Tag Archives: Memo

3050 Session Eight: Proposal Memo Sections 9-25-14

Today’s Agenda:

So you think you have a problem?


Group workshop on creating viable research questions.

Take some time with your group to perform the following exercise:

  1. Take a few minutes to brainstorm a list of key words about your topic.  What do people debate about it? What do you find most compelling about it?
  2. Write at least one question that could be raised about your issue that starts https://i0.wp.com/www.scribewise.com/Portals/202647/images/Better%20Questions.jpgwith each of the following words: who, what, when, where, how, why, should, would. In other words, you need to come up with eight (8) questions total.
  3. Answer the following:
    • What is your ultimate goal in writing about this topic? Are you informing? Defining? Evaluating or comparing? Proposing a solution?
    • Who is your audience? What will they be interested about your topic?
  4. Eliminate the questions from step 2 that do not fit your goal or audience.
  5. Of the questions that remain identify the most compelling.  Which is the most interesting?
  • Extra nuances to create open-ended questions:
    • Use a phrase such as “To what extent…” “What are the effects…” “What would happen if…
    • Combine two of your original eight questions.

Finally, you may wish to consider other prewriting strategies such as:

  • cluster mapping

Sample Cluster Map

  • Freewritinghttps://i2.wp.com/www.library.dmu.ac.uk/Images/free_writing.gif

The Proposal Memo (Project Two)


The first step toward the decision making report is to draft a short (two to three page) memo (in standard memo format) that will use the superstucture on p. 487 of Technical Communication to provide the following details:

  1. Who is going to undertake this research?
  2. Who will the final report be addressed to (i.e., who has the power to implement your solution)?
  3. What is the problem you are going to examine?
  4. What kind of research do you think this problem will necessitate?
  5. Why have you chosen this project (does it relate to your major, other course work, a personal interest, etc.)?
  6. What kind of format do you see the final report following (feasibility study, cause-effect analysis, comparative study, etc.)?
  7. What is your schedule for completing this project?
  8. What kind of criteria will be involved in making your final recommendation?

Section-by-section advice:

  1. Who are you?
    • Include all team members’ names in the “From” entry.
  2. Eventual Primary Audience:
    • Identify the planned recipient of the final report (Project Six) being proposed in this memo (question #2 above); although Project Two is addressed to me, the final project will be written with your chosen organization’s “decision-maker(s)” in mind and you need to know this information in advance both to plan your research strategy and identify appropriate criteria.
  3. The Problem Section
    • Don’t forget that the proposal memo is addressed to me (though I may not be the “primary audience” for whom you are writing). Although presumably relevant details, field terminology, and “industry jargon” will be familiar to your eventual audience, you may need to provide appropriate background for me at this stage in the project. That might require adding an additional “background” section preceding the problem statement section, or including an “overview” (see the overview in this previous student proposal, for instance).
  4. The Research Methods Section:
    • Your research section should detail, as specifically as possible, the types of research you will need to undertake to produce the final report. These items may include:
      • interviewing (relevant parties such employees, management and other stakeholders);
      • reading existing research on the problem (e.g., if your problem involves improving morale or motivating the member of a committee, you would do well to read the current literature on these issues in professional journals and trade magazines),studying the ways this problem has been approached/solved by other organizations;
      • analyzing data generated in research (see the analysis mentioned in this sample);
      • calculating potential costs and benefits (both in dollars and more generally); and/or
      • comparing/testing various possible solutions or components of possible solutions.
  5. Qualifications Section:
    • Question #5 above asks you to indicate (this information could alternately appear in your problem statement) why this particular project was chosen.List all of the qualities held by one or more team member that will aid in the completion of the project. Items listed under qualifications might include:
      • Previous experience with a similar problem;
      • Familiarity with organization and available access to its members;
      • Relevance to  field of study; and
      • Any “special skills” that make team members particularly prepared for taking on such a project.
    • Remember: the qualifications component of the proposal memo is meant to make the reader (me) feel confident that you have chosen a project that you are qualified to research and solve.
  6. Eventual Formats:
    • Although your project may take unexpected turns during its research phase, at its “proposal point,” you should have at least a working notion of what final format the final project will take (question #6 above). A cause-effect analysis is a report that identifies why a problem is occurring and suggests a solution. A feasibility study analyzes whether a proposed course of action, or multiple possible courses of action, are possible. A comparative study presents research comparing two or more possible courses of action.
  7. Schedule Section:
    • Writing the schedule section will allow you to do some upfront planning of how to distribute the the workload between team members and throughout the semester. It is presumed, of course, that your schedule (or, perhaps more precisely, your success at keeping to this schedule) may change throughout the semester due to unexpected events. Keep in mind, however, that when I ask you to write progress reports for your semester-long project, I am primarily asking after whether or not you are making adequate progress in your schedule.
    • Strike a balance between pragmatic and ambitious.
  8. Criteria Question
    • The most common misstep with the criteria section of the Proposal Memo is a lack of specificity in identifying the criteria you will use to evaluate potential solutions.
      • Technical criteria (those that relate to basic questions of feasibility)
      • Managerial criteria (those that relate to the quotidian operations of the organization)
      • Social criteria (those that relate to values and the impact of possible solutions on stakeholders)

