To write a business memo, you really should know what it is first. Usually used for internal communication in a workplace setting, a memorandum—which is from the Latin for “it must be remembered” and is almost always shortened to “memo”—has one main function, which is to inform.
Memos may include a call to action, such as informing readers of when a meeting will be held and who is expected to attend. Memos can be written in a direct one-to-one format; more usually, however, they’re in a one-to-all perspective, such as from company leadership to all employees. In many cases, memos can substitute for meetings.
How do you format a memo?
The format of a memo is simple. There’s a header, the body, and a conclusion.
The header is composed of four lines:
The intended recipients
The name of the writer
The body starts with the first paragraph, which explains the purpose of the memo. The remaining body of the memo, which can include subheadings for each paragraph, supports the opening statement, explaining it fully and providing pertinent details.
The concluding paragraph
The final paragraph briefly summarizes the content and may make recommendations or provide a call to action, if required.
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How long should a memo be?
The typical length of memos is one or two pages; however, some may be substantially longer. Basically, the number of pages is irrelevant. In fact, some memos themselves may be quite short, but rely on information by way of attached tables or graphs, which increases the page count.
Short does tend to be more effective, so if you’ve got several directives to get out, consider separate one-page memos for each topic.
Bottom line: It’s more important that the writer accomplishes their purpose than stick to a word or page count. Whatever the length, memos should be clear and succinct, with as much information provided as required, but no more.
Types of memos
There are several types of memos, which are defined for their purpose. For instance, an information memo is one that provides the reader with information, such as explaining a new corporate policy. Other types include:
A directive memo, which provides instructions or directions, and can also serve as a reminder. Sometimes information and directive memos are combined. For example, a sales manager might write a memo to their department reporting decreased sales figures. It could end with a directive that the team must meet certain minimum numbers in the next quarter.
A status memo is a kind of progress report. This type of memo is often used by a project manager or team leader. They confirm where the team is on a project and what remains to be done.
A problem-solving memo is one that addresses an issue and provides a solution. It’s like a directive memo, although in some cases the writer might ask for feedback on the solution suggested.
A response memo often starts as a one-to-one conversation. An employee is asked to respond to a query. For example, they may be asked to research a new regulation and how it might affect your company. The response memo format restates the question, and then provides the answer.
A persuasive memo, which is sometimes called an internal memo proposal. Most memos are objective; however, a persuasive memo by its very function, is not. Although its tone is still business-like and research-based, its purpose is to persuade someone of something. You will not present both sides of the argument (unless it is to prove your point).
You could use this type of memo when warning employees of an upcoming inventory bottleneck, for instance, that might cause a spike in customer dissatisfaction and complaints. The memo would persuade employees to remain calm in the face of these increased complaints, and advise how to best handle the anticipated challenges in order to maintain customer satisfaction.
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Why not just email everybody?
Emails are fine for routine communication in the workplace. In fact, the format of an email and memo are pretty much interchangeable.
When a subject is more than a routine matter, however, a memo may be better. This is especially true if the message is to be disseminated across the company, such as a new corporate policy or significant proposal.
If the message will be referred to over time, and is meant to last, a memo is better than the less formal email.
Other than just being the proper format for important or formal messaging, memos have the following benefits:
Putting a detailed but concise message in writing clarifies the matter to the writer.
That clarity conveys itself to the readers.
That very clear message keeps everyone on the same page moving forward, limiting misunderstandings that less formal messaging might cause.
Top tips to follow when writing memos
Memos are far more than their formatting style. Follow these tips before you start composing your next memorandum:
Make sure it’s necessary. Don’t spam your colleagues with memos; if you do, you risk their ignoring those that really matter.
Not all readers will know the context of the subject matter. Be very clear.
Make your memo easy to understand. Depending on who will be reading it, keep jargon in the memo to a minimum.
Keep memos factual; do not use emotion. This includes persuasive memos.
Keep the tone formal and business-like, unless it’s a memo about a holiday party. Then you can be lighter and upbeat.
Restate your call to action at the end of the memo. And if no action is necessary, state that: “No action required.”
Here’s a sample business memo. It’s a problem-solving memo, which contains a solution to an issue affecting all employees at a company.
To: All employees
From: Cari Smith, Head of Human Resources
Date: August 7, 2020
Subject: Ongoing construction and parking concerns
We have been monitoring parking lot concerns since the start of the construction project next door. There are three alternative places to park while our lot remains out of service:
1. First Avenue public lot. Please submit payment stubs to this office for reimbursement.
2. All visitor spaces behind the main parking lot have been cleared for us to use.
3. Designated spots in the lot directly across the street from us.
Construction should end by December 1, at which time your normal parking spaces will be available.
Thanks for your patience, and please let me know if you have any concerns.
Copy to: Alexa Williams, President
Attached: map indicating available parking
You can find other samples, both dealing with matters raised by the pandemic, online as follows:
This memo is from the Michigan Department of Education to school district superintendents regarding the use of federal title funds during the mandated COVID-19 closure in March 2020.
This employee memo is actually a template. It demonstrates how HR can advise employees regarding evolving situations, like the coronavirus.