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How to Write a Business Memo

By Linda Elizabeth Alexander
Posted Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A business memo helps members of an organization communicate without the need for time-consuming meetings. It is an efficient and effective way to convey information within an organization.

Use memos rather than letters when you are communicating within your organization, including members of your department, upper management, employees at another company location, etc.

Memos solve problems either by introducing new information to the reader like policy changes or new products being introduced, or by persuading the reader to take an action, such as attend a meeting, rinse the coffeepot when empty, or change a current work procedure.

The writing style of a business memo is somewhat formal but it doesn't have to sound intimidating. Your aim in writing a memo is the same as with other correspondence: You want to effectively communicate your purpose to your reader.

Memos are most effective when they connect the purpose of the writer with the interests and needs of the reader. When planning your memo, be sure to think about it from your reader's perspective: Pretend you are the recipient and ask yourself:

1. How is this relevant to me? 2. What, specifically, do you want me to do? 3. What's in it for me?

Heading Segment

Begin the memo with a heading segment, following this format: (centered and bold heading) MEMORANDUM TO: (readers' names and job titles) FROM: (your name and job title) DATE:
SUBJECT: (specifically what the memo is about)

Make sure you address the reader by her or his correct name and job title. Courtesy titles are not necessary but make sure you spell everyone's names properly and don't use informal nicknames.

Use a job title after your name, and hand write your initials by your name. This confirms that you take responsibility for the contents of the memo.

Be specific and concise in your subject line. For example, "computers" could mean anything from a new purchase of computers to a mandatory software class for employees. Instead use something like, "Turning Computers off at Night." This also makes filing and retrieving the memo easy.

Opening Segment

Begin your memo by stating the problem--that is, what led to the need for the memo. Perhaps a shipment has not arrived, a scheduled meeting has been canceled, or a new employee is starting tomorrow.

After stating the problem, indicate the purpose clearly: Are you announcing a meeting, welcoming a new employee, or asking for input on adopting a new policy about lunch hour length?

Discussion Segment

In the discussion segment, give details about the problem, Don't ramble on incessantly, but do give enough information for decision makers to resolve the problem. Describe the task or assignment with details that support your opening paragraph (problem).

Closing Segment

After the reader has absorbed all of your information, close with a courteous ending that states what action you want your reader to take. Should they hand email their reports rather than hand in hard copies? Attend a meeting? Chip in for someone's birthday cake? A simple statement like, "Thank you for rinsing the coffeepot after pouring the last cup" is polite and clearly states what action to take.

Traditionally memos aren't signed. However, it is becoming more common for memos to close the way letters do, with a typed signature under a handwritten signature. Follow your company's example for this.

Except for memos that are essentially informal reports or instructional documents, make the memo no more than one page long. In a memo, less is more.

Summary Segment

If your memo is longer than a page, you may want to include a separate summary segment. This part provides a brief statement of the recommendations you have reached. These will help your reader understand the key points of the memo immediately.

To further clarify your meaning, keep these formatting ideas in mind:

Headings help the reader skim for sections of the document.

Numbered and bulleted lists make information easy to scan. Be careful to make lists parallel in grammatical form.

Font sizes, underlining, bolding, and italicizing make headings and important information stand out.

As in all technical and business communications, long paragraphs of dense text make reading more difficult. Therefore, keep your paragraphs short and to the point.

Now that you know how to write a proper memo, you can be sure that your readers will understand your intentions.

About the Author
Linda Elizabeth Alexander writes marketing copy for nonprofits and other businesses. Visit her website TODAY for other informative business writing articles. (http://www.write2thepointcom.com/articles.html) mailto:lalexander@write2thepointcom.com