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 – Creating a Cover Letter

What is a cover letter? Why is it important for an English learner to know about it and also how to create a good one? Well, a good cover letter can make the difference between landing that dream job or hitting refresh on the search results again to find the next job opportunity. Your experience and your professional background need to be succinct and summed up in a well-written way and the cover letter is your best way of doing that. It is an excellent way in which for you to improve your English writing skills and to prove that you can handle your future job’s writing components which there is likely to be many of them since you are a worker during an age of e-mails, 24 hour communications, and instant messaging services.

A cover letter is an opportunity for you to go into more detail about yourself and your experience(s) and background, both professionally and personally. However, your cover letter should focus on the job you are applying for as well as why you are interested in the particular company that you intend to work for. Your cover letter should be a balance of who you are as a professional, what you can offer for the job you’re applying to, and what your interest in the company is. It’s a balancing act between these two objectives and you should remember to personalize your cover letter depending on where you are applying to.

You may be asking yourself as you read this blog post: Why do I need a cover letter and what benefit(s) do I get from creating a worthwhile one? Well, there are a number of reasons for it which I will list below but be sure to note that it’s more than just a chance to land a good job but it’s a chance for yourself to become a better writer and know how to sell your abilities and skills.

Your cover letter is different from the resume in that it allows you to go more in-depth about yourself and why you’re a good fit for the job. Instead of short bullet points, you can highlight your experiences in broader detail. Employers will also expect why you would like to work for their company and how your skills line up with their requirements. It’s a chance to tell your story to them while interweaving how their company or organization aligns with your professional goals. In addition, you have the ability to showcase how good of a writer you are because the cover letter is more grammatically, and vocabulary focused than your resume.

Action words will make up a large component of your cover letter’s sentences so please be sure to put these verbs to good use. Here below are just a sampling of them listed below but remember that there are hundreds that can be used within the context of a regular cover letter. Try not to repeat yourself too much and to keep your usage of action words fresh and consistent throughout the letter.

Sample Action Words

  • Activate
  • Compose
  • Communicate
  • Develop
  • Direct
  • Manage
  • Organize
  • Review
  • Systemize
  • Test
  • Verify
  • Value

Note: Remember to add –d or –ed to the end of the action verb if using it for the past tense.

In addition, you have to be able to choose and use some phrases and sentences that will come in handy either at the beginning or end of the cover letter so that you will come off as being both professional and serious. You do not have to use all of them but there are a number of them that are cordial in nature that a potential employer will expect from you to see when they read it during their evaluation.

Here are some key useful phrases/sentences that you can use for your average cover letter:

  • Dear Sir or Madam…
  • I am applying for this ________________ opening with _______________ for the purpose of __________________________________.
  • This job appeals to me because ________________________.
  • Your company / organization / firm is my top choice because ____________________________________.
  • I believe that I offer a lot to this position based on my skills and qualifications.
  • For example, last year, I was tasked with ____________________________________ and I was able to help by ______________________________________.
  • Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or comments about my application.
  • Thank you for your consideration of my application for this _________________ position with ________________ and I look forward to hearing from someone soon.
  • Sincerely, __________________ (Your Name).

To give you reading at home a better idea of what the content and the structure of a cover letter looks like, I have included two sample cover letter excerpts that will show you how it can be written and what to write about potentially if you are still struggling for ideas as to how the cover letter should be shaping up.

Sample Cover Letter Excerpts

  • “I have over five years of management experience and led my team of software developers to develop a successful mobile application. This mobile application was instrumental in connecting doctors with patients in an online booking system that took out the middle man from participating in this previously onerous process.”
  • “I believe your company, Syntax Inc., has been successful in implementing various infrastructure projects related to bridges and tunnels throughout the Middle East. These kind of projects are related to what I hope to do with my career and I think that this work is very important to the future.”

Remember that you should know who your audience is and tailor your phrases to reflect who you are writing the cover letter for. Always use formal language such as sir, madam, sincerely, respectfully, please, thank you, etc. Go into detail about the job you are applying for and give different reasons on what you bring to the table for the position opening. Structure the cover letter into multiple paragraphs with an introduction, body paragraph(s), and a conclusion. The cover letter is a formal piece of writing so it should be structured as a formal letter whereas a resume is less substantive and more general.

