8.1: Information Shares, Action Requests, and Replies

Learning Objectives

Target icon1. Write routine message types such as information shares, requests, and replies

2. ENL1813 Course Learning Requirement 1: Plan, write, revise, and edit short documents and messages that are organized, complete, and tailored to specific audiences. (A1, B1, H1, M1, S1, T1)

i. Format and write short documents such as routine correspondence (T1.4)

Ask any professional what kinds of messages they spend the majority of their sit-down time at a computer writing and responding to. They will likely tell you that they’re requesting information or action and replying to those with answers or acknowledgements. Though you’ve probably written many of these yourself, you may need to polish your style and organization to meet a professional standard. After all, the quality of the responses you get or can give crucially depends on the quality of the questions you ask or are asked. Let’s look at several such scenarios in detail.

Information Shares, Action Requests, and Replies Topics

8.1.1: Information Shares

Perhaps the simplest and most common routine message type is where the sender offers up information that helps the receiver. These may not be official memos, but they follow the same structure, as shown in Table 8.1.1 below.

Table 8.1.1: Outline for Information Shares

Outline Content Example Message
1. Opening Main point of information Hi Karin,

I just saw a CFP for a new funding opportunity you can apply for via the Ministry of Agriculture.

2. Body Information context and further details Find it on the Greenbelt Fund’s Local Food Literacy Grant Stream page. If you haven’t already been doing this, you should also check out the Ministry’s general page on Funding Programs and Support to connect with any other grants etc. relevant to the good work you do.
3. Closing Action regarding the information It looks like the deadline for proposals is at the end of the week, though, so you might want to get on it right away.

Good luck!

Shradha

Notice here how the writer made the reader’s job especially easy by providing links to the recommended webpages using the hyperlinking feature (Ctrl. + K) in their email.

Replies to such information shares involve either a quick and concise thank-you message (see §8.5.2 below) or carry the conversation on if it’s part of an ongoing project, initiative, or conversation. Recall that you should change the email subject line as the topic evolves (see §6.1.3 above). Information shares to a large group, such as a departmental memo to 60 employees, don’t usually require acknowledgement. If everyone wrote the sender just to say thanks, the barrage of reply notifications would frustrate them as they try to carry on their work while sorting out replies with valuable information from mere acknowledgments. Only respond if you have valuable information to share with all the recipients or just the sender.

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8.1.2: Information or Action Requests

Managers, clients, and coworkers alike send and receive requests for information and action all day. Because these provide the recipient with direction on what to do, the information that comes back or action that results from such requests can only be as good as the instructions given. Such messages must therefore be well organized and clear about expectations, opening directly with a clearly stated general request (see §4.1.1 on direct-approach messages)—unless you anticipate resistance to the request (see §4.1.2 on indirect-approach messages)—and proceeding with background and more detailed instruction if necessary as we see in Table 8.1.2 below.

Table 8.1.2: Outline for Direct Information or Action Requests

Outline Content Example Message
Subject Line 3- to 7-word title Website update needed by Monday
1. Opening Main question or action request Hello, Mohamed:

Could you please update the website by adding the new hires to the Personnel page.

2. Body Information or action request context, plus further details We’ve hired three new associates in the past few weeks. With the contents of the attached folder that contains their bios and hi-res pics, please do the following:
  1. Proof the bios using Track Changes and send them to me.
  2. Post the proofed bios on the site right away and call me as soon as they’re up. I’m sure your edits will be fine, but I’d like to just quickly read them and suggest further edits over the phone if need be since time is of the essence here.
  3. Downsize the pics to 72dpi and crop them so they’re the same dimensions as the other portraits on that page before posting them along with the bios.
3. Closing Deadlines and/or submission details Sorry for the short notice, but could we have this update all wrapped up by Monday? We’re meeting with some investors early next week and we’d like the site to be fully up to date by then.

Much appreciated!

Sylvia

Note that, because you’re expecting action to come of the request rather than a Yes or No answer, the opening question doesn’t require a question mark (see §5.3.10 above). Never forget, however, the importance of saying “please” when asking someone to do something (see §4.5.2.5 above for more on courteous language). Notice also that lists in the message body help break up dense detail so that request messages are more reader-friendly (see §4.6.5 above). All of the efforts that the writer of the above message made to deliver a reader-friendly message will pay off when the recipient performs the requested procedure exactly according to these clearly worded expectations.

