36 Writing Direct Routine Messages

Routine messages include emails, memos, and letters that give information or make requests. For routine messages, you should use plain language and a direct approach.


Learning Objectives

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • explain the organization of a direct writing plan and know when to use it (Meyer, 2020, p. 213)
  • identify the key elements of a routine request
  • identify the key elements of routine request response
  • use lists effectively to give routine information and instructions (Guffey et al., 2013, p. 187)


Direct Writing

As Canada is a relatively low-context country, a direct writing approach is often standard for routine messages.

What is the Direct Approach? [1]

Readers are always receptive to good news and are eager to learn key information. The same applies to routine and informative messages, to which readers react neutrally. When it comes to these messages, don’t make readers wait. Take the direct approach and make your point right away.

A direct-approach message makes your purpose clear from the start by stating the main point in the first sentence before moving on to details. At first glance, readers can tell if you are asking for or supplying information, requesting or granting credit, or making or settling a claim.

Three-Part Structure Writing Plan

Opening — delivers the main message first. It answers your reader’s most important questions; states the good news; makes a direct, specific request; or provides the most important information.

Middle — explains details of the news or inquiry and supplies background and clarification when needed. If there are further points or questions, they are presented in parallel form in a bulleted or numbered list (maximum five or six items).

Closing — ends pleasantly in one or more of the following ways: provides contact information; asks for action, input, or a response, often by a deadline; tells the reader what happens next; communicates goodwill; or shows appreciation.

Direct-approach messages are the norm in North America, but not every culture responds to direct correspondence in exactly the same way.

In high-context cultures — such as those in China, Japan, and Arab nations— directness is considered rude. In such cases, it is important to establish rapport before citing a problem or making a request and even then to suggest or ask rather than demand. In Japan, where formality is important, it is customary to embed a request and to soften it with preliminaries and other politeness strategies.

On the other hand, people in Western cultures consider a lack of directness to be a waste of their time. When you are communicating cross-culturally, weigh your reader’s tolerance for directness before you launch into your request or response.


Routine Requests

Use the Direct Writing Approach to Make Routine Requests: Asking for Information or Action

Elements of a Routine Request

To write an effective request,

  • put the main idea (your request) first
  • phrase your request as a question (eg How much is...) or as a polite command using please + an action verb (eg Please call…)
  • use a bulleted list for multiple requests or questions
  • give a reason for the request or state its benefit after you’ve made your request
  • omit unnecessary details
  • close in a courteous and efficient way
Email example for Requests of Action or Information

Use the Direct Writing Approach to Respond to a Routine Request

Elements of a Routine Request Response

To write an effective response,

  • determine if you are the best person to handle the response
  • reply as soon as you can
  • begin with the good news or most important piece of information
  • do not start with an unnecessary lead-in (I am writing to respond to your email….)
  • use formatting like bulleted lists or charts to respond to multiple requests or questions
  • provide information in the same order as it was requested
  • anticipate and provide additional information that your reader needs

Learning Check


Convey Information

Use the Direct Writing Approach to Give Routine Information and Instructions[2]

Sometimes the purpose of your communication is simply to convey information. Perhaps you want to inform customers of a new product or you need to tell employees about changes to a company policy. Another type of routine message is a “follow-up” message. These are a written record of what occurred at a meeting; information might include the meeting time, location, and purpose, and should outline any important decisions or action items that arouse from the discussion.

When your goal is to provide routine information, use a direct approach and plain language to communicate as clearly as possible.

Elements of Clear Instructions

To write clear instructions,

  • begin with a statement that clearly explains what the reader will accomplish after following the instructions
  • use a numbered list for procedures that must be completed in sequence (for example, a step-by-step guide to using a new technology)
  • use bullet points when listing elements that do not need to be considered in a specific order (for example, a list of items to bring to a work convention)
  • arrange each step in the order it should be completed (chronological) or in order of importance
  • ensure your list contains only ONE instruction per line
  • start each instruction with an action verb in the imperative (command) mood to ensure you have good parallel structure
  • describe reader benefits at the end especially if you are encouraging your reader to use the process/procedure that you are explaining

Consider the example below of clearly stated instructions.

Setting up your new GTD webcam involves only a few steps:

  1. Plug the webcam into your computer’s USB port.
  2. Follow the installation prompts on your screen.
  3. Restart your computer.
  4. Open any application that uses your webcam.
  5. Perform a test to ensure your webcam is positioned correctly.
  6. Add a background filter to blur the room behind you.

After you’ve completed these five steps, you can begin using your webcam to communicate professionally in virtual meetings.

Notice that the message is divided into three clear parts:

  1. A direct lead-in that explains the content of the message (to explain how to set up a webcam).
  2. A list of clear instructions, in parallel form and starting with a strong verb that clearly indicates what the reader should do.
  3. A closing statement that provides a sense of goodwill and describes why the reader should want to follow the instructions.


Learning Check


  1. Meyer, C. (2020). Routine and goodwill messages. In Communicating for results: A Canadian student’s guide (5th ed., pp. 211-250). Oxford.
  2. Guffey, M. E., Lowey, D., Rhodes, K., & Rogin, P. (2013). Positive messages. In Business communication: Process & product (4th brief Canadian ed., pp. 174-202). Nelson Education.


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