A promotion means career growth, recognition, and better pay. In most cases, it also means you have to learn how to write memos now. You know, those messages about the latest development, like the next unnecessary meeting or department-wide bonus.
Memos are the backbone of medium to large organizations. They are used to communicate the latest development to entire departments or everyone in the company. If you find yourself in a leadership position, memos are in your future.
As much of a mild annoyance as they are, it is not the only thing they can be. You can use a memo to inform your staff of anything. It can be about a grueling two weeks of preparation for the latest product launch or the all-expense paid, two drink minimum margaritas Friday.
However, you must know the dos and don’ts of writing a memo. Then we will go over some examples.
Memos can be different, passing various kinds of information. You have your information request memos, suggestion memos, and study results memos.
The objective of your memo will change each time you write one, but they all largely follow the same format. When you understand this format, writing any kind of memo will come easy to you, whether you are sharing information or collecting some.
The fundamental thing you need to know is that a memo is not a formal business letter. As such, there is no need for a salutation or sender’s signature. The first section of a correctly formatted memo is the heading.
Below the letterhead, there should be a header labeled “Memorandum” or “Memo.” This way, every recipient knows what it is straight away. The words could be in all caps, or a sentence case should be at the center of the page.
Also in this section are additional information that gives context to the memo. The information being – TO (the intended audience), FROM (the sender), Date (the when), SUBJECT (what it is about).
Here is an example of the layout.
Overall, this section should concisely inform the reader what will follow before they proceed to the body.
Here is where you state the message and offer contextual details. Ideally, it should be in two to three short paragraphs.
In the first paragraph, state the purpose of the memo. A common way to start this part of the memo is with the phrase, “I’m writing to request…” or “I’m writing to inform you…”.
There is no room for fluff. Be clear, short, and to the point. Use this part to state the memo’s point and tone before going to the details in the subsequent paragraphs.
In the second paragraph, go into those details and provide the necessary context. Each sentence should build on the former. They should also be understandable and straightforward.
In the third paragraph, state your specific request from the audience. This is the part where you say things like “Please email with questions” or “Please reach out to your department manager for next steps.”
If you are passing information, phrases like “Thank you for your cooperation” or “Congratulations on this achievement!” work.
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Now that you know how to structure one, here are a few tips on writing a good memo.
Before you start writing, know and understand why you are and who you are writing to. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to make an announcement? Answer a question? Inform the people of a change?
What about the audience? Who is supposed to read it? The whole office? Your boss? A specific department?
When you know your intent, you have a clear idea of what to say. When you know your audience, you know how to say it, using the right words and tone.
For instance, if you are writing to the entire office, avoid words that require a dictionary. But you can use a technical term if you are writing to a particular department.
Try and keep each paragraph in your memo under seven lines long. I recommend four paragraphs tops. Short paragraphs make your writing scannable, and thus, easier to read.
Also, use a lot of white space. 1.5 line spacing is fine. Double spacing is better. Never single spacing.
If needed, use bulleted points and tables when talking about lists and data.
There is no specific tone for every memo. The right one often comes down to the purpose of the memo. However, a safe bet is to keep things friendly and professional.
Stay objective and refrain from expressing your personal biases. Remember that memos are for internal communication of company policies and procedures.
Not only is your opinion unnecessary, but memos also have legal standing.
No one wants to read an overly long and tedious memo. That is why you should always try to keep it short and precise. In most cases, two to three paragraphs are enough.
However, if you have to say more, try to keep it on one page. If it is over, add a summary at the end to restate the key points.
Your memo should be a quick dissemination of information, but your conciseness should not be at the expense of necessary details.
An error-ridden memo has less chance of being effective than a flawless memo. When your work is full of mistakes and inconsistencies, it signals to your audience that you aren’t taking the content seriously, and they won’t either.
Take some time to edit and proofread the content before sending it. I recommend taking a break after writing, so you can edit with a fresh pair of eyes.
If you are not confident in your editing skills, reach out to a colleague or a professional editor to look over it for you.
Only when your writing comes out looking great under intense scrutiny should you send it out.
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This is a sample memo by the Oregon government. It has more than three paragraphs, but each focuses on a particular aspect of the memo’s purpose.
