Writing a memorandum (memo) is a common practice in professional and business environments. It is a highly effective method of sharing information due to its clarity and precision. As memos convey information in the shortest format and amount of time, it is more likely that they will be read by recipients. Therefore, the skill of writing memos is crucial for success in many professional circles.
What is Memo
A memo is a document written in a specific format meant for the purposes of internal professional or business communication. Memos can be distributed either digitally, or on paper, and can vary in length depending on shared information. A memo is addressed to a specific audience and serves the purpose of disseminating information and providing recommendations or notifications regarding a topic. Memos are a concise and effective communication tool which can be directive, informative, or advisory in nature. The specific characteristics of such a method of communication ensure that the memo is focused and will be read even when there is limited time or the reader has minimal knowledge regarding the topic. Whilst formats can vary, a memo is generally a document addressed to an audience that summarizes a public or organizational problem and articulates recommended guidelines for its resolution.
Unlike other types of academic papers or professional reports, a memo is not used to discover knowledge but is focused solely on informing a targeted audience. Memos should be written in professional language and contain a sense of structure. However, it is also recommended that the memo is easily readable and engages the reader’s attention. In many professional circles memos are considered a key technique in maintaining good staff communication, as well as a useful means of avoiding disruptive meetings to communicate relatively basic directives or guidelines. A memo should strongly resonate with its audience and address potential questions or concerns. Through this technique, memos are more likely to be effective and act as an advocate for the changes that the author or organization is attempting to introduce.
Things to Consider
- Purpose and objectives of the memo
As discussed above, the primary objective of any memo should be to convince its target audience to accept the provided information and recommendations. The memo should be focused on a specific topic for the majority of its content and it should avoid engaging in discussions that may divert attention or confuse the reader. When writing a memo, it is important to consider the goal that the reader may have. While some may only require the memo for informational purposes, others will use the memo as a guideline to navigate policy or business decisions.
- Writing style of memo
A memo should be written in a professional manner since it often serves as a method of official communication that is kept on record. It should use a polished and concise style that outlines and presents information in a logical manner. Avoiding jargon, slang, or other aspects that could undermine credibility is vital.
Memos, particularly those regarding policy, are not meant to be used to present arguments. It is a document which presents information, including factors such as benefits and consequences of a particular action or policy. Therefore, information should be evidence-based with the inclusion of any relevant analyses that supports the primary point.
- Presentation and readability
Similar to language, the presentation of a memo can have a profound impact on the reader’s comprehension of the text. Memos commonly have standard formats to be adhered to in different industries. However, a general format which eases the reading experience, such as bullet points, bold font and charts, can be helpful to improve the presentation. Similarly, employing an organizational text structure with a logical chain of thought will also benefit the memo’s readability. It is generally recommended to include the primary points and purpose within the first few sentences.
- Practicality and transparency
Since memos often serve as directives for action, it is vital to consider their practicality in the context of the specific industry or profession. Recommendations should focus on resolving an existing problem rather than focusing on abstract aspects. This leads to clarity regarding any such directives or policy. The memo should state how it would benefit the organization and impact the general audience (workforce, citizens, etc.) depending on context. Stating potential limitations or barriers to implementation of said recommendations would demonstrate transparency and prepare the audience.
Structure and Style of Memo
Memos can have a variety of different structures. For example, a policy memo will have a dedicated cover page with relevant information. Generally, a business memo follows a standard heading, which highlights the date, author, intended audience, and includes a short statement on the subject. Below is an example of a business memo structure:
This is followed by the body of the memo, which may include a number of aspects but should always follow a general essay-type format for presenting the information. The body includes the primary text for the reader and should consist of the following parts:
- Introduction – an extremely vital component for a memo as it is the most likely part that everyone will read. The introduction has the important role of engaging the reader’s attention, as well as clearly stating the topic within the first lines of the memo.
- Methods – this section is included only in some types of memos, such as policy memos. It basically summarizes the research method used to collect the information presented in the document and follows a similar structure to methodologies in an academic publication.
- Problem Analysis – a detailed explanation and examination of the identified issue. This section should highlight the importance of the issue and any consequences that justifies an analysis and/or changes in the current policy or organizational contexts. This should be strongly supported by evidence and strategic discussion of influential factors.
- Proposed Solutions – this is a general overview of the proposed solutions to the identified problem. It may range from different policy and procedural approaches to reorganization. It is vital to identify involved stakeholders and offer supporting evidence.
- Recommendations or Guidelines – these are a critical part of the memo, offering a set of guidelines on actions that should be taken based on the identified problem. The recommended course of action should be practical and fit within the contexts and identified parameters (time and budget).
- Limitations or other Relevant Discussions – limitations are a section that is also included in large policy memos or other academic-related memos. It clearly and transparently describes issues with the analysis and factors that may have affected the final results. Steps taken to overcome limitations should also be mentioned.
- Summary – a final short paragraph should be included that provides an overview of the main points of the memo and summarizes the basic plan of action. It may be viable to forecast future changes and include a form of encouragement if the memo is addressed to the workforce. It is important to include a professional sign-off such as “sincerely” at the end.
Problems to Avoid
- Unanswered questions
When writing a memo, one must anticipate the audience’s reaction and thoughts on the information and directives. Since memos are commonly used for written communication to avoid unnecessary face-to-face meetings, it is vital that potential questions that may be raised are answered. This is strongly dependent on the writing style. In addition, recommendations should be clear and concise and ambiguous statements should be avoided.
- Unreasonable or immediate demands
A memo identifies a problem, analyzes solutions, and presents guidelines for change. However, large policy or procedural changes may take time to implement. First, any such recommendations should be evidence-based. Furthermore, it is necessary to create a realistic plan of action if the memo calls for it.
- Subjectivity and long discussion
Memos should avoid personal opinions or subjective discussions in most settings. Passion and emotion can be reflected through well-written objective statements in a professional tone. Subjectivity can serve as a distraction and unnecessarily elongate the memo.
- Not fulfilling the objective
Memos can inherently differ in their objectives, ranging from a request to confirmation or guidelines. A significant error to avoid is the attempt to fulfill several objectives at once and present a memo which is unfocused and unstructured.
A memo is a short communication that is popularly used in professional and academic circles. It is reader-oriented and written in a manner to deliver information in the shortest time and amount of text possible. A memo follows a certain format, identifying an issue and attempting to present evidence-based solutions. It is vital to adhere to the correct format and writing style of a memo to avoid mistakes of subjectivity and to ensure that the memo is successful in fulfilling its objective.