Chapter 7: Information Shares, Action Requests, and Goodwill Messages
Jordan Smith and Venecia Williams
- Learn to write messages to share information
- Understand how to respond to requests
- Identify how to write effective instructional messages
- Examine the importance of goodwill messages for business
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 acknowledgments. 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.
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 Figure 7.1 below.
|Date: May 28, 2019
To: Karin Jones
From: Shradha, Supervisor
Subject: Funding Opportunity
I just saw a CFP for a new funding opportunity you can apply for via the Ministry of Agriculture.
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.
|Opening: Provides a context for writing.
Body: Information context and further details
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.
|Closing: Action regarding the information. Ends the communication on a positive note.|
Figure 7.1 | Information Sharing Message
Notice here how the writer made the reader’s job especially easy by providing links to the recommended webpages using the hyperlinking feature in their email.
Replies to such information shares involve either a quick and concise thank-you message 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. 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.
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 —unless you anticipate resistance to the request —and proceeding with background and more detailed instruction if necessary as we see in Figure 7.2 below.
Subject: Adding new hires personnel page
Could you please update the website by adding the new hires to the personnel page.
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:
|Opening: Main question or action request.
Body: Information or action request context, plus further 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.||Closing: Deadlines and/or submission details|
Figure 7.2 | Direct Information or Action Requests
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. Never forget, however, the importance of saying “please” when asking someone to do something. Notice also that lists in the message body help break up dense detail so that request messages are more reader-friendly. 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.
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 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. In Figure 8.3 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 Figure 7.3 below.
|Date: September 10, 2019
To: Communications Team
From: Nolan Driver, Team Leader
Subject: How to find date webpage was last edited
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.
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.
|Opening: Explains reader benefits.
Context: Provides a context for the procedure.
|To find the exact date that the webpage was posted or last updated, please follow the procedure below in your Google Chrome browser:
Instructions: Introductory clause and numbered list, each with an imperative sentence (beginning with a verb)
|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.||Closing: Specific action request, closing thought, summary, or deadline with a reason|
Figure 7.3 | Instructional Message
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 DON’Ts. 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.”
Indirect Information or Action Requests
If you expect resistance to your request because you’re asking a lot of someone, or perhaps because you know what you’re asking goes against company policy, an indirect approach is more effective. 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. 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 Figure 7.4 below.
Subject: Problem with the furnace
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.
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!
|Opening: Buffer pleasantries.
Context: Background justification.
|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.||Main Point: Information or action request, to which you will expect some resistance|
|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 within the next two days?||Closing: Deadlines and/or implementation details. Ends the communication on a positive note.|
|We’d be forever in your debt if you could help us out here!
Figure 7.4 | Information or Action Request
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. Stylistically, such responses should follow the 6 Cs of effective business style (clarity, conciseness, coherence, correctness, courtesy, and conviction), especially courtesies such as prioritizing the “you” view, audience benefits, and saying “please” for follow-up action requests. 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 Figure 7.5 below.
Subject: Re: Questions about conference capability
|Dear Mr. Prendergast,
Thank you so much for choosing the Vancouver Marriott for your spring sales conference. We would be thrilled to accommodate 250 guests and set aside four conference rooms next May 25 through 29.
In answer to your other questions:
|Opening: Provides main information or action confirmation
Body: Responds to request in 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.
Closing: Highlights deadlines and/or action details. Ends the communication on a positive note, looking towards the future.
|We look forward to making your stay memorable.
Figure 7.5 | Positive Replies to Information or Action Requests
Goodwill messages are as essential to healthy professional relationships as they are in personal ones. Thank-you, congratulatory, and sympathy notes add an important, feel-good human touch in a world that continues to embrace technology that isolates people while being marketed as a means of connecting them. The goodwill that such messages promote makes both the sender and receiver feel better about each other and themselves compared with where they’d be if the messages weren’t sent at all. In putting smiles on faces, such notes are effective especially because many people don’t send them—either because they feel that they’re too difficult to write or because it doesn’t even occur to them to do so. Since praise for some can be harder to think of and write than criticism, a brief guide on how to do it right may be of help here.
The 5 S’s of Goodwill Messages
Whether you’re writing thank-you notes, congratulatory messages, or expressions of sympathy, follow the “5 S” principles of effective goodwill messages:
- Specific: Crafting the message around specific references to the situation that it addresses will steer such messages away from the impression that they were boilerplate template statements that you plagiarized.
- Sincere: A goodwill message will come off as genuine if it’s near to what you would say to the recipient in person. Avoid cliché Hallmark-card expressions and excessive formality such as It is with a heavy heart that I extend my heartfelt condolences to you in these sad times.
- Selfless: Refer only to the person or people involved rather than yourself. The spotlight is on them, not you. Avoid telling stories about how you experienced something similar in an attempt to show how you relate.
- Short: Full three-part messages and three-part paragraphs are unnecessary in thank-you notes, congratulatory messages, or expressions of sympathy. Don’t make the short length of the message deter you from setting aside time to draft it.
- Spontaneous: Move quickly to write your message so that it follows closely on the news that prompted it. A message that’s passed its “best before” date will appear stale to the recipient and make you look like you can’t manage your time effectively (Guffey et al., 2016, p. 144).
