Analytic Memo

Using Analytic Memo activity to facilitate critical thinking in a classroom

Time and Effort
Instructor Prep Time High
Student Activity Time High
Instructor Response Time High
Complexity of Activity High


Analytic Memo requires students to write a one- or two-page analysis of a problem. Students analyze an issue using discipline-specific approaches and methods and create a compelling argument for a specific audience. The recipient of the memo is usually a stakeholder in need of the student’s analysis to inform their decision-making.


Use it when you want...

  • To have students develop their ability to analyze problems using discipline-specific approaches and methods,
  • To provide feedback to students on their analytic and communication skills, or
  • To assess students’ abilities to communicate their analyses clearly and concisely to a specific audience.

What students will need

  • There are no special requirements for this approach.


The following workflow facilitates Analytic Memo learning activities within a classroom.


  • Determine which analytic approaches or methods are to be assessed.
  • Identify an appropriate, well-focused, and typical problem or situation for the students to analyze.
  • Get background information on the problem.
  • Define the recipient, subject, and purpose of the memo.
  • Decide the technology students will use to write the memo and set up the technology space, if necessary.
  • Decide how you will create small groups.
  • Create an example memo on the subject to share with students.
  • Provide directions to be handed out during class.


  • Specify the student’s role, the audience's identity, and the specific subject to be addressed. Identify the analytic approach students will use, the length limit (usually one or two pages), and the assignment deadline.
  • Set up students into groups. 
  • Share an example memo and explain how this assessment can help prepare students for subsequent course assignments and careers.
  • If students are to work on the document in class, give them time. If students are to work on the document outside of class, tell them when the memo is due.


  • Collect and review memos.
  • Provide feedback/grade based on the quality of the analysis and communication displayed in the memo.
  • Discuss the results of the activity at the next class meeting.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • None

Technical Documentation

  • None


Example 1

An Environmental Policy Analysis professor decided to determine how well her students could analyze a typical environmental problem midway through the semester. She identified a local story about contaminated groundwater as the topic of the focus of her Analytic Memo. Students were told to write an environmental policy analysis, address their memo to the state’s secretary of environmental affairs, and point out the policy implications of the groundwater crisis. The students were given three days to prepare their memos. After collecting them, she assesses and responds to each memo with a five-point checklist and short comments (Angelo 178).

Example 2

Students in a graduate seminar in Law Enforcement Leadership were being prepared for future leadership positions. The instructor wanted to help them learn to analyze problems and improve their writing skills. She used the Analytic Memos to get feedback on their progress. Students were given a short case involving a precinct commander faced with proposed budget cuts. Students were asked to write an analytic memo to the commander, considering the stakeholders, potential winners and losers, and available political resources. As the instructor reviewed the memos, the strengths and weaknesses of the students' thinking were revealed. Nearly all had done an excellent job of identifying stakeholders and figuring out who stood to lose or win. Students performed poorly at identifying political resources, particularly informal ones. The quality of their writing was also a concern, considering the chances of the press gaining access to these memos is high, and their writing would not withstand public scrutiny. With that general feedback provided by the instructor, students rewrote the memos, but this time as a graded assignment. The instructor saw improvement in the second round of memos (Angelo 178).


Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: a Handbook for College Teachers. Jossey-Bass, 1993. pp. 177-180.

Keywordsanalytic memo, analytics, critical thinking, active learning, classroom analysisDoc ID104105
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-07-17 11:32:51Updated2024-04-16 12:40:22
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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