How to Write a Business Memo
By Stacie Heaps
The primary purpose of the business memorandum (commonly referred to as a memo) is to allow timely communication to a large number of employees or other members of an organization. The business memo is generally used in place of a traditional letter for internal communication, though memos may be used to communicate with individuals from other organizations in some instances.
Memos are used for a wide variety of purposes. They may be used to convey information such as policy changes, promotions or other personnel changes, a project status update, or increased offering of products and services. They can also be used to request that employees attend a meeting or make changes to work procedures or practices, or they can address a problem, such as employee tardiness or absence, or provide feedback on a product or program.
As you prepare to draft your memo, think about your intended audience, and send the memo only to those who need it. Also, be careful when communicating confidential information; a face-to-face meeting may be more appropriate in such circumstances.
The tone of a memo is generally fairly formal, so choose your wording appropriately. It is inappropriate to be too informal (using slang, for example), but don't be verbose or flowery, either. Conciseness and clarity in language are always best. Use active rather than passive voice whenever possible.
Memorandums generally consist of a heading section, an opening paragraph or section, the body section, and a closing paragraph or section.
The heading section identifies the recipients of the memo, the sender, the date the memo was sent, and the subject (or purpose) of the memo. In the heading, determine to whom you are going to send the letter (that is, your audience). Include all those who really need to receive the information, but don't include anyone who doesn't—doing so just wastes their time and your money. Make sure to spell names correctly and to include the complete name and correct titles of recipients. The subject line should be specific enough to convey the main purpose of the memo (for example, "Mandatory Employee Benefits Meeting on Friday, June 4" rather than "Meeting"). The heading generally looks like this:
TO: (recipients' names and job titles)
FROM: (your name and job title)
DATE: (current date)
SUBJECT: (purpose of the memo)
You may choose to include your initials after your name and job title in the "From" line to show that you approve the contents of the memo (if you asked someone else, such as a secretary or administrative assistant) to write it on your behalf) or to authenticate the letter.
The opening paragraph or section states the purpose of the memo. It is generally quite brief—usually, no more than a few sentences. If, for example, the memo is in response to a particular problem, state the problem clearly. If, on the other hand, the purpose of the memo is to introduce a new policy or to provide a project update, briefly state that fact. Save the details of the memo for the next section. For longer memos (memos longer than about a page), the opening section might begin with a brief overview of the rest of the document (you can also include this information in a separate "Summary" section above the opening paragraph; NAME THAT CONTENT OF SUMMARY??). Memos do not begin with a salutation.
In the body (or discussion) section of the memo, include any information the reader might need to know. The most important (and most specific) information should come first, followed by less important (and more general) information. Do not include information that is not important for readers, but let them know enough that they can understand the seriousness of the problem, the reasons for the change in policy, the research that was conducted that brought the problem to your attention, the details about the promotion, problems that could occur if action is not taken, the current status of the project, et cetera. Keep in mind that memos are meant to be brief (most are not longer than a page).
If you have included an attachment—such as a graph, chart, list, or a more detailed summary of research findings—you may want to identify it here if appropriate, or you can do so in the closing section.
For longer memos, use headings to help the reader quickly grasp the main points of the memo. If your memo is longer than a page, repeat the "To" line, the date, and the subject line on and add a page number to subsequent pages. Numbered and bulleted lists also allow the reader to scan information quickly. Try to keep sentences and paragraphs short and concise.
In the closing paragraph or section, indicate your recommendations, the action you want the reader to take, or (if no particular action is necessary) end the memo on a positive note. This section can often be very brief, but don't make it so brief that the reader is unclear about what he or she is supposed to do. Make sure to include enough information to clearly convey your request. If possible, include (or reiterate) the benefits the reader will receive by completing the action (such as improving office safety by following the new policy), and indicate anything you are doing or will do to help or make it easier for the reader complete the action.
If some readers may not have it, then you should include your contact information, such as your work phone number or e-mail address.
Traditionally, memos have not included signature lines. The practice of doing so is becoming more common, however. In such cases, the written signature is followed below by the typed name of the sender. No closing remark such as Sincerely or Best regards is necessary.
If you have included any attachments with your memo, identify them here. For example:
Attached: May 25 Training Seminar Agenda
Formatting the Business Memo
Format the document so that paragraphs are flush left, and insert an extra hard return before the first opening paragraph, before each heading, and between paragraphs of text.
Written well, business memos are an efficient, effective way to communicate within an organization. For more information on business writing, see the articles Effective Business Writing and Writing an Effective Business Document.