What is a genre of writing?

 A "genre" is a socially agreed upon and recognized form of communication that a group of people has developed over time to communicate more effectively and efficiently with one another. There are many communication genres, including speech genres and genres of writing. A telephone conversation would be an example of a speech genre. Telephone conversations usually include generic beginnnings, modes of development, and endings. An email message would be an example of a genre of writing. Classroom genres of writing include exams, essays, and notes, for example. In businesses, written communication takes several different forms, including email messages, memos, resumes, letters, proposals, reports, advertisements, contracts, etc.

What does it mean to say a genre of writing is both socially agreed upon and recognized as such?

Individuals, typically, do not invent genres of writing. Instead, as they become members of certain groups they learn the habits and conventions that the group has developed over time to communicate with one another. These habits precede and survive any individual’s membership in the group. If you want to become a physician, you need to learn how to write a medical chart. If you want to become a lawyer, you need to learn how to write a legal brief. If you want to become Congressional representative, you need to learn how to write a law. Knowing the recognizable genres of writing used by members of your profession becomes of sign of your membership in that organization and enables you to write and read more effectively and efficiently. This course in business writing aims to teach you the genres of writing that will enable you to become a member of a business or a workplace. Typically, managers claim they spend between one-fourth and one-half of their time at work writing, reading, or editing the documents others write within the organization.

 "A genre consists of a format and a structure."

The term, "format," refers to the spatial or visual design of a document. When you picture the visual design of a business letter – with the address of the receiver, the address of the sender, the date, salutation, message, and closing – arranged conventionally upon the page, you are picturing the format of a business letter. A format can easily be reproduced as a template, yet provides little or no assistance to writers for generating the content of their documents.

 The term, "structure," refers to the set of topics that readers of a particular genre of writing expect to find included. When you imagine an outline or a table of contents for a document, you are imagining a structure. Structures can help writers generate and organize the content of their documents but are less useful as templates for arranging information visually on a page. This guide uses the term, "superstructure," to describe not only the set of topics typically including in a specific genre of writing, (a proposal for example) but also to suggest a logical order for arranging those topics.

 "Remember the distinction between a format and a structure."

It is important for business writers to remember this distinction between the format and the structure of a particular genre of writing, because the set of topics typically included in one kind of document may be formatted according to the conventions of another kind of document. In other words, the recognizable superstructure of a proposal can be formatted in several different ways – as an internal memorandum, a letter, or a short report, for example. Business writers make decisions about the format and structure of their documents according to their purposes for writing and the needs/expectations of their readers.

 "A word about locating models and templates:" 

When you want to become a member of an organization, pay close attention to the genres of writing members of that organization typically produce, including their formats and structures. The best advice to follow when you need to write an unfamiliar document, is to collect similar documents produced by others in the organization. Observe these documents to determine what they have in common, how they differ, and most importantly, why they differ when they do.

 "Check out the business writing templates provided by your word processing program."

You will find many templates readily available to you on the word processing software you use. Microsoft Word ’97, for example, provides templates for the following kinds of business documents:

Contemporary Fax Elegant Fax Professional Fax Fax Wizard

Contemporary Letter Elegant Letter Professional Letter Letter Wizard

Contemporary Memo Elegant Memo Professional Memo Memo Wizard

Contemporary Resume Elegant Resume Professional Resume Resume Wizard

Envelope Wizard Mailing Label Wizard

"Accessing Templates in Microsoft Word:"

To access these templates in Microsoft Word, simply click on "File," choose "new," read the tabs on the file folders that appear, and click on the one that includes the template you want to use.

It is also possible to download additional templates and wizards from the Microsoft Office Web Site, including:

 Sales and marketing templates for brochures and press releases

Time management wizards for agendas and calendars

Human resources and operations templates for customer invoices, purchase orders, timecards, etc. 

"A caution about using models and templates:"

Every occasion for writing, every rhetorical situation or reason for writing, differs. Even though members of organizations share expectations about the genres of writing they write and read, no two documents are ever identical. The templates available through a particular software program reflect the preferences of the company that designed the software and may or may not meet the needs of readers within other organizations. When you consult models or templates to help you write documents within an organization, you will invariably need to alter those models or templates to meet your purpose for writing and the expectations of your readers. Also, models and templates tend to be more useful to help you format documents. The structure – the set of topics you include in any particular communication – will vary greatly depending upon your circumstances. This explains why software companies can more easily supply templates for memos and letters than they can for longer, more complex proposals and reports.