8.1.2.1: Instructional Messages

Effective organization and style are critical in requests for action that contain detailed instructions. Whether you’re explaining how to operate equipment, apply for funding, renew a membership, or submit a payment, the recipient’s success depends on the quality of the instruction. Vagueness and a lack of detail can result in confusion, mistakes, and requests for clarification. Too much detail can result in frustration, skimming, and possibly missing key information. Profiling the audience and gauging their level of knowledge is key (see §2.2.4 above on analyzing your audience) to providing the appropriate level of detail for the desired results.

Look at any assembly manual and you’ll see that the quality of its readability depends on the instructions being organized in a numbered list of parallel imperative sentences. As opposed to the indicative sentences that have a grammatical subject and predicate (like most sentences you see here), imperative sentences drop the subject (the doer of the action, which is assumed to be the reader in the case of instructions). This omission leaves just the predicate, which means that the sentence starts with a verb (see #2 in Table 4.3.1 on the four sentence moods for more on imperative sentences). In Table 8.1.2.1 below, for instance, the reader can easily follow the directions by seeing each of the six main steps open with a simple verb describing a common computer operation: Copy, Open, Type, Paste (twice), and Find.

If you begin any imperative sentence with a prepositional (or other) phrase to establish some context for the action first (such as this imperative sentence does), move the adverb after the verb and the phrase to the end of the sentence. (If the previous sentence followed its own advice, it would look like this: Move the adverb after the verb and the phrase to the end of the imperative sentence if you begin it with a prepositional (or other) phrase to establish some context for the action first.) Finally, surround the list with a proper introduction and closing as shown in Table 8.1.2.1 below.

Table 8.1.2.1: Outline for Instructional Messages

Subject Line Content Example Email Message
Subject Line Procedure name How to find an undated webpage date
1. Opening Reader benefits Hi team,

Would you like to learn a nifty little hack that can help you find information you need for properly crediting your sources? Please find below instructions for how to discover the date that a webpage was posted or last updated if it doesn’t say so itself.

2. Context Context for the procedure Sometimes you need to know when exactly a webpage was posted or updated, but it either doesn’t say or has a copyright notice at the bottom with the present year, and you know it was posted years ago, so that’s not accurate. Rather than indicate “n.d.” (for “no date”) when citing and referencing a source in APA style, you can instead find out the actual date with a clever little trick.
3. Instructions Introductory clause and numbered list, each with an imperative sentence (beginning with a verb) To find the exact date that the webpage was posted or last updated, please follow the procedure below in your Google Chrome browser:
  1. Copy the entire URL (web address) of the webpage you would like to find the date for by keying Alt. + D and Ctrl. + C.
  2. Open up a new tab in the Google Chrome browser.
  3. Type “inurl:” in the “Search Google or type URL” field in the middle of the page.
  4. Paste (Ctrl. + V) the webpage URL immediately after “inurl:” (with no space between them) and hit the Enter (or Return) key; the web address will move up into the address bar and, after hitting Enter, you will see a list of search results, the top result of which should be the webpage you’re looking for.
  5. Paste &as_qdr=y15 at the very end of the search results page web address with no space between the URL and the above code, then hit the Enter key again.
  6. Find the date in grey text on the third line of the first result of the new search results page, just below the title of the page in purple on the first line and URL in green on the second.
  7. Adjust the controls (e.g., the date range so that it starts at a date earlier than 15 years ago) above if the results page says “Your search – [URL] – did not match any documents.”
4. Closing Specific action request, closing thought, summary, or deadline with a reason If you encounter a webpage where this hack doesn’t work at all, go with the year given in the copyright notice at the bottom or “n.d.” in your citation and reference if it doesn’t even have a copyright year.

Good luck,

Nolan

Though helpful on its own, the above message would be much improved if it included illustrative screenshots at each step. Making a short video of the procedure, posting it to YouTube, and adding the link to the message would be even more effective.

Combining DOs and DON’Ts is an effective way to help your audience complete the instructed task without making common rookie mistakes. Always begin with the DOs after explaining the benefits or rewards of following a procedure, not with threats and heavy-handed Thou shalt nots. Most people are better motivated by chasing the carrot than fleeing the stick (see §4.5.2.5.2 above and §11.1.3.2 below). You can certainly follow up with helpful DON’Ts and consequences if necessary, but phrased in courteous language, such as “For your safety, please avoid operating the machinery when not 100% alert or you may risk dismemberment.”

8.1.2.2: Indirect Information or Action Requests

If you expect resistance to your request because you’re asking a lot of someone, perhaps because you know what you’re asking goes against company policy, an indirect approach is more effective (see §4.1.2 on indirect message organization). Ideally, you’ll make such persuasive pitches in person or on the phone so that you can use a full range of verbal and non-verbal cues (see §8.4 below on persuasive messages). When it’s important to have them in writing, however, such requests should be clear and easy to spot, but buffered by goodwill statements and reasonable justifications, as shown in Table 8.1.2.2 below.

