Although many businesses rely on email and instant messaging to communicate these days, the original pillar of internal business communication was the memo—and despite the rapid spread of technology in offices, it’s still relevant and useful today.
Knowing basic memo etiquette, including how it’s formatted and when it should be used instead of email, will help you become a more efficient communicator within your organization.
What Is a Memo?
A memo, or “memorandum,” is used by organizations for internal communications regarding business and procedures.
Typically, they’re used to convey important changes that affect a large portion of the company, or to announce upcoming events to staff members.
Memos were most popular in the days before email, when important messages would be printed, distributed throughout the office, signed or initialed by employees.
Today, emails are primarily used to convey important information to the masses—however, they’re also used to convey a lot of other, less important information as well, resulting in overstuffed inboxes and lost messages. Modern memos, on the other hand, can either be emailed, or physically distributed to employees or posted in public spaces if managers are looking to cut back on email overload.
Format of a Memo
Unlike a formal letter or work email, the memo boasts its own specific format.
According to Purdue Owl, a memo is typically one or two pages long, single spaced, and left-justified. Rather than using indentations, a line is skipped between sentences for easy reading.
Using concise but specific headings throughout a memo help make the most important points stand out, and readers can quickly find the information they need.
The following sections are typically found in business memos:
Standard memos have the word “MEMORANDUM” centered across the top of the document. Then, much like an email, recipients and the subject of the memo are identified. The following sections are usually included:
Paragraph 1: Purpose
The first paragraph of a memo should quickly and clearly convey its purpose. There’s no need for crafty introductions—get straight to the main point of your message.
You might use phrases such as “I’m writing to inform you…” or “I’m writing to request…” to highlight the intent of the memo.
Example: I’m writing to inform you that due to our peak reservation period coming up, no time-off requests will be accepted after 11/19/2020.
Paragraph 2: Context
The second paragraph should provide context or supporting evidence for the main announcement conveyed in the first paragraph.
If an important change is being made or other significant action will be taken, team members need to understand the reason behind those changes and what effects they will have on their jobs and the organization.
Example: As you know, the holiday season is our busiest time of the year, so we’ll need all hands on deck to provide the best customer service. We appreciate everyone’s hard work and commitment. Please note that 11/19 is the cut-off for new requests—previously approved requests for that period will not be affected.
Paragraph 3: Specific Request/Action Needed
If team members are expected to take specific action after reading the memo, clearly communicate that in the third paragraph.
For example, you might need them to RSVP to the annual company banquet, or sign updated HR documents with their supervisors.
Even if there isn’t specific action that team members need to take, you might use this section to invite any questions or concerns.
Example: Thank you for your understanding. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.
If there are any relevant attachments—such as important documents, sign-up sheets, or contact forms—be sure to include those in your memo. Or, you might provide links where recipients can find more information about the issue discussed in the memo.
How to Write a Memo
In addition to the recommended format outlined above, here are some more tips that will help you write a clear, concise, and effective business memo
- Keep it brief and direct. Unlike in a letter, there’s no need for formal salutations or cordial introductions. You can (and should) get straight to the point by including the most important information in the first sections of your memo—you don’t want readers to have to skim through nearly a whole page of text to find what’s really important in your message.
- Include headings. Headings can also help readers navigate the memo by allowing them to easily identify key sections and points of interest (for example.
- Use lists. Try using numbered or bulleted lists whenever it makes sense to do so. This also helps to establish clarity and makes important information easier to digest.
- Maintain a professional tone and style. A business memo should not sound like an IM to your colleague in the next cubicle; maintain a formal, professional tone, since your audience will likely include your colleagues, employees, your boss, or all of the above.
- If the memo is long, include a summary. Our first tip is to keep your memo brief and direct, but sometimes brevity just isn’t possible. If that’s the case and your memo exceeds a page, include a “Summary” section with bullet points that highlight the most essential information from your memo.
Below is a sample of a memo regarding a company banquet. Note the format of the header and the way the information is organized into paragraphs.
To: All Staff
From: Lori Tatum, Regional Manager
Date: November 29, 2020
Subject: Annual Company Banquet
I’m excited to announce that our annual banquet will be held on December 17, 2020 at the Copacabana Event Center in Anywhere, PA.
The event will start promptly at 6:00 PM. We will be distributing our annual sales awards and honoring Mark Maxwell for 35 years of service to the company.
Please RSVP and submit your meal preference (see attached slip) no later than December 12, 2020. Thank you!
To save time writing your next memo, download our free memo template for Word. It includes space for all the key sections outlined above—all you need to do is insert your information.
Business Writing Tips
Being able to write an effective memo or email is just one of the communication skills needed to succeed in business.
If you want to refine your skills even more, you may wish to check out some online business courses to effectively communicate with your colleagues.
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