Investigative Memo

The Communication Situation: This assignment involves researching and gathering information that you will help you to create your resume/CV, application letter, or personal statement. For this assignment, you must find information about a company or a graduate school that you find interesting for your future plans.

Whether or not you focus on a company or a school, you want to know if it provides an environment that is conducive to your goals and personality. Of course, researching the required application materials and test scores is necessary, but that is not the purpose of this assignment.  Your ultimate goal is to create a compelling application package that will result in an interview for employment, or consideration for admittance into a graduate school. In order to achieve that goal, you must understand more than just the details of what, when, and where to send documents.  You need to show how you can fit into a company or a school’s environment.  The first step to do that is to learn about an organization.
The Assignment: Write a short report using a proper memo format. You should address the report to me and ensure that you provide enough information so that I have the facts to understand the environment and culture of the company or school that you are targeting. You should also contextualize this information by relating the information that you present to your specific goals, and skills, as well as experiences. Remember, I want to use this information to help you write a reader-centered application letter or personal statement, and a personalized unique resume or CV.
All sources of information should be cited.  Any personal interviews or phone calls should be noted. If you conduct a personal interview, you should write a brief e-mail or letter of appreciation since that is a professional thing to do.
Formatting Details: Use a proper memo heading, and single-spaced text.The short report should follow basic document design principles.
Planning, Drafting, & Revising Assignment 1:  Allocating time for the writing process can often be problematic due to time management and procrastination. Checklists can help, as well as setting time for each task. For this first assignment, I recommend following the specific tasks below in a linear order. Experienced writers complete the writing tasks in a similar, but often less defined, way.  In other words, the more that you write then the more efficient you will be as you establish your own successful habits for the writing process.
•    Planning
•    Drafting
•    Revising
Evaluation Criteria
Exceeds or Meets
Mostly meets
Rarely meets
Does not meet
MEMO HEADING – Provides sufficient information for readers to understand the organizational roles and relationships of the writer and reader. Follows standard memo formatting. Contains an informative, original subject line. Format is neat and professional.

INTRODUCTION – Identifies a specific concern or problem, and consequent investigation. States explicitly the purpose of the information as it relates to the writer, and to the reader. Transitions to the body of the report, and guides readers to wanted text.

ORGANIZATION – Contains a clear structural strategy, and presents information in a logical sequence as it relates to the stated purpose. Chunks information for readability. Uses formatting to ensure ease of use, such as headings and consistent page numbering.

DISCUSSION – Supplies relevant and factual information. Develops the content with the appropriate background information, and stays on topic in each section. Demonstrates research and command of the material.

OVERALL – Creates a document with a neat, balanced appearance. Shows editing and revising through the clarity and correctness of the text. Illustrates creativity, research effort, and professionalism. Demonstrates time management skills through the thorough and timely completion of the planning, drafting, and submission activities.

NOTE:  I provide links to the following notes for the planning, drafting, and revising parts of the writing process, which are listed above the Evaluation Criteria.
The more time that is spent planning decreases the number of drafts, and the time for writing and revising. Often, this task receives the least amount of time.  One rule of thumb is to spend an equal amount of time planning as you spend writing a draft.  As you grow as a writer, you will realize that planning notes and text often become parts of a final draft (i.e., planning is not wasted time or effort).
There are various techniques that you can use for planning, such as brainstorming by listing all ideas, freewriting by writing whatever comes to your mind without censoring it, or clustering by drawing a diagram with the topic in the center and ideas circling it.  On the job, you most often will not have the time or luxury to do those types of pre-writing.
I recommend that you open a blank document and type the answers to the following questions. You will then have something to begin to research and develop.

  • What is my topic (e.g., title and definition, which is much like a subject line for a memo)?
  • What is my purpose for writing?
  • Who are my intended readers, and how much do they know about my topic?
  • What do I already know about this topic?
  • What information and research are needed in order to meet my purpose in writing, and to meet the readers’ needs?

Drafting is unfinished writing. Based on that definition, drafting can be discouraging since nothing “final” is achieved through time spent doing it.  Think about writing as you would making a cake with icing. You do not simply get out a recipe, mixing bowls, ingredients, and baking pan (i.e., planning), and say that all is done. You need to add the ingredients and mix, pour the cake batter into the pan, and bake for the finished result.  You certainly would not mix the cake and icing ingredients together at the same time since that would defeat the purpose.
Writing a draft is like baking the cake itself. It does not have to be decorated immediately, and it can be finished at a later time.  Just as a cake needs to cool, your draft needs to sit for a time so that revision will be thought out and thorough.
The following tips can help jump start the draft process and get some words on a page:
Give yourself permission to write badly – Striving to write the perfect sentence can cause undue pressure and inhibit the flow of ideas.  Even if what you start to write sounds like a fourth grader wrote it, you need to persevere, and the writing will become smoother as you loosen up.
Start anywhere that you want – Consider writing about what you are most interested in about a topic, and write small sections.  You can piece them together like a puzzle later
Keep moving forward – In the drafting stage, it usually is not a good idea to stop and go back over what you have written.  You are writing a rough draft so look at it as if you were running a race.  Set a beginning and ending time and continue until you cross the finish line.  Remember, with a draft, something is better than nothing.
Leave spaces when necessary – Do not stress over facts that you do not have. If you come to a place in the draft where you do not have what you need, leave it blank and keep writing.  You can insert a place holder in bold so that you do not miss it when you revise (e.g., “Need statistics”).
Reward yourself – Psychologists have shown that positive reinforcement is a powerful tool to make an unpleasant task more enjoyable the next time it needs to be done.  Save your draft, leave the computer or desk, and give yourself an edible or drinkable treat.
When time becomes limited to finish a writing assignment, revision does not get done. This is often a shame because you can write something that is brilliant and insightful, but if readers are lost in a disorganized maze of sentences, words, and formatting then your message is lost.
Most suggestions for revising are much the same. If you search for “revision tips,” you more than likely will read about waiting a while after you write something to revise it, and reviewing a document for global, organizational flow while circling local, wording errors. These are not bad ideas, but they are vague, and, worse, they sound like they take a lot of time.
Using a checklist can help to focus a revision on both content and format aspects of a document in an efficient, timely manner. The first checklist will help to provide a thorough revision. The second checklist is for a light revision, which is worth doing even if you are in a time bind. The quality of the final document may not be as high, but doing some revision is better than not doing any.
Checklist for Thorough Revision
Content and Clarity

  • Does your document meet the needs of the reader and make you look good?
  • Have you given readers all of the information they need to understand and act on your message?
  • Is all of the information accurate?
  • Is each sentence clear?
  • Is the message free from contradictory statements?
  • Are generalizations backed with adequate supporting detail and proof?

Organization and Layout

  • Is the pattern of organization appropriate for your purposes, audience, and situation?
  • Are transitions between paragraphs smooth?
  • Do ideas within a paragraph flow smoothly?
  • Does the design of the document make is easy for readers to find  information that they need or want?
  • Is the document visually appealing?
  • Are the points emphasized by layout the ones that deserve emphasis?
  • Are the first and last paragraphs effective?

Style and Tone

  • Is the document easy to read?
  • Is the wording professional, and appropriate for the audience?
  • Does the message create a good impression and positive image?
  • Is the document free of grammar and spelling errors?

Checklist for Light Revision

  • Are the first and last paragraphs effective?
  • Does the design of the document make it easy for readers to find information that they need or want?
  • Does the message create a good impression and positive image?