The first introduces the issue, informing readers of why they should take it seriously. The second provides context on the Who and What is needed.
The third and fourth paragraph makes explicit requests of the reader and prepares them for next steps.
This memo could use a little more spacing between lines, but it is still readable. More importantly, it is concise, and the main point is within the first sentence of both paragraphs.
In the rest of the body, no sentence is useless. Each one is either an extra detail, a request, or an expression of purpose.
A memo like this is a great way to inform staff of policy changes or new procedures within your company or department.
This example is an excellent use of white space. It makes the entire content scannable, allowing the readers to extract the meaty parts easily.
Also, the use of technical terms is helpful. When writing memos to specialized departments, it is okay to use relevant terms. It might even be advisable because it will help them understand you better.
Lastly, it is short, clear and there is no fluff. It signals total respect for the reader’s time.
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In cases when you have to be the “bad guy,” it is okay to show some understanding of your staff’s perspective. That is because your words are more effective when your readers know you can relate to them.
However, in the process, do not be over-friendly or patronizing. Try to keep a nice balance and stay professional.
Also, note the use of understandable terms because the memo is for the entire office.
Memos designed to inform an employee or a group should focus on the information, with the requisite detail necessary.
In this example, the entire body is a sentence with valuable information and actionable detail. If you want to do something similar but different, you could outline the critical facts in the second paragraph in bullet points.
It will make the memo more scannable and the key points much harder to miss.
An excellent example worth reworking if you get the chance to praise someone for their work. Memos like this are especially good for office morale because they are evidence of doing good work.
Feel free to roll them out when deserved. But balance is vital. Don’t be too effusive and lose professionalism.
Also, be economical. Too many memos like this (especially without the bonus checks) in a short period diminishes its effectiveness.
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If you are not used to writing them, short sentences might seem lazy and informal. However, when they make complete sense and provide relevant information, they are valuable memo writing practices, especially when crafting a descriptive heading like this one.
The example executes this excellently. One sentence per paragraph, white space, and each one takes the reader through a journey. In the end, everyone has all the information they need to make a decision.
Not every employee has a great memory, and it is probably best not to presume that everyone already knows what you are talking about.
This memo is a nice example of using one line to provide context on previous developments.
In scenarios like this, a line or two at the beginning of the memo reminds everyone and provides full context.
In this sample, if an employee didn’t know the company adopted a new software, they do now and are on the same page with other staff.
You should try and keep your email between two and three paragraphs. When you have a lot of necessary information to share, though, formatting it this way helps.
Notice how the bullet points allow three paragraphs to stand out from the rest? These are the key points, while the traditional paragraphs contain the background and progressional details.
It keeps the memo from looking bulky, and the last line tells the reader what to do about the inevitable they would have about a communique this dense.
A memo will always generate conversation about members of staff. They could either make their assumptions or read the correct explanation from you. The latter is more advisable, however.
This memo is about prospective budget cuts, but rather than jumping straight to the changed procedures, the author uses the first paragraph to state why.
It avoids the spread of unfounded rumors in the school’s grapevine and sticks to the structure of a good memo.
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A memo should have two to three paragraphs, but it doesn’t have to be. Just as it can be more if the information requires, it can be less if it doesn’t.
If all you need to say fit in one paragraph, don’t write an extra one for the sake of it. Keep in mind, though, this only works if you are confident the audience has the full breadth of information to understand fully.
A shorter version of this memo could have said the XYZ product is getting delayed, and staff should reach out to Marketing for additional information. However, it would have been cryptic, sparked unnecessary rumors, and ineffective.
Stating the challenge like this provides valuable context to the recent development. It also gives the audience ample time to prepare for a subsequent memo from the Marketing team.
Is that better than a short and confusing memo? Yes. Is it more effective? Definitely.
If, like the author of this memo, you believe explaining the WHY is irrelevant, use your writing to focus on every other question.
This example answers the WHAT with the subject line. Right away, every employee knows it is about the installation of new photocopiers. Then it follows through naturally with the first sentence. No disconnect.
The rest of the body answers WHEN and HOW before rounding up with a specific request. Bravo!
