Professional and Technical Writing/Business Communications/Memos

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Writing Memos[edit | edit source]

A memo or memorandum is a communication note that records events or observations on a topic. Memos are typically used within a business environment as an interoffice tool and can serve many purposes. Today, emails can be considered a common type of memo. For example, they call attention to issues that may need to be resolved, they update clients and other colleagues on the status of active projects, and finally, they give solutions to colleagues on issues that are related to the project being worked on. They are good tools to provide a concise method of delivery. Remember to keep it simple.

Guidelines to follow when writing a memo[edit | edit source]

Use An Informative Subject Line[edit | edit source]

Be specific from the beginning, tell the reader what the subject of the memo is and what is a proposal, progress report, question, or result. The subject line is one of the first things the reader is going to look at as soon as they pick up a memo. For this reason the subject line needs to be informative so the reader knows exactly what they are reading as soon as they look at the memo.

Use Strong Opening Sentences[edit | edit source]

Like a subject line the first few sentences need to elaborate on the topic and purpose of the memo. This gets the reader right into the information and avoids wasting time on lengthy introductions. Don't waste time and space with irrelevant information, get right into the issue at hand.

Use Active Voice, First Person[edit | edit source]

Memos always have a conversational style, and use words like "I", "you", and "we". It sounds more natural to say, "I would like you to do this" and it is more personal because you are addressing a specific individual. To get action from people, write in the active voice as opposed to the passive voice. Write as if you were talking to the person face to face. Use contractions, however, avoid using slang words or phrases that might be misconstrued by a reader. On the other hand, keep the document appropriate for a work place setting. Remember: Memos are professional documents. Although technical writing is not meant to sound academic, it is also not meant to sound unprofessional. A memo is a business document which is a reflection upon a business itself. It is also a legal document that can be kept for many years and can be used as a reference in given situations. It needs to stay formal and professional. Colleagues, superiors, and clients do not want the document to be too casual because it can be possibly interpreted as disrespectful. Never start a memo like you are talking in a conversation with a friend, using words like, "hey and hi." You always want to start a memo using a professional opening, such as "hello" or "dear," etc. This applies even when the person you are writing the memo to is a close friend.

Do Not Get Wordy[edit | edit source]

Avoid words that might not be known to readers. The language should be simple, but it should not be overly simple. Instead of writing “per your request” think of using a more casual way to say it for example, “as you requested” or “as you wanted” would be more appropriate. Be brief.

Avoid “fluff” Words[edit | edit source]

Get to the point by keeping to the important topics, while avoiding the use of fluffy adjectives. No one likes to have to read between the lines when they are on a limited schedule. Be honest in your word choice, without sounding wordy or pretentious. Only use jargon if it helps keep the memo concise and you are sure that the reader will understand the jargon. Your English teachers will all disagree, but in business, short and sweet is the standard for memos.

Check Before You Send[edit | edit source]

Take time before you send the memo to make sure that you have covered all the correct information. Double check names, dates, and the specifics of the project/topic to make sure that everything is accurate and up to date. Keep in mind that any written business document is legally binding, which means everything in the memo needs to be accurate. Make sure that you look at your spelling, since the spell check on the computer program is not always reliable.

Don’t be Overly Sincere[edit | edit source]

Try to avoid phrases such as “we’re sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused” or “please don’t hesitate to call.” Too many phrases such as this may appear to be insincere or trite to some readers. You can be honest without sounding like a child. Do not overuse cliché phrases; instead, make sure to express yourself and make sincere apologies when appropriate.

Become the Reader[edit | edit source]

Keep your reader in mind when you are writing a memo. One tip for achieving a reader-centered memo is to pretend that you are having a face-to-face conversation with the memo recipient. Again, make sure that you are professional, yet, at the same time, get the point across to your audience by being clear and concise.

Make the End the Beginning[edit | edit source]

Memos often begin with a statement of the problem or a found solution. Put what you want the reader to get out of the memo at the top and then continue to go into more detail in the body of the memo. This is known as an inverted pyramid style of writing. This style of writing is important because readers often only take time to skim memos. Putting the most important information at the beginning of the document ensures that the reader understands the purpose of the document. Most readers will miss the important subject if the memo is not written this way. This is mainly due to the fact that they are skimming towards the middle of the document and are not thoroughly reading the memo. Another tool that accounts for the skimming of memos is the use of bullet points, tables, and lists. These can be effective because they summarize the current situation of the project, as well as offer a checklist for future reference on things, such as deadlines. Bullet points are easily accessed by the reader and can relay important information to the reader quickly and concisely.