Generally speaking:

 Organizations use email for informal and some formal, internal and external communications. As a medium, email is changing the way people write. Email messages range from being short and direct to chatty and conversational. Often, email systems will not include spellcheckers or grammar checkers, so informal email writers and readers often overlook errors more than they would in printed documents. It is very important to remember, however, that issues of clarity and correctness are just as important in formal email messages as they are in printed materials.

The Illusion of Privacy:

The illusion of privacy on email is just that – an illusion. Whenever you write email messages, and certainly whenever you write email messages in the workplace, remember that any number of people may have access to your texts.

Email Formats:

Email systems provide their own format, which resembles the format for a memorandum:

 Return-path: <rseverso@OREGON.UOREGON.EDU>

Date: Tue, 30 Sep 1997 09:57:28 -0700

From: ron severson <rseverso@OREGON.UOREGON.EDU>

Subject: formatting email messages




Attachment Converted: "c:\program files\eudora\attach\199F97.toc"


[Type Message Here]


Suggestions for Formatting Email Messages in This Course:

  • Use the format your email system provides.
  • Make sure your name, in addition to your email address, appears in the heading.
  • Write the name of the assignment after "Subject."
  • Develop an address list for your group and type the list name after "TO:" or after the "CC:" to send copies, when required, to other group members.
  • Simply begin to type your message immediately under the heading. There is no need to include a salutation ("Dear so and so:") in formal email messages or memoranda, as you would in a letter – although you may choose to do so in less formal email messages.
  • Use subheadings to make the structure of your email message visible to your readers.
  • Do not add a closing ("Sincerely,") as you would in a letter.
  • Do not write your name at the end of your message unless the signature option on your email system automatically does this for you.


The structures, or sets of topics, that characterize email messages are infinite and depend upon the purpose for which your are writing and the needs of your readers. Use the ASSIGNMENT #1: WRITING EMAIL MESSAGES page to decide on a structure which best fits your rhetorical situation.


The design capabilities of email systems are very limited compared to word processing programs. Except for the first email message to the class, when you write documents for this class, always compose them within a word processing program to take advantage of the unique design features, then send them as attachments to an email file. Do not copy them into email or you will lose your document design features.



Generally speaking:

The memorandum is the genre of choice for daily, internal, office communications. Email correspondence, as described earlier, uses a memorandum format and, to a certain degree, is replacing the hard copy memorandum in organizations today. Still, the more important the document, the more likely it will be printed and sent to its readers as a hard copy memorandum. For all of its advantages, email technology still fails, at times, to deliver. Moreover, lengthier documents that require closer scrutiny may be sent as memos because it is difficult to read lengthy email messages. Finally, people can take memos to meetings as an aid to discussion, while email messages, until printed, stay on the screen.

Memo Formats:

Memoranda formats differ slightly from organization to organization. Some organizations always use letterhead for their memos. Others do not. Some put the name of the recipient on the first line of the heading while most put the date first.


September 30, 1997


[Type your message here.]


Suggestions for Formatting Memos in This Course:

1) Write "MEMORANDUM" at the top of the page, preferably centered and in a larger font than the rest of the memo.

2) Put the "DATE:" first, then:


("RE:" refers to "regarding." Type the topic or subject of your memo on that line.)

3) Add a "Cc:" line if you are sending copies to others. After "Cc" write the names of other recipients of your memo.

4) If possible, allign the information you include after each subheading in the address by pressing the "tab" key.

5) Otherwise, since the formatting requirements for memos are so similar to the formatting requirements for email, read the formatting information provided for the first email assignment. For example, please do not include a salutation (Dear so and so:) or a closing (Sincerely yours,) in formal memos.


Memoranda, like email messages, vary widely in their structures, which depend upon the purpose for which they are written and the needs of readers. Decide on a structure for your memo that fits the assignment and the needs/expectations of your audience.




Generally speaking:

Business writers write proposals of various kinds to solve problems and provide direction for their companies. Business proposals often go by other names, such as "business plans," "marketing plans," "white papers," "financial plans," "strategic plans," and "project proposals" but they share a common logic or superstructure outlined below:

 "Proposals are documents that anticipate the future."

