Genre and Medium
This resource provides writing guidance for administrative and clerical staff, including, audience awareness, conventions of particular genres, and general business writing tips such as concision and tone management.
Contributors: Beth Towle
Last Edited: 2016-10-28 10:34:22
Genre and medium are closely related, although a bit different. Genre is the form of your writing (a business letter, memo, report). A medium is the way in which a piece of writing is delivered (email versus a mailed paper copy, for example). Genre and medium are both determined by audience and purpose. For example, if you need to let people in your office know that there will be a test of the alarm system in a few days, a brief email might be the easiest and most efficient way to get that information across. If you need to send an acceptance letter to a job candidate, a formal letter sent by mail or attached to an email might be most appropriate. Expectations of formality will affect what genre you choose. The more formal the purpose, then the more formal the genre.
Choosing a Genre
Genre is a form of writing with set functions determined by its social need. For example, a grocery list is a genre that developed out of a need to remember what you are shopping for at the grocery store. It is a set form of writing with general expectations – brief and to-the-point, in a list format, usually following the store’s layout. Genre is determined by need and audience expectation. A memo delivers information in an expedient way that helps an audience understand a recent event or issue. Meanwhile, a business letter is more formal and detailed, with an audience that might need more background information. It is important to know what information your audience wants and needs in order to establish what genre you will use.
Conversely, sometimes the genre is set for you. You may be asked to write in a specific genre and then have to figure out how the rules of a genre determine what information you will include and why that information must be included. If you are asked to write in a specific, new genre, you can use what you already know about similar genres to help you figure out what you should do. You can also use resources here on the OWL or in business writing manuals to help you better understand a genre. Looking at samples or models of an unfamiliar genre is particularly helpful and a good habit to get into as a writer. Most writers use models as a way to write in unfamiliar genres or to help them improve in genres they already know well.
Choosing a Medium
Along with understanding the genre features of what you are writing, you must also consider the medium in which your writing will be delivered. Although many of these genres will be sent via email, there are still considerations to make about what to include and how to include it. Official letters or correspondence should probably be attached as separate documents to emails. A short memo or note is suitable for just the body of an email. Depending on length and audience expectations, meeting minutes can be sent in the body of an email or attached as a separate document.
Social media posts are the one exception to email rules. Social media is distributed via various platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or weblogs. It is important to remember that social media is meant for a wide and often undefined audience. Your office’s public tweets may be accessed by anyone in the world, for example. For this reason, the medium will be particularly important to how you want to convey information. Please see the section on social media on the next page in order to better understand the particular media demands of social media genres.
Note: It is important to remember that each office or department has unique genre and medium needs and concerns. If supervisors or colleagues ask you to use a specific set of guidelines or formatting for any business writing genre, you should follow those guidelines first.
Common Business Writing Genres
Genres you may encounter regularly in the workplace include memos, business letters or official correspondence, meeting minutes, and social media posts. Some of these genres already have separate OWL pages built for them (links included), but others are described in some detail below.
Memos have increasingly been replaced by more generalized emails. However, the guidelines for memos are incredibly important, no matter the medium in which a memo is circulated. Memos should be to-the-point, offer a clear summary, and prioritize the most important information first. Memos should also have a positive tone appropriate for the intended audience. See the our memo resources for more information.
Business letters are still an important genre in business writing. Formal letters that give news or ask for information rely on set guidelines in order to help the reader get the necessary information efficiently and with respect to the reader’s attention. Business letters can be sent by mail or via email attachment, but no matter the medium in which a business letter is circulated, the formal guidelines given for business letters are incredibly important to the genre. See the OWL's business letter resource for more information.
Meeting minutes are a record of the most important parts of meetings. If you are asked to take minutes for a meeting, you should follow several basic guidelines.
- Include information about the time and date of the meeting, as well as where the meeting took place. If appropriate, you should also include a list of who was at the meeting. This information helps both you and your reader keep track of what happened when, and it also helps spark readers’ memories of the meeting if they can see when and where the meeting happened.
- Only include the most important information and details. Like most other business writing genres, meeting minutes should stick to what the audience needs to know. Long descriptions of events or unnecessary details only allow the important information to get lost. Stick to the most basic points and provide details only when they help the audience better understand.
- Keep all minutes uniform. All meeting minutes should be formatted the same way each time. If capitals are used for names, then they should be used for all names. If information is given with time codes rather than numbered points, then time codes should always be given. Meeting minutes should also be uniform in the way names are given. For example, if you refer to a Dr. Johnson in one part of the meeting minutes, you should refer to him as Dr. Johnson throughout the entire document. Similarly, in this case, you would refer to all names in the minutes formally using Dr. Mr., Ms., et cetera.
As social media becomes more prevalent in business communication, you may be asked to help develop or run your office or department’s social media accounts. The most popular social media platforms are Facebook and Twitter. Facebook allows you to post information without a word limit, and you can easily include external links, photos, videos, and other media in your posts. Twitter has a 140-character limit, so information needs to be concise and external media or links must be considered carefully before including. Social media writing tends to be more informal than other forms of business writing, but it does require a strong understanding of your audience. Are you giving information to fellow staff members? To current students? To prospective students or donors? How you convey the information and which social media platform you use will be determined by the audience, so it is important to understand what it is your audience needs to know and why they need to know it.
It is also helpful to look at examples of other social media accounts to understand the ways in which social media is used to reach out to specific audiences. The search functions in Twitter, Facebook, and most other platforms allows you to look up similar types of departments or offices or other departments or offices at your own institution easily. Each account should have its own voice, but you can use other accounts as a way to help figure out an appropriate tone for your own social media writings.