      Here’s a great example of a criteria section that includes specific details. https://i0.wp.com/www.arcplan.com/en/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/collaborative-bi-solution-criteria.jpg

    • The Proposal is due by 11:59 pm Tuesday, September 30. It is worth 150 points, roughly 15% of the semester grade. Email a properly formatted word document to me and post a copy on a team member’s blog page devoted to Project Six documents.

HOMEWORK for Tuesday, 9/30/14

Write: Project Two.  Bring two printed copies to class on Tuesday.

Read: Project Three description and ch. 28 of Technical Communications. “Writing Reader-Centered Instructions”
Register for WikiHow and click around the site.  Be sure to peruse their page of requested topics to generate ideas for your instruction set.

Begin working on Project Six.  This is an ongoing assignment that you should work on throughout the remainder of the semester.


3050 Session Six: Starting Project Two 9/16/14

On Tap Today:



Project One  is due by 11:59 pm Tuesday, 9/16/14:

Post to Wikipedia (or other knowledgebase) and provide a copy of the text with a link to the Wikipedia entry (see an example here). Provide “before” and “after” screenshots as linked files with your references on your team blog page.

Send me an email by 11:59 pm Thursday, 9/18/14

Every team member will be responsible for an email that includes the name of your team and a numbered ranking of your teammates. Numbers are based on the number of people in your team excluding yourself (you will not rank your own contributions). The highest number should be assigned to the person who you felt turned in the best performance while working on this project (e.g., if your team has five members, in this ranking the highest number will be four).

The teammate with the “highest” score will receive a bonus point. Likewise, the teammate with the lowest score will lose a point from their grade for this project.

Project Two and Project Six

Project Two: Audiences and Contexts

Choosing an Organization

Project Two requires you to devote a significant amount of time and work toward researching the processes of a particular organization. It also requires you to be in contact with the “decision-maker” for your particular objective (i.e., the individual or individuals who have the power to consider and/or implement the recommendation you will make in Project Six). As such, the organization you choose for the project should be one that you belong to or at least one with which you have some familiarity/contact. Likely candidates include:

  • An organization that you belong to (such as the one that employs you or the one that you volunteer for)
  • An organization containing one or more members that you have contacts with (such as a business run by a family member or that employs a family member) (e.g., the former student projects involving a cabinet-building company and a dental file manufacturer)
  • Some segment of the University, including student groups (e.g., the previous project on creating a wireless campus at Wayne State or refashioning student government at WSU)
 Choosing a Problem


You may already be aware of a problem facing the organization you choose, or you may query a representative of the organization in regards to what problem they would like assistance with. In any case, the problem should be one that requires technical or professional communication as a tool of analysis or even possible solution (i.e., the problem you identify might be a breakdown in communication, but whatever the problem is, you will use technical and professional communication both to obtain information and present recommendations to your decision-maker).

Analyzing Problems

Types of Problems

The easiest problems to identify are the ones that are significantly hindering an organization or stopping it from achieving its goals. However, the problem you identify might be also be one revolving around possible opportunities or the need to decide on future actions. The following are the three primary problem categories that you might use to brainstorm:

  • Problems in functioning, wherein there is “conflict, discrepancy, or inconsistency between an actual or existing situation and the ideal situation” or goal.
  • A problem of “potential missed opportunity” in which an organization need to figure out how to maximize productivity. For instance, a “company doing well in its present operations may see the possibility for expansion.”
  • Similarly, an organization may simply be faced with a decision that that they are having difficulty making (for instance, which operating system the should choose when updating their IT); in this scenario, you might offer to do the research and evaluation needed to make this decision.
The Problems of Problems (Criteria and Research Methods)

Organizational problems that require decision-making reports are often social in nature and ill-defined – this is what makes them “worthy” of formal attention.

As such, there will likely be many possible solutions to the problem and you need to figure out how to evaluate multiple solutions using three types of criteria:

  • Technical criteria (those that relate to basic questions of feasiblity)
  • Managerial criteria (those that relate to the quotidian operations of the organization)
  • Social criteria (those that relate to values and the impact of possible solutions on stakeholders)

Below are examples of criteria used when considering remodeling a school library.