Writing proposals can be difficult because proposals, by nature, are anticipatory. Writers begin by defining a clear problem, need, or opportunity that currently exists within an organization, but then anticipate the best solution to this problem and the methods of solving this problem. The process of anticipating, of planning something that does not yet exist, requires both analytical and imaginative skills. Plans rarely turn out exactly as anticipated, although to maintain your credibility as a company, the product or services you deliver must closely resemble what you originally proposed to deliver.

When you write your proposal for this class, some of you will experience the difficulty described above. Some of you will want to know exactly what you are supposed to write, even though no one, except you and your group, has yet solved this problem. No one can tell you what to write.

 "Additional advice about writing proposals:"

Any proposal writer will tell you that writing an effective business proposal begins by defining the problem, need, or opportunity you are addressing in a way that points to its own solution. Everything follows from there. If you are clear about the problem you are trying to solve, your objectives, your product, your method, and the costs will emerge more clearly as well. My best advice to you, once you have crafted a generative problem statement, is to trust your own judgment and the judgment of others in your project group. No one can tell you exactly how to solve the problem given to you. That’s the whole point of writing a proposal. Your purpose is to make the proposal you do write credible to your audience, Dave Dusseau. After that, if things work out a little differently than you anticipated, for reasons beyond your control, your audience or client will be more inclined to accept the necessary adjustments.

Proposal Formats:

 Business proposals are formatted in many different ways. Often they are formatted as memos, and follow the format guidelines for memos provided above. Just as often, they are formatted as formal reports and include the sections listed below in addition to the body of the proposal itself:

Letter of Transmittal
Title Page
Executive Summary
Table of Contents
The Proposal Itself

Addtional Suggestions for Writing Proposals in this Course:



Even though business proposals generally follow the logic or superstructure outlined above, you will rarely find a proposal written within a real business that is structured exactly according to this logic. For the purposes of this assignment, however, please use the logic or superstructure for writing proposals provided above as a general map for your proposal. You will need to add sections or make minor changes, in some cases, depending upon the specific nature of your group project.



This proposal represents the first, longer document (3 or 4 pages) you have written for this class. It is a very important document both for you as a group and for your client Dave Dusseau. For your group, the proposal carefully defines the scope of the project and the tasks each of you must accomplish to complete the project. For your client, the proposal works as a kind of contract that obligates you to deliver a product by a certain time.

Any transactional document – that is any document that will produce actions within an organization– must be clear to all readers. To improve the readability of your document and to insure that your readers can scan your document quickly to acquire they information they need, you will need to design your document creatively. Incorporate the following design options into your document to make it more readable:

(For more design options, click on the page, "DESIGN IN BUSINESS WRITING," from the BA 199 home page.) 


When writing longer, business documents, students often inappropriately revert to an academic writing style. They suddenly begin to write longer, more complex sentences and develop dense paragraphs packed with information. Or, they forget to use active verbs, parallel structure, and verbal rather than nominal style. Avoid these tendencies at all costs. Write concisely.

(For more style options, and for explanations of the above options, refer to the page, STYLE IN BUSINESS WRITING, from the BA 199 home page.)


Your word choices (diction) will determine the tone of your document. In a proposal, you want to choose words that increase your credibility with your client to complete this project competently and professionally. Winning proposals develop a confident, professional, reliable tone.

(For a discussion of tone, refer to the page, TONE and WORD CHOICE in BUSINESS WRITING, from the BA 199 home page.)


Writing Reports


(Soon to be completed. Reports, are mostly formats. Example of a structure provided below)


I. Executive Summary

II. Identification of an Emerging Business Opportunity

III. Industry Analysis (Cuurent state of industry, barriers to entry, buyer power, threat of substitutes, overall industry rivalry and competition, summary)

IV. Competitor Analysis (the company, their skills objectives, their competitive advantages—cost, differentiation, marketing)

V. Customer and Market Analysis (Market Segmentation—customer needs related to product specifications—developers/owners, architects/engineers, general contractors… for each Segment needs and traits, product requirmentss, firmographics, culture, usage characteristics)—Product Requirements, Service Requirements, Market Window)

VThe Central Question

Strategic Alliances (Co. #1, Co. #2, Co. #3)


Appendix (legal issues to consider)