The fine art of writing a business memo is actually something of a lost art.
With the rise of digital communications and an over-reliance on cell phones and quick text and emails, there doesn't seem to be much room for the venerable memo.
That's unfortunate, as a well-crafted business memo can cut through the bureaucratic red tape and get important company messages out to the right people, in a clear and concise way.
Memos are highly preferable to emails when issuing information and data on key company issues, like policy changes or the appointment of a new chief executive officer.
How to write the best memo? Short and sweet is a good place to start, and an ability to communicate your key points is a good way to finish.
Let's take a look and see how to write the best business memo.
How to Write a Memo
By definition, a memo (short for memorandum) is a business document that seeks to engage staffers inside a company and communicates important messages on key issues on meetings, company policies, and corporate business.
Writing a good memo is mostly about good formatting, solid structure, and the ability to clearly and succinctly convey the intended message.
To cover the bases on all the above fronts, let's walk through the process, step-by-step, in creating a masterful memo.
1. Add the Title
A memo's title is short and to the point, and is always placed at the top of the page. Usually, a term is used in the title (think "memo" or "memo to staff.") Ideally, you want your message to stand out amidst the pile of paperwork and emails that often inundate the modern workplace. Directing your title to the intended audience/recipient does just that.
2. Make Sure to Include the Date
The date is necessary as a time point of reference. It shows the recipient when the memo was written and, in many cases gives the memo a sense of urgency, and that its contents and instructions are to be taken seriously.
3. Designate Who Receives Memo With "To"
"To" designates who receives the memo, either an entire company department (i.e., "sales staff) or to an individual (Sally Stone, director of sales.) You can structure the "to" memo line alphabetically, or by title.
4. Make Clear Who the Memo Is "From"
This line designates the memo's author, by name and title (i.e., "from the desk of Sally Stone, director of sales.") Often, to underscore the importance of the memo, the title includes the sender's signature, by initials. Usually, this occurs when a subordinate writes the memo for a supervisor or manager - that manager will sign off on the memo to show recipients that everything in the memo is approved and requires attention or a response.
5. Add a Clear Subject
This line designates what the memo is about and should always be written clearly, concisely and compellingly. Above all else, you want your memo to stand out, and to get your message across. That process really starts with the subject line, and is intended to clearly state what the memo is about.
6. Write the Body
This section goes into more detail on what the memo is about. The goal is to get to the point quickly (i.e., "We've set up a meeting on Monday, Jan. 6 to discuss first quarter sales goals and priorities.") The first line is all-important, as it sets the table for the remainder of the memo. It's ideal to break the body of the memo down into short paragraphs - three should be the goal. Any more than that and you start losing the attention of your recipients. Remember, clear and concise is the goal with a good memo. The last paragraph should feature a call to action, i.e., something compelling to spur the recipient into taking action.
7. Sign Off With a Good Close
The last portion of the memo can include a signature from the sender at the bottom, but it doesn't have to. Just sign and date the signature, to officially "seal the deal" on the memo, and let the reader know who, exactly, the memo is coming from. It's more important, however, to end the memo with a firm call for action, letting your readers know what specific action is to be taken.
Good Memo Templates to Use
To help you write a better memo, and give you a visual example of what a good memo should like, check out these sample memos:
- Vertex 42: This website offers a variety of different templates, including "casual" and "formal" business memos.
- Office.com: This web page is highly useful when choosing the proper design for your memo.
- TemplateArchive.com: This site does a great job in breaking the memo process down into easy-to-understand bites. It includes sections on templates, when to send a memo, and memo formatting.
When Do You Need to Send a Memo?
Knowing when to write an email is just as important as knowing how to write a memo. For example, there are scenarios where a short email will suffice, or an in-house digital bulletin board will get you to your correct audience.
By and large, however, writing a memo is optimal in the following scenarios:
- When you need to get a message out that makes an impression. Emails are great for getting a message out quickly, but a memo can create a message that is built to last. If your message involves a serious issue or recommendation, a memo is preferable to an email in getting your point across.
- When formatting your message correctly is important. If your message needs to include bullet points, headings or graphs, a memo is a great vehicle to engage staffers.
- When your message is meant to be printed out. If your message is going to wind up on a company bulletin board or in a newsletter format, or if your message will be used at a company meeting, a formal memo is the way to go.
You should avoid writing a memo when an email will suffice. That's usually the case when you have a very short message to send, or if you're on the road using your smart phone, and don't have the time to structure and format a memo.
Tips for Writing a Great Memo
Use these tips to write memos that stand out, get noticed, and are acted upon in quick fashion.
- Stick with the corporate policy on memos. Most companies, especially larger ones, have a standard script or blueprint to follow when writing a memo. Stick close to it and use the blueprint to get your point across.
- Keep your sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. As Ernest Hemingway once said, "brevity is key." Long, wordy memos are memos that often don't get read.
- Use bullet points. To be more succinct and to get your point across, use bullet points to better convey your message.
- Focus on the call to action. The end of the memo, where a call to action is included, is vital to the memo process. Concentrate on verbiage that inspires the reader and get them up and moving. Ask yourself this question: what is the top takeaway I want readers to absorb from the memo?
- Edit for grammar. Nobody wants to read a memo littered with typos and grammatical errors. Make sure to proofread your memo and invest in good grammar software like Grammarly.