State the contents of the document

Your contract with the reader

End the introduction with a statement of the contents of the e‑mail, letter, memo, or report. This is your contract with the reader. In your college classes, this likely was called the "thesis statement."

Below I explain why we need to respond to this problem now.

If you have more than one central idea, state all in a list. Begin explicitly:

This e‑mail contains three issues: . . .

In this e‑mail, I explain the agenda, the location, and the information you'll need to bring with you.

Below are my two recommendations for the software purchase and a way we can convert the data.

You should be able to summarize any e‑mail, letter, memo, or report in one sentence. If you have trouble doing so, it may be a sign that your message is too long or rambles. However, if necessary, write more than one sentence describing the contents. Then decide whether all of it is relevant to your message.

Choose whether to state the conclusion at the beginning.

If you have drawn a conclusion that you think the reader will accept, state it at the beginning. If you believe the reader will need to read the logic that led you to the conclusion before he or she will accept it, state the topic of study in the introduction and the conclusion at the end.

Identify the parts of the document in a list of points.

In your statement of the contents or thesis statement, identify the parts of the e‑mail, letter, or memo in one list with the same format. Bullet it out if possible. In shorter documents, the contents may be obvious: the content is the response to the context you explained. However, if the contents may not be clear or you are writing a longer document with more than one part, write a sentence stating what is in the document and list the parts:

In this report, I explain the contents of these five reports the client has sent:

  1. Year-End Inventory Report
  2. First-Quarter Sales Report
  3. [continues here]

State the exact number of points.

Use exact numbers rather than "some," "several," and so on, as in this example:

This e-mail explains why we need to complete these three tasks before we begin the marketing campaign: settle on a brand identity, isolate the target market we have for this new product, and identify the features that will appeal to this market.

A better way to present this is to break out the list:

This e-mail explains why we need to complete these three tasks before we begin the marketing campaign:
  1. Settle on a brand identity.
  2. Isolate the target market we have for this new product.
  3. Identify the features that will appeal to this market.

Break for the first point immediately after the contents.

After you state the contents, break with a paragraph and begin the first point. Donít put words between the statement of contents and first point. That confuses readers. Usually, if you are tempted to put an explanation in after the statement of contents, it is information that should have come in the introduction, prior to the statement of contents.

Dear Marjorie,

You asked me to let you know where the team is on locating a new vendor for the plastics we use. This e-mail contains three points:

  1. A list of the vendors we have identified
  2. The strengths and weaknesses of each vendor
  3. Our recommendation for the most satisfactory vendor and reasons for the choice

1. List of the vendors we have identified

We have identified four vendors that satisfy our criteria. [Message continues here.]

 

Example

To see an example of a letter that contains no statement of the contents and a revision that improves it, click on the "Example" button below. The information will appear in a new window. Close the new window when you're finished looking at the examples.

Example

Example

To see an example of a report that does not have a statement of the contents in the introduction and a revision that improves it, click on the "Example" button below. The information will appear in a new window. Close the new window when you're finished looking at the examples.

Example

 

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