Did you know that American culture has some interesting distinctions? For example, we don’t generally use the metric system. And when we write dates, we write month, date, year. We write March 2, 2016 or 3/2/16. In Europe, they write 2 March 2016, or 2/3/16. Another interesting distinction is that we are a very informal culture. We often use first names with new friends right away. We might even wonder if we have offended if a new friend addresses us more formally with an honorific and a last name. You see some variations in the American South, but overall, Americans are quite informal. On the other hand, in general, people in other parts of the world operate in a higher level of formality. I tell you all of this to help you to think about your audience. This module is a continuation of our discussion of audience awareness. We are also going to talk about tone, formality, attitude, and correct English—grammar, spelling, and punctuation. We will address clarity and conciseness. And the goal of addressing all these aspects is to make sure your emails and memos give off a sterling impression. Now, one more detail before we dive in. All of this information is presented from an American perspective. It’s good to have multiple perspectives, and we know that we have participants from all over the world. This is AWESOME! It’s good to have multiple perspectives, and we will ask you to share your perspective and enrich our learning experiences in the upcoming discussion forums. But we just wanted to make sure that you knew that we knew that these perspectives presented here are mainly American. And one challenge for Americans in email and memo writing is to write the email/memo at an appropriate level of formality and with a developed sense of audience awareness. That means, in addition to thinking about email/memo format and contents and specific features of various forms of emails and memos, the writer must also think about the audience. And there are probably multiple audiences—people who are expected to read the memo/email and use the information directly. People who are expected to receive the email/memo and read it to be informed about what other people will do with the information. People who are expected to receive the email/memo and file it in case there are questions later about who was told what, when. The writer needs to think about all of these potential audiences, and also people who may be irritated or opposed to the information, people who don’t tend to read emails/memos completely and yet need to be responsible for the information, and those ideal readers who will read and understand. The writer also needs to think about people who may not know him/her and may be getting their first impression of the writer in this memo/email. What impression does your writing send about you? Start your writing process by practicing empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel another’s feelings as your own. Some people are naturally empathic. You see someone else jam his or her finger in the door, and you jump and say “OUCH!” It’s pretty easy for those people to think to themselves, “What frame of mind is my audience in when it receives this message? How should I write this message to present it in the way they expect, need, and want, to the best of my ability, given the reality of the information I am presenting?” If you are one of these people, you have a great gift. And if you are not, it’s wonderful for you to cultivate this ability by asking yourself that very question. What frame of mind is my audience in when it receives this message? How should I write this message to present it in the way they expect, need, and want, to the best of my ability, given the reality of the information I am presenting? So as you are writing this memo/email, you are not only following format guidelines and providing information in the content. You are also shaping the content so that it is presented in a way that delivers the information to the audience in the most effective and pleasant way possible. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes. One thing you can generally assume, no matter what, is that your reader does not want to immerse him or herself in your email/memo like a great novel. He or she wants the information as quickly and clearly as possible. But it’s also in your best interest to shape that information so that the reader walks away with a favourable impression of you. That means a directive that could just read, “Employees are no longer allowed to park in the west lot,” is very short and to the point. But your employees who park in the west lot, or who may feel that “Well, here’s another example of this company taking away some little thing that costs them nothing just to prove how little they care about their workers” would have a better attitude about the new policy, the company itself, and you if you explained a little more. So in this example, you have to balance conciseness with attention to audience. Remind them that the east parking lot has been upgraded and expanded to accommodate the increased need with the west lot closure. Also, if possible or helpful, provide rationale—all employees may not realize that the west lot is being closed because it is unsafe. Or construction is beginning on the new employee recreation center. Or perhaps there’s another reason that might make your audience more willing to accept the new policy. But sometimes the audience doesn’t need to know the reason, or you are aware that the reason might irritate your audience (and after all, you probably don’t make all the policies that you are called upon to communicate). If the west lot is the preferred lot among your employee parking options, and your CEO has decided to commandeer it to serve as her private limo parking lot and helopad, it’s probably best to simply state the new policy and remind the audience that the east lot has been updated and expanded for their convenience. Back to our earlier topic of formality. Particularly in the United States, our popular culture is extremely informal. And a cultural norm is to encourage informality as a show of friendship and trust. While we Americans are used to this and don’t often think about it—we know just because a salesman says “Call me