Identifying Information in Printed Communication

Instructor: Melanie Lawson
In this lesson you will learn how to identify important information from emails, memos and posted announcements and organize it in order to better retain the information.

Information Overload

We are all on information overload in today's society. We read hundreds of emails, texts, alerts, social media posts and other information day in and day out. Printed communication is constantly being thrown at us from different directions and we're expected to read it, remember it and even recall it when necessary. So, you might wonder, how can we gather specific information from printed communication? Well, there are a few ways to sort through large bodies of information to pick out the important parts and easily remember them. This will save you time and your sanity.

Many of us are on information overload.

Emails and Memos

It's easy to feel overwhelmed when reading tons of emails and memos. You might feel as though your boss or co-workers are sending them without reason. However, learning to read through the printed information quickly and gather the important facts will save you time, and probably even your sanity. When you open an email or memo, first read the subject line. The subject line should tell you the topic and also give you a clue as to the importance of the content. For example, a memo titled 'Department Staff Reductions' is probably very important and likely to affect you and your co-workers directly, so read this one carefully. Hopefully your company wouldn't lay you off in an email and would instead talk to you face-to-face, but nonetheless if you receive an email titled 'Department Staff Reductions,' read through this email carefully.

After you've read the subject, move to the body of the email or memo and begin to identify the who, what, when and why.

• The who can include who is sending the email but also who it is directed toward. Using the example from above regarding department staff reductions, is your department affected or is it another department?

• Identifying the what is usually easy and can often be identified by reading the subject line. Again, with a staff reductions memo, the 'what' is a department staff reduction.

• The when is often marked by a date or time. Instead of giving a specific time, some memos might say, 'effective immediately' or use other words to identify when the change will occur.

• Lastly, the why might be difficult to discern and may not always be included in memos or emails. The 'why' is often what everyone wants to know and is most intriguing in the example of staff reductions, but what's written in the email or memo might be ambiguous. For example, a quick line about, 'a changing corporate environment leading to staff reductions' might be all the information you'll receive in the memo. If this is the case, then the 'why' may be communicated to you at a later date or it might be worth asking your boss for some of their time to sit down and discuss with you. Your boss or whomever is making the changes may not want to clutter the email with too much information and might communicate the 'why' to you at another time.


Posted announcements are used both in and outside the corporate setting to advertise anything from an upcoming event to a change in the normal bus schedule. Announcements should be read with the same scrutiny as emails and memos, using the who, what, when, why technique, but announcements will also include the fifth W- where.

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