of electronic mail (e-mail), they are still a fast, secure, and cost-effective way of communicating with other people in the business or company. If you are to work in a business setting, you’ll need to do a wide variety of vocabulary as well as have a good understanding of formal grammar and syntax.

Some key aspects of the memo include the header or title to sum up what the memo is about, the subject line to describe the focus of what the memo’s topic is, and then you have who the memo is addressed to with the To: line and then below that is the From: line to indicate who wrote the memo and where it is from. Then, you have the body paragraph(s) where the ideas of the memo are divulged and then the conclusion which re-states the ideas and sums up the purpose of the memo.              

You also want to make sure that the memo is single spaced or double spaced depending on the guidance you receive from your workplace. If there is an ‘attachment’ such as an image or a text, make sure it is attached to the memo before you send it out and that you indicate that there is an attached file when you write up the memo. Lastly, it is very important to leave your name at the bottom as well as the date at the top so that person who received the memo knows not only who it came from but when it was written to see how fresh or old it is.                                   

Memos place a high emphasis on timeliness but also orderliness while being able to sum up a large amount of information in a short amount of space. Most memos are only a page long but can get up to no more than five pages depending upon the subject or general content you are writing about. The style of any memo you write should always be concise and succinct.

You have to show analytical clarity with your writing. (It has to make sense to the reader). It may be sensitive material so you will have to be your own editor and not rely on others in the company. The content has to be informative, persuasive, and relevant to the audience. When you write or read a memo, you should expect for it to be impactful in some manner to inform the reader.

There are main questions you will want to answer in any memo that you write such as:

  1. What is relevant for the person reading it to be aware of from my memo?
  2. Why does it matter to the business / company / organization?
  3. What is the objective of the memo?
  4. Who is my audience for it?
  5. What is the issue that we are working on?

The most important thing to be aware of when asking these questions is what is the objective?, who are my audience?, and what is the issue I care about? If you forget the other questions, it is very important to remember OAI: objective, audience, issue. As long as you address those three main questions, your memo should be really concise and informative.

When it comes to the actual structure of the memo, the scope of your issue have to be addressed up front as well as the main points you want to focus on. The Subject of your memo should always be both descriptive and short (about 4 to 8 words)

1. Example: How to Increase Our Fourth Quarter Earnings

The ‘bottom line’ or summary sentence must be upfront or at the top of the memo. You should always have a good ‘hook’ to draw in the reader’s attention. You’ll also want to articulate the key points or the recommendations in the first or second sentences of your memo. You have to assume that the reader of the memo may only have time to read one paragraph of it especially if you are in government or in the business world for your career.

You should always be using specific facts and relevant information to bolster your bullet points. You’re going to want to paint a comprehensive picture of the situation at hand and what can be done about it. Always be able to articulate the risks of your reasoning, the possible consequences to your action points, as well as the counterpoints (additional context) if your memo calls for it. The memo should have a logical flow and is not as structured as an essay or article. Lastly, remember to utilize precise language and avoid unnecessary words.

When it comes to what you should always do in memo writing, the Do’s are quite obvious from a writer’s perspective: Choose your words carefully. Be brief and clear as much as possible. Anticipate and address the reader’s questions in them. Avoid leaps in logic and assumptions based on the memo’s content. Proofread or edit your writing thoroughly and consistently. Use correct grammar throughout the entire memo.

The don’ts of memo writing is a bit more difficult but also involve some common sense in addition to having the structure and the techniques memorized. Perhaps most importantly, don’t summarize but analyze instead. Don’t ever use either abbreviations or acronyms to save some space as it is important to spell all the words out to retain their meaning. It’s important to not have unclear terms that will confuse the reader or audience. Keeping any run-on sentences at all in the final version is also a big no-no. You also would not like to have unprofessional or unrelated jargon (vocabulary) that is not related to the memo in the text of what you have wrote.

Memo writing is an advanced form of English writing, but it can be quite useful to know how to do if you are willing to put in the work. For business, government, or NGO purposes, good memo writing will be essential to your career so please make sure to study the structure, the techniques, and the overall uses for memos even after reading this article. Good luck to you and I hope being able to write formal memos will further your business and career goals as an English writer.

English Corner – Utilization, Not Memorization

Many English language learners and students are taught from a young age to memorize, repeat, and regurgitate what they have been assigned by their teachers. When it comes to the main focus of English as a Second Language, there is a tendency for educators in this field to focus on having memorization be the main focal point of an English student’s language base when it should not be this way. Instead of memorization and repetition, we should instead focus on helping English language learners with utilization, which means putting the English grammar and vocabulary they have acquired for actual use.