In the introduction of the cover letter, remember to always put your full name, your current mailing address, your cell phone number, and your e-mail address at the header of the cover letter. The date at which you are sending out the cover letter should go next in the left hand part of the cover letter below your header. Then, you should begin the cover letter with “Dear Sir or Madam..” or “To Whom It May Concern”, or “Dear Mr. or Mrs. ________” if you know who specifically the cover letter should be addressed to. The introduction should be a paragraph or two focusing on what position you are applying to, the company associated with the position, and for which reasons you are applying for this specific position. You can also add the person or place that referred you to this job application especially if the person works for the company you’re applying to.

The body paragraph(s) of the cover letter should be a few paragraphs in total length but not be too lengthy or repetitive. Each paragraph should cover a different part of your professional or educational background and highlight what these experiences meant to you and what skills you developed. You should give a few examples of where you showed leadership, where you completed a successful project, and what you took from the experience. Do remember to not discuss every professional experience or educational program you’ve gone to but instead highlight the relevant ones related to the job application in question. Always use complete sentences for this part of the cover letter and check it over for grammatical coherence and correct vocabulary usage.

When it comes to a cover letter’s conclusion, you’ll want to re-state again why you are applying to this particular position and company. Discuss which characteristics, skills, and personal traits you have that will make you stand out as a job candidate. The conclusion of your cover letter should indicate gratitude and thankfulness for being able to apply and that you hope to hear back soon from the employer. Sign off with a salutation such as Sincerely, Best regards, Warm regards, Best wishes, Cordially, etc. and re-state your full name at the end of the cover letter. Don’t be too presumptuous that you will land the position but let your experiences, skills, and qualifications speak for themselves.

Your cover letter is what you make of it really and if you want the job bad enough, it will come through in your writing and in your sincerity. The point of becoming a better English learner is to put yourself to the test and to make the most of your abilities in this language and developing a good cover letter is a great way to do that. If you follow this advice, practice until there are few if no mistakes at all, and revise multiple times what you have written, you will be well on your way to having better success in your professional career in the English-speaking world.

English Corner – The Keys to Public Speaking

It can be difficult to speak in front of another person when you are not so sure of your English abilities. You’re probably comfortable when you talk to your family or your friends but you struggle to practice your English skills in front of random strangers. You’re fine on the phone with your best friend and may have no problem talking to them one-on-one. You might even be comfortable speaking in front of a class to practice a dialogue that your teacher prepared for you.

However, what about when it comes to speaking in English in front of a large group? Public speaking makes most people uncomfortable or nervous even when they are talking in their native language. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make it easier especially when it is your first time talking in front of strangers or an audience where you do not know anyone. The next time you have to do a presentation or make a speech, try these techniques and see if they help you. The more you practice your English in front of people who don’t know you, the more you’ll be able to gain self-confidence and get better at speaking even if you happen to make a few mistakes.

Choose a Topic You Know Well: Think about your background and experiences. Who are you? and what do you know a lot about? When you speak to a group for the first time, you have to be yourself. Don’t try to talk about something you know little about. Also, remember to not try to be someone you’re not. If you love sports, for example, do a presentation on your favorite baseball team and why you like them so much. You could also discuss what sport is your favorite to play and how it is played.

In order to grab the audience’s attention, remember to include personal stories from your own life and use a conversational tone as you would with a friend or a family member. Your audience wants to hear about your knowledge and expertise but they also want to get to know the real you along with how you were able to become the person you are today.

Practice and Practice Again: After you plan your formal presentation, it’s time to practice your English. If you do not want to practice it in front of friends or family, at least try to practice in front of a mirror or in front of your pet if you have one. You should use a clock or an alarm so that you know how long your presentation will take. Then, do your whole presentation out loud without stopping, even if you catch yourself making a few grammatical errors.

It is absolutely necessary that you follow through with your presentation even if you are not perfect at it during your practice runs. Also, please be sure to practice with the equipment you plan to use such as a laptop or projector. You may also need to practice with a microphone so you can know if you need to be louder or if you need to tone down your voice a bit for the future presentation. Practice more than once and when you have put that fear behind you, remember to practice in front of a friend or family member if possible. They might be able to give you some helpful advice about your tone, grammar, subject matter, etc. They will be your best critic because they know how your English is in spoken form.

