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The Writer’s Memo

For background and details on the Writer’s Memo, see Jeffrey Sommers’s “Behind the Paper: Using the Student-Teacher Memo,” College Composition and Communication 39.1 (Feb. 1988): 77-80.

Rationale for Writer’s Memo

  • Encourages a feeling of agency and responsibility on the part of writers with regard to their work
  • Requires writers to set the agenda for response to their work
  • Optimizes the efforts of writers’ respondents by helping them focus on those points most important to writers
  • Requires writers to assess their own work critically
  • Requires writers to assess their own work appreciatively
  • Requires writers to develop awareness of writing processes, both those they have used and those they haven’t used

How to use the Writer’s Memo

Any time you prepare a draft for response, compose a Writer’s Memo and post it alongside (or attach it to) the draft.

Quick-Start Guide to the Writer’s Memo

Please read the rest of this document to learn the full story on the Writer’s Memo. Meanwhile, this is an acceptable start on what a Writer’s Memo needs to include:

  1. What you did so far (describe your key writing processes to this point)
  2. What you like about the current draft (specific strength[s])
  3. What you want from your readers (two or three specific and well-developed questions and/or points of focus)
  4. What you plan to do with this piece in the future (revisions, purposes, audiences, forums for publication, etc.)

What to include in your Writer’s Memo (I have bolded what I find to be the most important elements):

  • Standard memo headings: To, From, Date, Re
  • Briefly state topic, angle, purpose, audience, and any other rhetorical considerations that will help to orient and focus your reader. If the piece you are submitting fulfills a particular assignment, state clearly which assignment it fulfills. (1 brief ¶)
  • Briefly discuss your key writing processes on this piece up to this point: What interesting things have happened so far? Unexpected turns? Discoveries? Frustrations? Urgent needs for resources? Satisfactions? (1 brief ¶)
  • What do you like best about this piece in its current form? (1 sentence)
  • Where are you headed with this piece? What do you plan to work on next? (1 sentence)
  • Statement on recycling: Explain whether and how you have done or will do work on this project in some other class or other setting. If, for example, you have submitted or will submit a related project for course credit in a course other than this one, you must say so. [This item is mainly relevant and necessary for the course instructor. It is not necessary for Writer’s Memos addressed to peers.] (1 sentence)
  • Questions and/or points for focus. Indicate two or three specific aspects of your piece on which you want your reader to focus her/his responses. Research? Style? Tone? Pace? Organization? Ideas? Lead? Conclusion? Humor? Emotion? Other aspects? (1 sentence for each point)
  • If there is a specific approach to response that you find helpful, request it of your readers.  For example, some people benefit from a balance of affirmation and challenges or suggestions.  Other people prefer to receive only bracingly critical responses.  Others revise best when their readers offer them lots of questions and/or pointers toward what additional possibilities they see for the piece. 
  • Designate in what form you want to receive your readers’ responses: in a written memo, in a conference or meeting, or in an audio recording (mp3 file).

Other tips (and requirements) for submitting your written work

  • Write page numbers in the top right corner of your draft (if you are submitting actual paper draft; not necessary for electronic submissions)
  • Include a Works Cited section if you cite published works

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