Bob” it doesn’t mean we have a friendship—su ch overtures of friendship are often reserved for deeper relationships and friendships in other cultures. But one result of this cultural informality is that we may have a hard time assessing a situation with regard to the appropriate level of formality. We may even assume that informality is always welcome and appropriate. One quick tip to assist in making an assessment of formality is to see if anyone receiving the email is not from the US. For example, if you have international clients, you definitely want to think about writing a more formal rather than less formal email. Another way to assess the situation with regard to ascertaining the appropriate level of formality is to look at the last email your supervisor sent to the same or a similar group or level of person that you are writing to. How formal is it? Strive to write at that level of formality. Don’t imitate the CEO, because those at the very top generally strive for a lower level of formality to appear approachable. If your supervisor is the CEO, then look at emails from persons at your level to others at your level or below you to ascertain the appropriate level of formality in your organization. Of course, there are exceptions and entire organizations that are completely informal, and such informality is encouraged. But if you have not been told explicitly that formality should not be a concern in your written communication within the organization, then please take a look and see if you are being appropriately formal in your written communication. Clarity is another priority in your writing. There are some writing challenges that can impede your clarity—pronoun/antecedent agreement; modifiers; coordination/subordination; and real subjects and verbs are important skills for clarity. Also, wordiness can impede clarity—a nd simply annoy the reader. If you are not sure what any of these things are, just click the link to see if you have the hang of the skill. It’s not important that you know grammar terms. It’s just important that you understand how to write clearly and effectively. And that you recognize what is effective and and what is not. You may want to pick up a grammar book ( grammar doesn’t change, so you can pick up a bargain grammar book anywhere—The Harbrace and Little Brown are classics) and commit to working through a section a week. Also, a quick tip for clarity—headers. If your email or memo is more than a paragraph long, use headers to help readers quickly navigate the memo/email and use it for reference later. The headers also force you to think about organization, which will, in turn, make your writing better organized. For clarity sake, and just to keep things simple in this course, use either Times New Roman or Arial font 11 or 12 point in your writing. Use black font. Finally, correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling. And attention to sentence structure so that sentences are clear and concise. Almost every computer program has a spellcheck function. If spelling is a challenge for you, use the spellcheck with a dictionary. After all, their and there are both spelled correctly, but they are not interchangeable. And spellcheck won’t catch if you typed form instead of from. So read your memo or email backwards to focus on words individually and catch those tricky errors. Apostrophes are another tricky area. Only use them in contractions (can’t, won’t, etc.) or to show possession (Henry’s car). Apostrophes do not denote the plural. The plural of cat is cats. One cat. Ten cats. Yes, English has some irregular plurals—the plural of fox is foxes. But no plurals in English use the apostrophe. One tricky spot is its/it’s. Its is possessive. The dog caught the ball in its mouth. It’s is a contraction for “it is.” It’s time to move on to commas. American grammar rules are different from British grammar rules. Many of my students tell me that in their British schools all over the globe, they are taught to put a comma wherever they would take a breath. American comma rules are not connected to breathing. For this reason, I would advise you, if you are not comfortable with punctuation rules, no matter your nationality, to review the supplemental video on mindful punctuation. And either way, I would remind you that if you do not know the rule, look it up. Or do what you know. That is, if you don’t know if you are doing it right, then change what you are doing so that you know it is right. For example, if you are not 100% sure how to use semicolons (;), then either learn how to use them or do not use them. You can’t avoid commas, so learn the three most commonly used comma rules—in a sequence, to separate independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction, and in restrictive/non-restrictive clauses —and only use those constructions, along with simple sentences, in your writing until you learn more rules. Something that is harder is putting your writing in a correct format, adjusting the content for audience, making sure you are saying what you need to say in the most clear and direct way possible, and making sure the writing is correct with regard to spelling, punctuation, and grammar. And the audience walks away with a good impression of you. Writing a memo/email, even a short one, is akin to juggling five or six balls at once. It takes a lot of time and attention to a lot of big picture items and small details. And sadly, there’s no one right way or formula to use for all your memo/email writing needs. So when you need to write a memo or email, give yourself ample time to complete the task. Give your writing thought. Identify the memo/email type, collect the content, give thought to your audience and what they need to know and want to hear, and write your memo. Then, review it to make sure it is clear and concise, but also complete and polite. Then, get up and go get a drink of water. Walk around. Talk to a colleague. Clear your mind for a few minutes. And come back to the memo/email and proofread it. Run spell check. Then read it out loud slowly. When you are satisfied that it communicates what you wish to communicate, and it will leave readers with a positive impression of the writer, then if it is a paper memo, initial it. Then send it.