Writing Effective Memos

A memo, short for memorandum, is a type of business document used in communicating specific information to groups. The title implies that whatever is contained in the memo should be remembered in the course of business, though the purpose is somewhat broader in practical application. In the business world, a memo can be used to quickly and effectively communicate any vital information in a formal way. They are often used to communicate within a company to explain procedures, changes, and other facts that are necessary to business. Here are some tips for writing effective memos:

Writing a Memo

The most important factor to consider when writing a memo is who will be reading it. Memos are typically used to pass information to large groups, but groups have varying needs. You need to clearly define the audience in order to include the right information in the message. A memo to executives aware of upcoming changes will probably include less information than a memo to other workers who are approaching the topic with limited knowledge.

Decide who needs to know what is going in the memo, what they know about the topic, and the best way to tell them. After you know this information, you should start writing your memo by following the appropriate format. Some companies and industries have specific memo templates that must be used, while others allow memo writers to adjust the format as necessary.

Most memos start with a header that looks something like this:

To: The Accounts Payable Team
From: Susan Walker, Team Leader
Date: 17 April 2014
Subject: Upcoming Strategy Meeting

The reason most memos start with a heading similar to this example is that it quickly informs readers of the most important information in the message, namely, who it applies to, who sent it, when the memo was sent, and what the memo is about. This allows readers to quickly understand the impact of the memo.

The body of the memo will contain your actual message. Because memos are used in business and most recipients are busy, the goal should be to quickly pass information without taking much time to read it. Start the message quickly and get to the point. Often they start with the event that caused the need for a memo: “It has come to my attention” or “In lieu of previous discussions,” can be common introductory phrases. These phrases establish the background of the issue.

Typically this is followed by the key point of the memo. For example, “It has come to my attention that there are conflicting messages about the new reporting system. In order to resolve the confusion, we are having a strategy meeting on 18 April…”

For longer memos, you may choose to make this introduction a summary of all the points contained in the rest of the memo in order to facilitate quick reading.

After the background and point are stated, you can include any other needed information. This may be details about a new process, action steps for employees, instructions, or further reasoning for actions.

The best memos are ones that cover all questions, including reasoning behind any decisions. In order for a memo to be effective, it must accomplish the task of making the recipient remember something. Typically items are more memorable if the recipient understands the connection to other items. Try to find an approach to the topic that will answer all questions.

Many memos also contain a section at the bottom for action steps to be completed in order to make it easier for readers to understand the expected action. By including summaries like these, your memo will be far more effective at accomplishing its results. Readers can simply print the memo and use it as a checklist when needed.

Your goal in writing a memo should be to get the message across and make it as easy to understand and memorable as possible. You should consider using any tools that may aid understanding, such as supporting documents or reports that can be attached.

Close with a friendly comment and your signature. You may choose to include further resources, such as a contact or reference to data for further questions.

Tips

  • Bulleted lists can greatly aid understanding, particularly when outlining a multistep approach to a process.
  • If you include an attachment, you may choose to add an attachment note in the header. For example, “Attached: Quarter 3 Results 2014.” This tells readers that there is an attachment to reference.
  • Closing by briefly restating any actions readers may need to take can help achieve better results.
  • Don’t forget to edit your memo for understanding and grammar.
  • If the information you are sending is sensitive or complicated, you may consider having a meeting or talking to recipients in person. While memos are effective for quick communication, they are not always effective in complex situations.
  • Try to keep memos as short as possible, since they will be read quickly.
  • Put any important information near the beginning of the memo or in any lists or summary sections to ensure this information is read.
  • Be polite and professional in memos.
  • Use terms that are easy to understand. Memos should be easily readable, so only include technical terms if you are sure all recipients will understand.
  • If you have a group with many different levels of experience with the topic, provide summaries of the information for those who understand the topic and provide extra information in the body of the memo for those who need more information.