In the world of business, not all transactions involve money. People do favours for each other, and acknowledging those with thank-you notes is essential for keeping relations positive. Such messages can be short and simple, as well as quick and easy to write, which means not sending them when someone does something nice to you appears ungrateful, rude, and inconsiderate. Someone who did you a favour might not bother to do so again if it goes unthanked. Such notes are ideal for situations such as those listed in Figure 7.6 below.
|Employer||Employee||The employee went above and beyond the call of duty, perhaps under exceptionally difficult circumstances.|
|Employee||Employer||The employer gave the employee an opportunity for promotion.|
|Employee||Coworker||The employee mentored the co-worker so that the latter looked good to customers and management.|
|Applicant||Employer||The employer is considering hiring the job applicant, who sends a thank-you message within 24 hours after a job interview.|
|Applicant||Previous employer||The job applicant sends their previous employer a thank-you note for endorsing them as a reference.|
|Business||Customer||The customer ordered products or services.|
|Business||Customer||The customer complained about the service, enabling the business to improve and better meet customer expectations.|
|Business||Another business||One business endorsed another, directing customers their way.|
|Customer||Employee||The employee (e.g., restaurant server) demonstrated exceptional customer service, perhaps under difficult circumstances.|
|One person||another||One person’s act of kindness, including kind words said or sent, gifts given, or hospitality extended, was appreciated.|
Figure 7.6 | Common Reasons for Expressing Thanks in Professional Situations
In most situations, email or text is an appropriate channel for sending thank-you messages. Sending a thank-you note within 24 hours of interviewing for a job is not just extra-thoughtful but close to being an expected formality. To stand out from other candidates, hand-writing a thank-you card in such situations might even be a good idea.
Following the 5 S’s of goodwill messages given above, a typical thank-you email message for a favour might look like the example in Figure 7.7.
Subject: Thank you for the recommendation
I just wanted to thank you for putting in a good word for me with your manager. She told me today that I came highly recommended, and I knew right away who that came from- only the most kind and thoughtful person I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with! I really appreciate all the help you’ve given me over the years, but especially for bringing me this opportunity. It means a lot to me and my family.
|Opening: Provides a context for writing.
Body: Information context and further details
|If there’s anything I can help you with in return—anything at all—you name it. I owe you one.||Closing: Ends the communication on a positive note.|
Figure 7.7 | Thank-you Message
Notice that this message is short, specific to the situation that prompted it, sincere, relatively selfless, and spontaneously sent the day of the incident that prompted it. It would certainly bring a smile both to the recipient and sender, strengthening their professional bond.
Celebrating the successes of your professional peers shows class and tact. It’s good karma that will come back around as long as you keep putting out positive energy. Again, the 5 S’s apply in congratulatory messages, especially selflessness. Such messages are all about the person you’re congratulating. You could say, for instance, I really admire how you handled yourself with such grace and poise under such trying circumstances in the field today.
Expressions of Sympathy
Few situations require such sincerity and care with words as expressions of sympathy. Misfortune comes upon us all, and tough times are just a little more tolerable with the support of our friends, family, and community—including those we work with. When the loved-one of a close associate dies, for instance, expressing sympathy for their loss is customary, often with a card signed by everyone in the workplace who knows the bereaved. You can’t put an email on the mantle like you can a collection of cards from people showing they care.
What do you say in such situations? A simple I’m so sorry for your loss, despite being a stock expression, is better than letting the standard Hallmark card’s words speak for you (Guffey et al., 2016, p. 147). In some situations, laughter—or at least a chuckle—may be the best medicine, in which case something along the lines of Emily McDowell’s witty Empathy Cards would be more appropriate. McDowell’s There Is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love (2016) collaboration with empathy expert Kelsey Crowe, PhD, provides excellent advice. Showing empathy by saying that you know how hard it can be is helpful as long as you don’t go into any detail about their loss or yours. Remember, these messages should be selfless, and being too specific can be a little dangerous here if it produces traumatic imagery. Offering your condolences in the most respectful, sensitive manner possible is just the right thing to do.
Replying to Goodwill Messages
It wouldn’t go over well if someone thanked you for your help and you just stared at them silently. The normal reaction is to simply say You’re welcome! Replying to goodwill messages is therefore as essential as writing them. Such replies must be even shorter than the messages that they respond to. If someone says a few nice things about you in an email about something else, always acknowledge the goodwill by saying briefly “Thank you very much for the kind words” somewhere in your response.
Sharing information, requesting information or action are some of the most common types of business messages sent daily. Follow best practices when sharing information, requesting information or action, and replying to such messages. Sending goodwill messages creates a good impression, but remember to write your messages with sincerity.
End of Chapter Activities
7a. Thinking About the Content
What are your key takeaways from this chapter? What is something you have learned or something you would like to add from your experience?
7b. Discussion Questions
- Do you have experience writing messages to share information or action requests?
- When was the last time you wrote a thank-you message?
- Imagine you have a classmate who has never used social media before. Write instructions on how to open a Facebook or Twitter account.
7c. Applying chapter concepts to a situation
Writing a thank-you letter
The Northern University has an award program with over twenty awards that are sponsored by several benefactors. Among the awards is the David Rose Leadership Award, which is sponsored by David Rose, a Northern University alumnus. The award recipient must meet the criteria of being in good academic standing, an international student and someone who demonstrates leadership qualities in the school community.
Sam, who is an international student, lost his part-time job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has upcoming course fees for the summer semester that he can only cover by depleting all of his savings. As such, he applies for the David Rose Leadership Award since he fits the criteria for the ideal applicant.
Sam is the successful candidate of the award and receives a grant for five thousand dollars. He is grateful that he will be able to pay his upcoming fees on time and decides to write a thank you letter to Mr. Rose.
What kind of information should he include in the opening, body and closing of this letter?
7d. Writing Activity
Watch this video from TED.com called. This is what happens when you reply to spam email. Summarize the video. Do you agree with James Veitch’s response to spam email? What is the best way to respond to unsolicited business requests?
This chapter contains information from Communication at Work by Jordan Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Guffey, M. E., & Almonte, R. (2016). Essentials of Business Communication. Toronto, Ontario: Nelson.
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