Use Eye Contact and Gestures: Words are only one way that we communicate during a spoken presentation. You can also connect with your audience through your body language. First, always make eye contact with someone in the audience. Remember to look directly at different people in the audience so that they feel that you are talking to them personally. Second, use natural movement with your body and use gestures to get your points across. You do not have to wave your hands and arms around ecstatically but it is good to move them around to emphasize a certain part of your speech that you feel is uniquely important. Walking around the stage or platform a little can make you look less nervous and also gives you an air of confidence. On top of all that, being able to use your hands while you talk can also be helpful for your presentation.

Never Say “You’re Sorry”: Finally, don’t ever apologize for being nervous during a presentation, especially when English is not your native language. The audience probably doesn’t know or realize how nervous you are, and they are more interested in hearing about your topic for which you are an expert in. Also, if you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s alright to admit that you don’t know it and to move on to the next one. You don’t have to say you’re sorry. However, it’s great if you can explain to that audience member that the question is not something you know about. When you can do this in a polite manner, you will be able to move on to the next question without offending the audience you’re talking to.

Do Your Best: Nobody’s perfect at public speaking even if their native language is English. You may make a few mistakes but the audience will respect and admire you for giving it your best and presenting to them about a worthwhile topic. As the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and neither will the perfection of your public speaking skills. The main things to take out of your public speaking experience are to develop your grammar, diction, vocabulary, and overall cadence. Putting yourself out there is hard to do but you will be a better English speaker for it and after having gone through these experiences, you will have more confidence and better communication skills. Whether you are pitching your new business, explaining your scientific discovery, or examining the witness at a trial, good public speaking is absolutely key to your professional development.

The Blog Turns One

This week officially marks a year of my blog’s existence and I have to say that it’s been a rewarding and fulfilling experience overall. It started over seventy-five posts ago with my first look into the increasing presence of smartphones in today’s society with “Smartphones: Man’s New Best Friend?” and has continued up through this September with pictures during my recent trip to Guatepe, Antioquia, Colombia.

Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about the writing process especially when it comes to topics like travel and self-development. While my writing and photography skills are still a work in progress, I believe that I am a better writer and photographer than I was a year ago. I have put a lot of time and effort into this blog over the past year and I am thankful to all of the readers, friends, and family who have supported it by reading the articles, leaving comments, and giving me constructive feedback.

I’ve been through some big life changes with moving home and then back to Colombia recently. This blog has changed to become more travel and culture focused since that’s where I am right now in my life but I hope to continue writing about self-development and even ESL topics. I’m quite proud of the work that has gone into this blog and hope that you as the reader have learned a lot or gained something from my writings. So far, I have had a couple of thousand unique visitors from many different countries along with thousands of individual views and that’s very exciting to see.

As this blog enters year two, I am hoping to invest more time and money into the layout and formatting as well as creating more content for the reader. The first year has been very rewarding for me and I hope to continue developing this blog and expanding the readership. As a writer who enjoys hearing constructive comments, feedback, and criticism, I hope that you will leave a comment telling me your thoughts and suggestions about the blog. I am open to any advice as long as its’ respectful and within reason. I will continue to have eight to ten posts per month in 2017 and will highlight more of my experiences of living, working in Colombia as well as some upcoming travels to different parts of South America.

If you’re new to this blog and don’t know much about me or my writings, I have organized an archives section which has the location of all seventy-five of my posts which have occurred in the past year. I also have a ‘Best Of’ Articles page where I highlight the ten blog posts that I like the most when it comes to culture, lifestyle, traveling, music/movies/books, and personal development. You can find the individual links to these ten top posts here: https://benjweinberg.com/best-of-articles/.

I am now one year into my blogging hobby and I am happy with the results so far. I hope that this website will continue to grow in terms of audience and expand in terms of its’ content. I want to say thank you to all the readers and supports of benjweinberg.com and I look forward to keeping in touch with you throughout the rest of the year and into 2017. Please feel free to leave a comment on this particular post if you would like to share your thoughts or express your opinion about the blog so far and where you might like to see it go in the next year. Cheers to the future and here’s hoping to a great 2nd year of this blog!