In recent years, emails have almost entirely eliminated the need for business memos. The purpose of the memo, or interoffice memorandum, is to aid business communication within medium and large-sized companies. Today, memos offer executives a more formal way to make interoffice announcements, especially announcements that involve complicated details. Any employee can draft and send a memo to colleagues. That said, the appropriateness of sending a memo depends on the size and the culture of your business. In general, it’s best to use memos sparingly. If you start writing interoffice memos every time someone steals your lunch from the break room, you may end up raising a few eyebrows. Save informal communication for emails.
Business Writing, a blog for professionals across multiple industries, recommends using a memo in several situations:
If your communication is a detailed proposal, a significant report, a serious recommendation, a technical explanation, meeting minutes, a new policy, or something else that readers will consult more than once, make it a memo.
If the piece contains bullet points, bold headings, columns, tables, a graph, or even a good balance of white space, a memo will help you retain that formatting.
If people will print your communication, use a memo rather than an email.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the rules for writing a great memo and provide advice about the memo format you should use.
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A memo usually begins with a header that says “Memorandum” at the top of the page in a large font. Beneath that, a memo contains fields including the recipient, sender, date, and subject line.
Typically, the “To” line would include the entire company or a particular department. In some cases, the author also includes a “CC” line beneath the primary recipients to indicate that another person or group has received a copy of the memo. List your name in the “From” line. If you’re writing to any recipients that you don’t know well, you may also want to include your job title. Try to write a thorough subject line for your memorandum. From the subject of the memo alone, the reader should be able to surmise the topic.
Compose short paragraphs that communicate your main points clearly and professionally. Unlike a letter, a good memo summarizes an announcement or concern as succinctly as possible. The first paragraph of your memo should state why you’re writing. Do not worry about a salutation, and do not include pleasantries in your opening paragraph. In the body of the memo, summarize key points and important details. In the last paragraph of your memo, clarify any follow-up or specific action needed from your reader.
Whereas a business letter requires a sign-off, it is not necessary to sign a memorandum. If you have any additional business documents associated with your memo, you can list them as attachments at the bottom of your memo. Otherwise, a memo typically ends with a request for action or RSVP, the date of a policy change, or a message of thanks for cooperation.
Writing Style and Formatting
Since memos convey detailed information, they often feature bullet points and sections with headers. The reader should understand the components of the message at a glance, and should be able to find the information they need quickly. Although all memos differ, some common organizational sections might include: background, tasks, timeline, summary, and policy changes. Writing the headlines in bold makes them easier to read and digest.
In addition to an emphasis on readability, the content of your memo should be professional. Memo writing should be done in a formal style. When an executive shares a decision through an internal communication, there is little opportunity for debate or clarification. That’s why memos sometimes give the impression of an authoritative, top-down decree. Again, a memo might be a good way to talk about the launch of an important project and a bad way to talk about unimportant break room shenanigans. A memo can give any topic the illusion of added importance, especially in an office that tends towards email communications.
The Online Writing Lab from Purdue University provides a sample memo that you can use as a template. The body of this sample memo contains 388 words, so the text all fits within one page of single-spaced formatting. We recommend keeping memos to a single page (500 words single-spaced), if possible, especially when you plan to print and distribute the memo. In some cases, detailed messages will be too long to fit on one page. If this is the case, be sure to email recipients a copy of your memo as a PDF as well.
In the sample memo, the first sentence does good job of justifying the importance of the memo: “Market research and analysis show that the proposed advertising media for the new fall lines need to be reprioritized and changed.” The tone of that thesis statement comes across as authoritative and formal. The remainder of the memo provides context, tasks, and priorities for the reprioritization strategy. The recipient of the memo can understand that the decision has already been made, and the sender has already assigned the relevant roles and responsibilities.
Because a memo can give the impression of a mandate, be sure that you have the authority to reach out with this type of communication within your organization. In a large corporation, for instance, it may not be appropriate for a lower level employee to send a memo to an entire department. On the other hand, if you need to quickly get the attention of your coworkers, a memo may be the best way to do so. A memo empowers you to communicate complex information in a straightforward way, while allowing for a sharable, printable format.
I’m an award-winning playwright with a penchant for wordplay. After earning a perfect score on the Writing SAT, I worked my way through Brown University by moonlighting as a Kaplan Test Prep tutor. I received a BA with honors in Literary Arts (Playwriting)—which gave me the opportunity to study under Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel. In my previous roles as new media producer with Rosetta Stone, director of marketing for global ventures with The Juilliard School, and vice president of digital strategy with Up & Coming Media, I helped develop the voice for international brands. From my home office in Maui, Hawaii, I currently work on freelance and ghostwriting projects.