How to Write a Business Memo
©2002 By Linda Elizabeth Alexander
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
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
1. How is this relevant to me?
2. What, specifically, do you want me to do?
3. What's in it for me?
Begin the memo with a heading segment, following this
(centered and bold heading) MEMORANDUM
TO: (readers' names and job titles)
FROM: (your name and job title)
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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