Knowing your audience isn’t just about determining the right tone and language. It should also inform the content. This is ultra-important when you are announcing a significant change in business operations.
This example primarily informs employees about factory maintenance and how it will affect working hours. Then it goes further by telling them how the decision affects their pay, which is a question practically every affected employee would have.
Anticipating your audience’s concerns helps you craft a powerful memo.
Once you have mastered the formatting of a memo for easy reading, the only thing left is content. Unfortunately, because it is dependent on scenarios and office dynamics, it will always be an evolving skill.
This example, however, is a brilliant follow-up to the previous one. When you announce a change of office procedures, carry everyone along regarding the WHY, WHEN, and WHAT.
Also, it is best to offer alternatives in the same memo to avoid conflicting directions.
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Passing information about a wedding might seem like a reasonable time to let loose and have some fun in your memo. Leave that to your group email chain.
In an official memo, professionalism is paramount, and you must stick to the rules regardless of the subject. From the subject line, paragraph spacing down to making requests of the employees, this example adheres to the structure of a good memo.
The primary aim of the subject line is to inform the reader about the purpose of the memo in a few words. Crafting a sentence based on your office dynamic is one way to be clear and concise.
The author’s “Kelsey’s Baby Shower” implies that everyone knows Kelsey and she’s pregnant. So it works. If you are addressing the entire office and it is a large organization, this trick won’t work. But you could use it when writing a memo to a specific department.
Memos are not spreading office gossip or settling professional scores. Remember, they are legal documents.
Make sure whether you are sharing a report, passing information, or collecting some, let your memos offer some value. That way, people are more likely to take any memo from you seriously.
In this example, the manager informs the employees about recent company issues and gives them an avenue to share their suggestions. This is good because some of them were affected.
It may seem obvious, but you should ensure your memo is always addressed to the right recipient. It is one more reason to take the time to think about the purpose of the memo. Doing that will reveal the best recipient to help you achieve your goal.
In this case, it is Mr. Jones, the immediate manager of Mr. Smith, a salesman who has chosen to leave the company.
Being a member of his department, he is the only one who needs to know he’s leaving. A company-wide memo would serve no purpose other than fodder for gossip.
A memo is not the place to express your love for weird fonts. Anything unusual or different from the official font will only distract and draw attention from the memo’s purpose.
Always stick to the company’s style guide. Arial or Times New Roman at size 11 or 12 are safe bets if your organization doesn’t have a style guide.
Again, remember it is an official document. Don’t let a funky moment create a blot that lasts forever.
I have mentioned the advantage of bullet points to highlight key facts. You can use bolded letters to achieve the same effect.
This example is from a school official to college students. It is not perfect. The first paragraph should be split into two, but using bolded letters to highlight important information is top-notch.
It attracts attention, giving them a reason to read the whole thing to grab the proper context. It can be handy when you have a lot of content in the memo.
Here is another example of how formatting can transform long boring memos into readable and digestible forms. This memo example uses a combination of capital letters, bolded letters, underline, and lists to break down essential information.
Also, it does a good job of understanding the audience. It makes its vital request with the first sentence, separate from the rest of the body.
However, this only works if the request is understandable on its own. If your audience needs context to execute it, let it come at the end of the memo.
As a form of internal communication, a memo is another chance to connect with your employees. Let your content, especially when communicating procedural changes, show understanding and provide alternatives when possible.
Try as much as possible to keep your memos from reading like a decree.
Your coworkers are busy, or at least you hope they are. Don’t make them spend considerable time trying to figure out the point of your memo. Always lead with the Why before expatiating or diving into the How and What.
It is also a useful example of improving readability with good formatting.
Your call to action could be as simple and intangible as asking for their cooperation or a specific request like reaching out to a department head. But you should always end with one.
After digesting the information in your memo, your audience should know the exact thing you want them to do with it. Don’t leave it up to interpretation.
A memo is a practical tool of efficient communication between members of an organization. Although it is formal writing, writing one is easy. All you have to do is follow the structure and tips outlined above.
Studying these examples will also help you master the medium and routinely craft eloquent memos on your own.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.