Organize the Information for Electronic Communications
Electronic communications, typically emails, need to be short, usually no more than three paragraphs.
In order to decide what information to include, you need to first determine the purpose. The sheer volume of business email alone is reason enough to be brief and to the point when writing business email.
Organizing your information into one of five paragraph styles will give your reader the information he or she needs in a concise, easy to understand format. The five paragraph styles are:
- Chronological paragraphs
- Compare-and-contrast paragraphs
- Cause-and-effect paragraphs
- Problem-solution paragraphs
- Relationship paragraphs
We will review each of these styles in detail so you can choose which one is appropriate for the email message you wish to create.
If the topic of your email message contains steps to be followed, or lists events that either will occur or have occurred, a chronological paragraph is a good choice. This organizational style simply arranges information, events, or processes in the order they occur. Chronological paragraphs may include instructions to complete a task, processes, and lists of events to occur.
Example: An email needs to be sent to the members of the team responsible for conducting a systematic review process.
There are five steps to completing a systematic review of the new software installed in the accounting department.
- Frame the questions needed for a review.
- Identify the relevant work.
- Assess the quality of the studies.
- Summarize the evidence.
- Interpret the findings.
In a compare-and-contrast paragraph, the best way to draw parallels between two things is:
- Show how they are similar.
- Emphasize the differences.
In the following example, notice how the first sentence introduces similarities between two things, the second sentence offers examples, and the final sentence lists the differences, thus providing a contrast.
Example: Online and face-to-face classes have a lot of elements that are similar. The content is the same, as are the outcomes and assessments. The differences are in:
- The delivery.
- The time frame.
- The interaction between students and instructors.
Cause-and-effect paragraphs generally work backwards from the symptoms to the causes. If you have to analyze a situation, not offer solutions, a cause-and-effect paragraph will help your reader clearly see that something was caused by a previous event.
In the following example:
- The first sentence explains the effect that is going to be analyzed.
- The second sentence explains things that did NOT cause the situation, thus eliminating possible erroneous conclusions.
- The second sentence then clearly states what the actual cause of the problem is.
Example: Over the last sixteen weeks the enrollment in our technology classes has dropped by about 27%. After checking with the enrollment counselors and student advisers, we have determined that the cause is not because we increased the tuition, but instead because the versions of the software we are offering classes on are old.
Use problem-solution paragraphs to convey information about solutions to problems. The paragraph should break down a problem into smaller problems and then offer solutions.
There are two different ways to present the information in a problem-solution paragraph:
- List all the problems first, followed by all the solutions in the same order.
- List each problem followed by its solution.
In the following example, one main problem is broken down into three separate problems, and then three solutions are given.
Example: We conducted a thorough evaluation of our website to determine why we are averaging only two or three hits a day. We determined that our keywords are weak, we don't have enough links from other sites, and when someone does land on our site, there is nothing to keep them there, let alone return. Our recommendations are to increase our SEO by strengthening our keywords, adding links to other pages within our site, and revamping the site with better graphics and more information about our services.
A relationship paragraph is a model that organizes the material according to how it is related to other material. For example, low to high, in to out, right to left.
The following paragraph organizes the percentage of loss of revenue from low to high, starting with an overview statement. It compares revenue loss by department, the lowest loss first and the highest loss last.
Example: Overall, our company's revenue was drastically lower over the past year than it has been in the past three years. The frozen food division suffered a 13% loss, while the dairy department's loss was 29% and the produce department revenue was down 38%. The only department that showed an increase in revenue was non-alcoholic beverages, which were up 1.2%.
Choosing the Organizational Model
Using well-crafted, organized paragraphs in your email communications will provide concise, convincing information to your reader. There are some guidelines to choosing which organizational model you will use.
- Determine whether the purpose is to provide information, analyze data, or propose a solution.
- Solution paragraphs can be combined with other organizational models if the purpose is to analyze and solve problems.
- Chronological paragraphs work well when giving step-by-step instructions or relating the history of something.
- Make sure you have all the information and it is accurate. Organizing it into one of the models may show that information is missing.
- Use a model that accomplishes the goal of the message.