Good communication is important for success in any job. Today, most written communication within a company happens over email. But depending on your position within the company you work for, you may be expected to send out memorandums from time to time. Memos may seem like an old school form of communication, but they still have their uses.
So, what is a memo, and how do you write one?
What Is It?
Memorandums (often referred to as memos) are messages sent out to large groups of people within a company or institution. They are most often sent by management, though employees may need to send them as well. Memos are used for internal business or communication. They are not meant to be read by people outside the company.
Memos are simply a way to disseminate information or make announcements. Today, they are typically sent out over email, though they may also be posted to bulletin boards around the office or distributed in the mailroom. More formal than standard emails, they don’t necessarily require a response, though a call to action may be included. To help you differentiate between emails and memos, try thinking of standard emails as a conversation—you send one expecting a reply—and a memo as an announcement put out over email.
When to Write It
First things first, check to see if your company has rules about writing memos. Many companies have guidelines regarding when it is appropriate and how to format them.
Generally speaking, anytime you have an announcement to make regarding the operations of a company, department, or institution, you can do so through a memo.
This could include but is not limited to:
- Changes to management
- Changes to daily operations
- Changes in clientele going forward
- Changes in business hours
- Quarterly or yearly earnings reports
- Responses to major legislation or national events
Memos can even be used for simple things like reminding everyone that passwords reset on a certain date or announcing the company holiday party.
They are used most often as a way to communicate information, not to foster conversation. If you are looking for a conversation, a standard email is a better way to achieve that.
How to Write a Memorandum
All memorandums start with a standard header that looks like this:
This is the opening of your memo. You do not include a personal salutation after this like you would in an email or letter. Begin with a heading, in larger font size than the rest of your text, that says “memorandum.” After that, fill in the rest of the information: who the memo is to, from, the date, and the subject of the memo.
Including this information makes it clear to the recipient that this is a memo, not a standard email. It also provides all the pertinent information upfront, making it clear what the memo is going to be about and who was meant to receive it. This way, anyone who may have received the memo by mistake can safely disregard it.
2. First paragraph
The first paragraph of your memo should clearly establish why you are writing the memo. Make the announcement you need to make or state the problem you are addressing. Keep this paragraph short and to the point. Think of it as your thesis statement, the support, and evidence for which will come in subsequent paragraphs.
3. Second paragraph
Use your second paragraph to provide context for your announcement. If you are announcing changes in management, explain why the changes are necessary and when you can reasonably expect the changes to be complete. Be as transparent as you can. Fostering a good workplace environment relies on clear and open communication. If you are announcing quarterly sales figures, this would be the place to include any relevant data, including charts, graphs, or lists. Always provide citations for the data and facts included in your memorandum.
4. Third paragraph
This is where you close your memo. If you expect your employees or coworkers to take a specific action in response to the memo, such as signing up to bring chips to the office party or resetting their password, include that here. Be specific about what you need people to do; don’t leave any room for creative interpretation. You may also indicate when further information on the subject discussed in the memo will be available, if applicable. Don’t forget to thank people for taking the time out of their busy day to read your memo.
There’s no right number of paragraphs for a memo, though three is a good number to start with. If you need more space than that to effectively communicate on the issue, take more space. If you find that your memo is quickly becoming longer than two pages, stop and consider whether a memo is the right way to get the information across.
Tips and Tricks for Professional Memorandums
Follow company guidelines. Many companies have internal standards for written communication. If your company has a memo template, use it. If they provide a style guide, follow it.
Use a template. If you are unsure about how to format your memo, and your company doesn’t provide guidelines, there are many templates available online that you can use.
Choose your audience carefully. Not every memo needs to go out company-wide. Share the information only with the people who need it. This avoids cluttering your coworker’s and employee’s inboxes with unnecessary emails, which is something we can all get behind.
Know your audience. This is good advice for anything you write. Know the people you are writing it for. Don’t write over their heads, and don’t provide more information than they want or need. Anticipate questions your audience may have about your announcement and answer as many as you can in the memo itself.
Keep it short. Memos are usually no longer than one page. However, there are situations in which longer memos may be required. Use your discretion while keeping it as short as possible. This shows your readers that you value their time, and you are not going to take it up unnecessarily. If you find your memo quickly becoming unwieldy, the information you need to convey may be better suited to an email, report, or meeting.
Stay on topic. Avoid including information not pertinent to your subject. Memos aren’t the place to chat and catch people up on the office gossip. Write what needs to be said, no more, no less. If you want to encourage your coworkers to read more information on the subject of the memo, include a link to other materials that they can peruse at their leisure.
Be specific. Include relevant dates and facts when you have them, so your coworkers and employees have ready access to accurate information. Avoid hypotheticals when possible.
Be professional. You may adopt a more casual tone in emails with your workplace BFF, but memorandums are official workplace documents. Your tone and word choice should reflect that. Write in complete sentences with a tone appropriate for a professional setting.
Be mindful of the calendar. If you are sending out a memo announcing the observance of a holiday, a mandatory meeting, or anything that is time-sensitive, send the memo out at least one week in advance of the relevant date. Do your coworkers and employees the courtesy of allowing them to adjust their schedules and plans accordingly.
Use subheadings. Subheadings are especially helpful if your memo is on the longer side. This will help your readers find the information they need easily. It also appeals to those who are skimmers rather than readers. And let’s face it, there will always be at least one person who skims official communication instead of reading it completely.
Use white space to your advantage. Avoid the wall of text look by writing short paragraphs and using numbered lists and bullet points when appropriate. People are more likely to read something all the way through if it is pleasing to look at.
Proofread. There’s no better way to undercut everything you’ve written than to have it riddled with errors. Take the time to proofread your memo before you send it out. If you have the time, wait to do the proofreading until the day after you write the memo. You are likely to catch more errors with fresh eyes than you are at the end of a long day. Ask a coworker to take a look as well if you can. The chances are high that they will find a stray comma or misspelling that you missed.
If you want to write a great memo, remember to keep things professional, short, and to the point. Say exactly what you need to say and include facts and additional information on the topic as necessary. Follow your company’s guidelines or a simple template and you can’t go wrong. Before you know it, you’ll be a memo writing expert.