To sign or not to sign? That is the question that often arises when busy managers set out to write a memo. Unlike business letters, which clearly require a signature, memos are a different matter. Whether to sign them isn’t clear to many young managers just starting out in the business world. The following tips will help shed some light on whether to sign or not to sign.
On the surface they may appear similiar, but there are many differences between a memo and a letter. Letters written on company letterhead are external documents. They tend to go to smaller outside audiences, such as clients, suppliers and industry regulators. This makes a signature a required element. Memos, however, are internal and usually only seen by a company’s employees. In practice, memos don't include a signature. However, sometimes managers are wise to include their initials next to their name in the header. The real trick is knowing if and when to do so.
The purpose of a memo will help dictate whether or not to sign it. Second to email, memos are a primary tool used by managers to share information with employees, whether it be simple announcements or key information regarding changes in policy. Some memos tend to be more sensitive in nature than others.
How sensitive is the information? Routine memos – those that deal with non-controversial topics – make up the bulk of memos sent by managers. These types of memos rarely require follow up and tend to be taken at face value. Other topics, such as corporate downsizing measures, reduced health benefits, etc., can be difficult for employees to hear. As a result, their validity may be challenged. When the topic is sensitive, the memo writer may initial the memo to add validity to the contents. But even then, initials are not required.
How many people will receive the memo? Again, memos sometimes go to hundreds of people and initialing them may be a time consuming task. In the business world, time is money. Even adding initials may be a large undertaking. When deciding whether or not to initial a memo, ask what value is being added with this task? If none, skip it.
Signature blocks signal to readers that they’ve reached the end of a letter. With memos, however, telegraph the ending by using transitional expressions highlighting the conclusion, such as “in closing” or “lastly.”
Remember, whether you’re writing a memo or a letter, with or without a signature, it may be a legally binding document. Never dash off any correspondence in haste. You could get yourself and your company in hot water.
- “Business Communication: Process and Product”; Mary Ellen Guffey; 2008
- Signature blocks signal to readers that they've reached the end of a letter. With memos, however, telegraph the ending by using transitional expressions highlighting the conclusion, such as "in closing" or "lastly."
- Remember, whether you're writing a memo or a letter, with or without a signature, it may be a legally binding document. Never dash off any correspondence in haste. You could get yourself and your company in hot water.
Robin Fritz earned a B.A. in journalism and an M.B.A. from Indiana University, and works as a financial writer (18-plus years). She teaches business writing classes as an adjunct lecturer for IU. Ms. Fritz has also worked as a news correspondent, was a speech writer for the Indiana Senate, and was public information officer for the Indiana Dept. of Education.