These criteria, as well as the general dimensions of the project you are taking up will drive your selection of research methods (e.g., as in the chart below reproduced from our reading):

As show above, criteria based on concerns over size, structure, access, displacement effects, and cost led to such research methods as interviews, site inspections, stakeholder surveys, and professional consultations

Our Itinerary

Steps in the Project

The work leading up the Recommendation Report will take place in three sequences, starting with Project Two, continuing with progress reports, and ending with Project Six. The actions for each of these sequences are listed below:

 Initial Objectives (for Proposal Memo)
  • Defining the Problem
  • Identifying Research Questions
  • Establishing Research Methods
  • Establishing Selection Criteria
  • Establishing a Schedule for Conducting Research and Composing the Final Report
Intermediate Objectives (for Progress Reports)
  • Forecasting Possible Solutions
  • Researching and Interpreting Information
  • Adjusting Existing Schedules
Final Objectives (for Final Report)
  • Presenting Research
  • Identifying Feasible Solutions
  • Applying Criteria
  • Making a Recommendation


Project One is due by 11:59 pm. Post to Wikipedia and your blog. Provide screenshots on your blog of the changes made in Wikipedia.

Email rankings (excluding yourself) are due by 11:59 pm Thursday, 9/18.

Read TC, ch. 19.

Write a memo (300 words) to your teammates in response to “Apply Your Expertise” #3.  Consider your execution of Project One and suggest three ways your team can improve productivity heading into Projects Two and Six.  Persuasively explain each suggestion.

3050 Session Three Definitions 9/4/14

Planning Definitions/Descriptions


 Macro Level

  • Who needs this definition and what is their familiarity with terms in this field?
  • What amount of detail is needed?
  • Where and how will this definition be used?

Micro Level

  • How might a sentence definition be used in the document and elsewhere (consider different contexts; in this case, the fact that this is an entry for Wikipedia)?

Reader-Centered Concerns

From Markel:

  • “Definitions clarify a description of a new development or a new technology in a technical field” (565).
  • “Definitions help specialists communicate with less knowledgeable readers” (585).
Types of Readers
  • Primary-wants to learn, action takers, decision makers
  • Secondary-proofread, fact check, advisors
  • Tertiary-“accidental readers” evaluators

Researching Required

  • Basic knowledge/background info/history
  • Most recent info
  • What level of familiarity will reader have
  • Valid references
  • Visuals
  • examples

Sentence Definitions: Terms, Categories, and Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Specify the category and characteristics
  • Differentiate between a specific item and a class of items
  • Avoid circular definitions
  • Use a noun or noun phrase rather than a who, what, where, when phrase.

Extending the sentence definition

  • Indicate the scope and nature of the description
  • Provide a clear description
  • Use sufficient amount and appropriate detail
  • Conclude (Markel, 574)

Example: pencil

Markel identifies 8 strategies/tools for extending your sentence definitions:

  • Graphics/Visual Aid
  • Examples/Usages
  • Partition/categories
  • Principle of Operation
  • Comparisons
  • Analogy
  • Negation
  • Etymology of term/history

Example: personal computer

Style (Keeping it Simple and Usable)


  • Use familiar words and terms
  • Keep sentences short
  • Use definitions within definitions (use links to existing Wiki pages)
  • Leverage visuals appropriately

Common Problems with Project One Executions (and common strategies for avoiding them)

1. Entry does not serve knowledge base 
  • Expand a stub, make an entry for a section of an existing article, or choose a “wanted” or “most wanted” entry 
  • Enter your contribution into Wikipedia in advance of the due date (to allow time to gauge readers/editors responses)
  • Familiarize yourself with what kinds of entries are cut (and why)
2. Entry does not follow formatting/style guidelines of knowledge base
  • Study the wikipedia style guidelines and content criteria and makes sure you are aware of common writing practices for this site
  • Use an article on a similar topic as your style sheet/example
  • Be aware of, in particular, when images/diagrams would be of use for a given topic
3. Entry contains inaccuracies, unverified claims, and/or grammar/punctuation mistakes
  • Research your topic thoroughly
  • Be sure to cite sources appropriately (using Wikipedia’s guidelines)
  • Perform common editing/spell check functions, including importing your text into a word processor

Let’s take a look at our memos.

One Card OverAchievers: Evan L. Joshua, Ali, Mohammad, Peter Dolcinek.

We’ve Gone Plaid: Martin, Nate , Kelly , Evan C.

