A memo (or memorandum, meaning “reminder”) is normally used for communicating policies, procedures, or related official business within an organization. It is often written from a one-to-all perspective (like mass communication), broadcasting a message to an audience, rather than a one-on-one, interpersonal communication. It may also be used to update a team on activities for a given project or to inform a specific group within a company of an event, action, or observance.
Memos can be tricky because they often communicate to multiple audiences who have different levels of knowledge about the context. For example, if you are communicating a new company policy, different types of employees will want to know exactly how the policy impacts them.
Memos have a header that includes DATE, TO, FROM, and SUBJECT lines. Other lines, such as CC or BCC, may be added as needed. An RE (“Reference”) line may be used instead of SUBJECT, but this use is becoming rarer as “RE” is often mistaken as “Reply” because of its use in email.
- DATE: List the date on which the memo is distributed.
- TO: List the names of the recipients of the memo. If there are several recipients, it’s acceptable to use a group name, such as “All Employees” or “Personnel Committee Members.”
- FROM: List the name and job title of the writer(s).
- SUBJECT: Think of the SUBJECT line as the title for the memo. Make it specific so that readers can immediately identify the topic.
Many organizations have their own style preferences on these issues. If not, the order listed above, double-spaced, is the most common.
The text of memos typically uses block format, with single-spaced lines, an extra space between paragraphs, and no indentions for new paragraphs.
Depending on whether you’re breaking good, neutral or bad news, you will choose between a direct, or indirect approach. We’ll cover this in Chapter 7.
When organizing your memo, you should make decisions with a few principles in mind:
- Meeting the needs of multiple audiences: Because memos are used to broadcast a message, they often have a large audience. Memos are structured to allow all of these audiences to easily find the information they need. Most memos use headings, for example. Memos also often start with a clear statement of purpose that explains what the memo is about. They also might contain a ‘background’ section for those who are unfamiliar with the memo’s topic. For example, if the purpose of the memo is to outline the new work-from-home policy, the background might explain the previous policy or why the policy has been updated.
- Conveying Seriousness: In the past, memos were used routinely. Now that email exists, however, memos are most often used to send out official announcements. You might ignore an email, but most employees will read a memo. Memos may also be printed, or posted on a bulletin board in common work spaces. Sometimes, memos have legal implications. (How often have you read a news article that contains the line “In a leaked memo, the company said…”). Memos therefore tend to be more clearly edited, precise and formal. That doesn’t mean that memos are full of big words, but just that the author usually chooses their words carefully. Your memo may undergo several rounds of revisions.
- Telling the Reader What to Do: Because memos often go to large audiences and because they’re for broadcasting, not conversation, it’s important to tell the reader what steps they’re expected to take, if any. For example, if you’re updating the work-from-home policy, are employees expected to contact someone if they’re interested in working from home? Do they need to follow a new procedure? Who should they talk to if they have questions? Clearly laying out the next steps will avoid confusion and frustration.
Let’s take a look at a sample memo.
Date: March 18, 2019
To: Department Managers
From: Safiyya Dev, Store Manager
Subject: Customer Service Excellence Nominations
Please submit your nominations for the quarterly Customer Service Excellence Award by April 8. Help us identify great employees!
Do you have an employee who you feel fortunate to have in your department? Does this employee show a positive and professional attitude when helping customers? Do you get frequent comments about this person’s friendliness and helpfulness? Now, you have an opportunity to give this employee the recognition they deserve.
According to the nomination criteria, nominees must:
- demonstrate excellent customer service consistent with Variety Craft Supplies’ policies;
- have worked at Variety Craft Supplies for at least six months;
- work 20 or more hours per week;
- not have received the Customer Service Excellent Award within the last year; and
- have a record clear or oral and written warnings for the last six months.
The winner of the award will receive a framed certificate and a $100 check.
A nominating form is attached. Please complete and return it to me by Monday, April 8. Thank you for your help in identifying and rewarding excellent customer service representatives.
As you can see, this memo has a direct and concise opening that states the purpose of the memo. The body paragraph provides the award criteria, which will help managers follow through on the request. The conclusion provides action information, a deadline and a courteous closing message.
Style and Tone
While memo reports and policy memos have a more formal tone, the audience of memos are coworkers, so the writing style usually assumes a relationship with them (and therefore a certain lack of formality). Just keep in mind that the relationship is a professional one, so the writing should reflect that. Furthermore, as with all workplace documents, the audience may contain a variety of readers, and the style and tone should be appropriate for all of their technical and authority levels.
Common Memo Writing Situations
Memos are used in a variety of workplace communication situations, from documentation of procedures and policies to simple announcements. Below are some common types of memos:
- Policies (changes and new)
- Trip reports
Figure 6.1 image description: This photo shows that the memo has variable speed (because it can be sent through email or in hard copy) and is moderately to very formal. Its purpose is to communicate within an organization and to broadcast a message. Memos aren’t used for conversations. [Return to Figure 6.1]