Up to Snuff #44: Letters and Memos

Up to Snuff #44:  Letters and Memos

By, Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu

According to Kennedy’s, “Technical and Professional Writing,” a memo records “an opinion, an action, a plan or a train of events.” (Kennedy, pg. 361) Memos are said to be for insiders and include in their basic initiation To, From, Date and Subject stacked up, skip two lines a purpose statement, then background information, then summary or answer, reference to another memo or correspondence, then develop pertinent details, conclusion, typists initials, enclosures.  (Kennedy, Pg. 365)

A letter, in contrast to a memo, generally “solves problems with or for outsiders.” (Kennedy, 361) When letters arrive to insider’s examples may include things like “congratulatory letters, recommendation letters, letters of promotion, disciplinary letters, and letters of resignation or dismissal.” (Kennedy, 361)

What should be included in a business letter are at top senders name and address centered with name bold, skip 3 lines, date, skip 3 lines, recipients name title & address, skip one line, salutation recipient and colon, skip one line, pertinent information ~3 paragraphs or more, complimentary close, skip 4 lines to printed name with senders signature above.  (Kennedy, Pg. 363, Figure 10.1)  The basic structure of letters and memo’s is absolute and includes an introduction, a body and a conclusion.  (Kennedy, Pg. 364)

I have held jobs were letter writing was a constant and regular event.  The most common things in this particular job with an art center that I worked on were emails or thank you letters to donors.  The letters usually contained about 3 paragraphs in which to cite the gift and give thanks while acknowledging how the gift would be applied.  Then in the second paragraph to warm the donor with a personal connection and in the final closing paragraph to invite the donor to enjoy the many offerings by highlighting current and upcoming events at the arts center. Then close the letter and sometimes add an ink or personal note to further warm the donor.  It was imperative to use things like templates connected to the database, csv files and mail merge plus professionally sealing letters with a plastic water and sponge gadget and thinking about the reader’s first glance. Even the choice of seasonal stamp mattered and often beautified or even revolutionized the letters.

The recipients of a memo may be internal “insiders” within a company or organization and the recipients of a letter tend to be external or “outsiders.”  An inside memo may have a more casual format than a letter which may be contractual or even of  legal quality, more formal and considerably more restrained.

Kennedy, George E. & Tracy T. Montgomery, Technical and Professional Writing:  Solving Problems at Work, Upper Saddle River, NJ Prentice Hall




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