The U. N. Group: Ritwik, Abe, Kento, Branden, Billal

Brad’s Undergrads: Lauren, Peter Dolba, Gi Tae, Vandit

The Creative Ones: Brittany, Tayler, Nick, Jason, Ronald

Strategies for Writing Good Memos (from Chapter 23 of Technical Communication)

  • Adopt a “You-Centered” Attitude
  • State your Main Points Quickly
  • Keep it Short
  • Provide Necessary Background
  • Use Headings, Lists, and Graphics when Appropriate
  • Follow Format Conventions

In Regards to this Memo specifically:

  • Keep the receiver’s (my) desires in mind
  • Address major objectives at the start of subsections
  • Keep the memo to a single page
  • Provide necessary context when discussion challenges and strategies
  • Use a To/From/Date/Subject top heading
  • Use Headings
  • Bullet lists are appropriate for a work plan
  • Graphics are appropriate only in special circumstances

Assignments for this Week/Next Week and Beyond


  • Before 11:59 pm tonight: Tweak your Memo Assignment for Project One and email a MSWord doc. file to me. Make sure it includes a sentence definition of your topic.
  • Write an evaluation (@ 300-500 words) describing the blog you found by 11:59 pm, Mon. 9/8/14
  • Before class on Tuesday, 9/9: Read Chapters 4 (“Planning for Usefulness”), 5 (“Planning Your Persuasive Strategies,” p. 117-146),
  • Quiz on Thursday 9/11
  • Project One Due by 11:59 pm Tuesday, 9/16/14:  Post to Wikipedia (or other knowledgebase) and provide a copy of the text with a link to the Wikipedia entry (see an example here). Provide “before” and “after” screenshots as linked files with your references on your team blog page.

3050 Session Two: Purpose and Audience 9/2/14


Today’s Agenda:

  • Problems with wordpress or wikipedia?
  • Syllabus questions
  • Review of Chapters 1 & 3 of Technical Communication
  • Introduction to Project One
  • Team Formations

What is Technical Communication?

Essential Aspects:

  • Produced for a practical purpose (to inform, explain, instruct)
  • Directed toward (a) particular audience(s)
  • Focused on “usability” of final product and/or or persuasive power in influence the decisions of stakeholders (rather than aesthetic concerns, enjoyment, etc.)

 Common Aspects:

  • Uses several popular genres of writing/communication (memo, report, instruction set, white paper, proposal, progress report, etc)
  • Employs visuals, graphics, formatting techniques
  • Often requires collaboration
  • Increasingly produced in a digital environment
  • Deadline driven


Reader-Centered Strategies for Effective Technical Communication (part one)

We’ll discuss this in greater detail in later classes

  • Help readers find key information quickly
  • Use an accessible writing style


Defining the Objective of a Technical Communication:


  • What task will your communication help a reader perform?
  • What information does your reader desire/require?
    • What is your reader already likely to know?
    • What will need to be explained to them?
  • How will your reader “read” the communication (skim for key points? read from beginning to end? read in a hurry?)?
  • How will your reader use the information you are providing (as a reference? to perform a certain action? to make a decision?)?
  • What constraints/affordances are provided you as a writer, given your task and the genre of your writing and/or its delivery mechanism?

(See Figure 3.1 in Text or download the Writer’s Guide here.)

Beginning Project One

Memo for Project One:

Between now and midnight of Wednesday 9/3/14 you will compose a memo (300-500 words, single spaced) with information about the following:

  1. group membership and your group’s decision on the “rank-and-yank” question as well as any other essential information about how you plan to collaborate productively (e.g., settle problems, delegate work);
  2. the topic you have chosen for Project One and why you think this is an appropriate topic given the expertise of your group and the constrains of Wikipedia as an open-author knowledge base (see, in particular, the questions listed above under “Defining the Objective of a Technical Communication” for guidance on this question);
  3. the challenges of the assignment, as you see them, given the constraints of Wikipedia entries in general and your chosen topic in particular; and
  4. your strategies for overcoming the challenges you have identified.

You have already read a chapter on writing effective memos in Technical Communication. See also here and here for other useful information on memo writing.

Before leaving class today, please provide me with the following information by filling out the form below or on a slip of paper.


  • READ for Thursday:
    • Markel on Writing Definitions pages 564 – 571 & 574-579
    • Using this list, or Google, find a blog related to your major, career path, or personal interest.  Read a post or two to get a feel for the blog and blogger(s). Post the URL of your chosen blog on your wordpress site.
  • WRITE:
    • Upload Project One Memo to your blog by 11:59 pm, Wed. 9/3/14
    • Write an evaluation (@ 300-500 words) describing the blog you found above.  Identify and describe the following:
      • Readers and their characteristics
      • What the blogger(s) want their readers to do
      • The ways the blogger(s) influence readers’ attitudes and actions
      • How well these objectives were met (or not).
      • Post this to your wordpress or other blog by 11:59 pm, Mon. 9/8/14