Table 8.1.2.2: Outline for Indirect Information or Action Requests

Outline Content Example Message
Subject Line Strategically vague Furnace repair needed
1. Opening Buffer pleasantries Hello Mike,

We’ve been nothing but impressed by the furnace and air conditioner installed by Redmond Heating & Air five years ago. We’ve recommended you to several friends because of your exceptional customer service.

2. Context Background justification A few days ago, however, our furnace suddenly stopped working. It’s a bit of a mystery because we’ve been changing the filter regularly every month for the past five years and had you in here for regular check-ups every year, as per the terms of the warranty. When we checked the warranty, however, we saw that it expired a week ago. Talk about bad timing!
3. Main point Information or action request, to which you will expect some resistance Given that we’ve been such responsible and loyal customers, and that we’ve sent business your way a few times, we’re wondering if we can still get you out here to repair the furnace under the terms of the warranty. Can we pretend that it’s expiring next week instead of last week?
4. Closing Deadlines and/or implementation details I know this must be a busy time for you and we’re asking a lot already, but since it’s starting to drop below zero outside and probably won’t take long to do the same inside here, could you please come as soon as possible.

We’d be forever in your debt if you could help us out here!

Many thanks,

Belinda

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8.1.3: Replies to Information or Action Requests

When responding to information or action requests, simply deliver the needed information or confirm that the action has been or will be completed unless you have good reasons for refusing (see §8.3 below on negative messages). Stylistically, such responses should follow the 6 Cs of effective business style (see §4.5.2 above), especially courtesies such as prioritizing the “you” view (§4.5.2.5.1), audience benefits (§4.5.2.5.2), and saying “please” for follow-up action requests (§4.5.2.5). Such messages are opportunities to promote your company’s products and services. Ensure the accuracy of all details, however, because courts will consider them legally binding, even in an email, if disputes arise—as the Vancouver Canucks organization discovered in a battle with Canon (Smith, 2015). Manager approval may therefore be necessary before sending. Organizationally, a positive response to an information request delivers the main answer in the opening, proceeds to give more detail in the body if necessary, and ends politely with appreciation and goodwill statements, as shown in Table 8.1.3 below.

Table 8.1.3: Outline for Positive Replies to Information or Action Requests

Outline Content Example Message
Subject Line 3- to 7-word title Re: Accommodation and conference rooms for 250 guests
1. Opening Main information or action confirmation Greetings, Mr. Prendergast:

Thank you so much for choosing the Vancouver Marriott for your spring 2020 sales conference. We would be thrilled to accommodate 250 guests and set aside four conference rooms next May 25 through 29.

2. Body Further details In answer to your other questions:
  • Yes, all 250 of your guests can dine together in our Nootka Banquet Hall in a variety of table configurations to suit your needs.
  • Certainly, you can choose from among six conference rooms with 100-seat capacities, as well as a variety of other smaller rooms. Each has a large screen with a podium equipped with an audio-visual presentation console; presenters can either plug their USBs into the Windows-based console computer or connect their laptops with the HDMI cable.
  • Every guest suite has wifi and each of our hotel’s 30 floors has a business lounge equipped with 10 computer work stations (5 PCs and 5 Macs), multifunctional phone/faxes, and printer/copiers.
  • Yes, we have a fleet of five shuttles that can transport 10 guests (plus luggage) at a time from the airport as flights arrive and back as they depart.
3. Closing Deadlines and/or action details You can visit our website at www.vancouvermarriott.com for additional information about our facilities such as gyms, a spa, and both indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Call us at 1-604-555-8400 if you have additional questions.

Please book online as soon as possible to ensure that all 250 guests can be accommodated during your preferred date range. For such a large booking, we encourage you to call also during the booking process.

Again, we are very grateful that you are considering the Vancouver Marriott for your conference.

We look forward to making your stay memorable.

Rufus Killarney, Booking Manager

Vancouver Hilton

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Key Takeaway

key iconFollow best practices when sharing information, requesting information or action, and replying to such messages.

 

Exercises

Pick a partner and email them a set of instructions following the message outline template and example given in Table 8.1.2.1. It must be a procedure with at least five steps and is familiar to you (e.g., how to prepare your favourite drink) but unfamiliar to them. Can they follow your procedure and get the results you desire?

References

Smith, C. L. (2015, May 8). Canada: When does an email form a legally-binding agreement? Ask the Canucks. Retrieved from http://www.mondaq.com/canada/x/395584/Contract+Law/When+Does+An+Email+Form+A+LegallyBinding+Agreement+Ask+The+Canucks

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