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:
- What you did so far (describe your key writing processes to this point)
- What you like about the current draft (specific strength[s])
- What you want from your readers (two or three specific and well-developed questions and/or points of focus)
- 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