Of the various forms of business communication you'll see in the workplace, the memo is one of the most useful. Lacking the length and formality of full business letters, a memo allows you to pass along a message that gets right to the point of the matter at hand. Some businesses use a standard memo template for everything, while others will look up specific examples each time they need a memo written. If you're worried that you don't know how to write a good business memo, you're not alone.
Despite any memo writing questions or concerns you might have, writing good memos isn't difficult. They are versatile documents, but most share a common format, and memo writing samples can easily be found online. Once you have an idea of the formatting, you can customize your memos and use them for a variety of purposes with only a few minor modifications to how you write them.
Formatting Memos for Employees
Regardless of what the memo covers, the standard format for a memo is largely the same. Most people place "Memo" or "Memorandum" at the top of the memo, often centered and sometimes bolded or in all caps. Beneath this, separate listings for "To:", "From:", "CC:", "Date:" and "Subject:" are listed down the left side of the page. If the memo isn't being copied to anyone, then the "CC:" entry may be left off. The order of these elements isn't set in stone; some use the order presented above, while others place the date above the "To:" entry.
Beneath the subject line, the rest of the page contains the actual text of the memo. In a lot of cases, the memo is contained to approximately half of a page, though longer memos are used for some things as well. There's no separate salutation or greeting before getting into the body; memos are much more to the point than business letters. Since the memo heading already tells who the memo is from, there's no need for a closing line and signature either.
Writing a Memo Body
When writing a memo to your employees, start with the main point of the memo so even someone who only skims the document will know what the memo is about. State it as succinctly as you can in the first or second sentence, then provide additional details in the rest of the first paragraph. This is one of the most important rules of writing memos: Get to the point as quickly as possible and supply the supporting information afterward. Every paragraph should follow this format, beginning with the most important information in the paragraph and then fleshing it out.
The information that follows the first paragraph should all relate to the point raised at the beginning, supplying additional information as needed in a most-important-to-least-important order. Use centered section headings as needed for longer memos to help readers find relevant information quickly. Regardless of the topic, the first paragraph should provide an overview of the issue at hand and each successive paragraph should provide more details on specific points made at the beginning. There shouldn't be any surprises at the end or sections/paragraphs that don't relate to the opening paragraph in some way.
Using Memos Effectively
Though some managers use memos for a variety of purposes, they're generally intended to simply supply information. Some disciplinary actions or commendations are sometimes accompanied by memos, but it's important to remember that the memo shouldn't represent the action itself. Instead, it should inform the employee or employees affected by the action about what was done. Actual documentation of discipline or commendation actions should be kept separately and securely.
It's also important to remember that memos no longer have to be paper notes delivered to employees. You can send memos via email, text message or other means that are appropriate to your company and its culture. By embracing the technologies and communication styles that are most common in your workplace, you can help ensure that your memos will be read and understood by those who receive them.
- Less is more. If you can convey your message using fewer words, it will make a stronger impact for your employees. For less business-oriented memos such as party invitations or announcements you can use colored paper for a sense of fun.
Jack Gerard is a freelance writer and editor with over 15 years of experience writing about topics related to business and finance. His body of work includes copy for small businesses, how-to guides for entrepreneurs and even editing and copy work for international corporations.