While learning different types of English vocabulary and understanding English grammar rules are very important parts for a beginner student to master, instead of focusing on fill-in-the-blank, matching, and multiple choice questions, teachers should instead focus on putting the English student in situations where they need to use this vocabulary or remember these grammar rules so they’ll better be able to retain the knowledge they have gained. Relying too heavily upon vocabulary sheets or grammar rules sheets for too long will disengage the students from enjoying the process of mastering a foreign language.

A good lesson should encompass grammar and vocabulary together, but for which leads to a chance for the students in the class to be put in activities or lessons where they need to use what they have learned right away so they retain it better. There are numerous examples out there on how to achieve this kind of lesson plan but a good one would involve speaking and writing parts, so students not only engage with the material alone but also with each other or in small groups. English does not have to be boring but a strict curriculum with the same activities over and over again will not help students to improve their retention of the language.

Students have the responsibility to study the grammar and vocabulary that the teacher has assigned in class, but it is the teacher’s responsibility to mix the subject matter up enough so that the students will have enough chances to let the material sink in over time so that they can absorb it better. In addition to speaking and writing exercises, utilizing listening and reading activities are crucial too. To break up the monotony of continuous vocabulary and grammar exercises, a good English teacher will mix it up in different ways to make the class more fun and interactive.

In my experiences as an English as a Second Language teacher, I have noticed a deficit in some cases where the students are able to do well on grammar and vocabulary assignments but struggle greatly when it comes to utilizing these lessons to improve their speaking and writing capabilities. By incorporating related speaking and writing activities to supplement the new material, students will better able to progress in these areas as well. Going through the textbook, doing the same kind of activities over and over again is no recipe for a proficient English learner.

When it comes to speaking, if you are doing a unit on types of food and drinks, it’s good to do an activity where students ask each other questions and get answers from their classmates. They could ask, “what is your favorite food?”, “what do you like to eat for breakfast / lunch / dinner?”, “What supermarket do you go to?”, “Do you like to cook? why or why not?” These question and answer activities are extremely effective in keeping the students engaged and allow them to put their grammar and vocabulary knowledge to good use by actually applying it in a real-life situation.

For grammar retention, writing sentences and even essays are a key aspect to utilizing the grammar lessons that they have learned in the past and applying them in the present. For example, if you introduce an essay topic or question such as “Where do you see yourself in ten years?, what will you be doing with your life, and what would you like to do?”, this essay assignment is a great way to jog the student’s memory so that they remember how to use verb tenses such as the ‘simple future tense’ or the ‘future progressive tense.’ Letting students use the future tense to describe their future selves is a great way in engaging them honestly and utilizing their understanding of English grammar by putting it into the written form.

Your English students will also be more engaged when they can utilize their base grammar and vocabulary knowledge to both read and listen. Having high levels of comprehension in these two areas is crucial in becoming a proficient learner of this language. For Reading, it’s important to incorporate different forms of reading for your class such as poetry, short stories, interesting magazine articles, and relevant newspaper articles.

For example, if your class is learning about how to describe weather in English, it would be good to share the newspaper section, which covers the weather specifically, and have the students describe the weather in different cities and towns from reading the descriptions in the newspaper. Having the students read newspaper articles about current events and other news will help satisfy their curiosity about English-speaking cultures and countries. There are numerous speaking and reading activities that can be done together to utilize what the student has learned to be put to good use.

Lastly, being able to utilize listening to music, audiobook passages, or news reports will do a great job in allowing the students to hear the grammar and vocabulary necessary to further their comprehension. You can get very creative with listening lessons and add on speaking and writing components to give your students more chances to utilize their English language skills in different ways. Testing the students without multiple choice, matching, or fill-in-the-blank activities can be done by assessing their comprehension of listening passages. Listening and repetition is also another way to help students retain their vocabulary and grammar knowledge.

A huge reason why English as a Second Language students struggle with retaining their knowledge of the language is that they are simply not utilizing it enough. Teachers should be aware that endless vocabulary and grammar lessons that are based around memorization and repetition are not helping their students but hurting them instead. In addition, focusing only on teaching to the test is a recipe for disaster and students will not enjoy actually learning the language if the teacher is not utilizing creative lesson planning, fun activities, and group cooperation when it comes to improving their students’ English skills.

In order for students to keep their English skills going into the future, teachers should focus on speaking, writing, listening, and reading lessons so that students will not only utilize the language in various ways but to also remember and use it years into the future long after they finish working with that teacher.