List Recipients of the Memo[edit | edit source]

It is considerate to inform the readers of who all is receiving the memo you have written. This way the readers know who the informed audience is and who has this information. This enables the readers to be prepared to explain the situation and answer questions from others who have not been informed through the memorandum.

Initial Your Memo[edit | edit source]

Like signing a letter, initialing a memo that is to be mailed is a sort of stamp of approval from you.

  • The Basic Structure of a Memo Is: Statement of the Problem, Discussion of Why the Problem Exists, Suggested Course of Action, and Your Concluding Statement.

Do not Give Too Many Whys[edit | edit source]

It's necessary to explain why you want something done, but be sure not to overdo it. A memo should be short and to the point. The reader will not read the entire document, so the memo needs to be able to be skimmed easily.

Keep Paragraphs Short[edit | edit source]

Limit each paragraph to about five lines or less. Put each reason in a separate paragraph, rather than bunching them up. If a paragraph gets too long, the reader's attention is lost and the purpose of the document is gone. It is natural for people to skim and find key words to focus on when reading a document. If the paragraph is long, they will resort to looking less for key words and try to skim through it even faster.

Call to Action[edit | edit source]

Close your memo with a call to action. It’s simple; if you want a response by Friday at 3 P.M., then say so. This gives the reader an obligation to send you something back.

Closing[edit | edit source]

The closing in a memo is as simple as a signature line. The signature line needs to include a contact phone number, e-mail address, and, if your company has a Web URL, that should be included too. A closing line may not be needed, and will depend on your relationship with the recipient.

Dates[edit | edit source]

Make sure you write any dates in the following format: month in written format, (ex. December), followed by the day in numerical format, concluding with the year in numerical format. This format is important so that dates are not confused. If the memo is sent to another country, the date will not be misinterpreted.

Legality of Document[edit | edit source]

Memos are legal documents. That is why it is important to write them in a professional manner. The date is not only beneficial for the employees within a company, but it is also beneficial in the event that a court case arises. Dates can be used as a form of documentation. Furthermore, a memo should always be accurate and honest. Do not state something that is knowingly inaccurate. Make sure to always check your facts. Memos can be required in court if the business gets sued. These documents need to be formal, accurate, and business-like, since they may provide proof that something was or was not done.

The legality of the document also heightens the importance of professionalism within a memo. Do not include nicknames or inside jokes. If jokes are stated, the courts may think that it is a code used between people and may be a red flag for the court system.If these documents are read in court, it reflects badly upon the company. Also, in order to protect oneself, do not commit anyone but oneself to a time schedule, unless it has already been agreed upon.

How a Memo will look[edit | edit source]

Beginning of a Memo[edit | edit source]

When typing memos in a company setting, the very top of the memo should contain the company name and that it is an office memorandum, only for office distribution. If this is not the case then your memo will start like this:


Keep in mind that the information after the colon needs to be aligned with each other. To do this you want to use tab. If you are familiar with Microsoft Word you can use the left tab on the ruler to do this.

Sample draft:

TO:            Candace Harris
FROM:       Candace Seay
DATE:        January 1, 2000
SUBJECT: Join us at the yearly picnic

Middle and End of Memo[edit | edit source]

After the subject line use a double space before starting the body of the memo. In memos do not indent paragraphs, just double space between each one.

One thing to remember is that most memos will only be a page long, but if you do go over a page then you will need a header on the second page. The header will include your name, the page number, and the date.

The ending of an informal office memo might only have the sender's name. If it is a more formal memo, then the person should put their full name, along with their job title and contact information. It is also customary to initial memos by hand next to your printed name at the top.

Sample draft:

There are several additional expenses that will decrease the net earnings amount. These include rent, supplies, and depreciation. Therefore, the company does not appear to be profitable, which is common for small businesses at the beginning of their operations. A focus on maintaining control over expenses while increasing revenues should result in net earnings in future periods. It would also be useful to prepare a cash flow budget each month for the upcoming year to decide how potential cash shortages will be overcome.

Final Product for Memo[edit | edit source]

To:        John Doe
From:    Jane Doe
Date:     January 1, 2000
Subject: Join us at the yearly picnic

There are several additional expenses that will decrease the net earnings amount. These include rent, supplies, and depreciation. Therefore, the company does not appear to be profitable, which is common for small businesses at the beginning of their operations. A focus on maintaining control over expenses while increasing revenues should result in net earnings in future periods. It would also be useful to prepare a cash flow budget each month for the upcoming year to decide how potential cash shortages will be overcome.