8.2 Memos

Learning Objectives

Target iconAfter studying this unit you will be able to

      •  identify memo structure and content
      • write a traditional memo

Introduction

A memo (or memorandum, meaning “reminder”) communicates policies, procedures, short reports, or related official business within an organization. It assumes a one-to-all perspective, broadcasting a message to a group audience, rather than to an individual. Memos are objective in tone and avoid all personal bias or subjective preference, especially because they may have legal standing when reflecting policies or procedures. Accuracy is therefore paramount in memos lest ambiguities result in mistakes that then become legal matters.

Writing a Clear Business Memo Video[1]

Before exploring memos in more detail, let’s review the advantages, disadvantages, and occasions for using memos given earlier in Table 8.2.1 on channel selection.

Table 8.2.1 Excerpt: Memo Pros, Cons, and Proper Use

Memo Purpose

A memo’s purpose is often to inform, but it occasionally includes an element of persuasion or call to action. Memos are most appropriately used for internal organizational messages that may be too detailed or too long to be communicated via an email.  Memos allow organizations to clearly spell-out for all employees what is going on with a particular issue. If budget cuts are a concern, then it may be wise to send a memo explaining the imminent changes. If a company wants employees to take action, it may also issue a memorandum about that action. In this way, memos often represent the business or organization’s interests. They may also include statements that align business and employee interest, and underscore common ground and benefit.  Memos usually carry nonsensitive and routine information; therefore, most emails will be written using the direct approach.

Memo Format

A memo has four distinct sections: header, purpose statement, body, and call-to-action.  Memos often have letterheads with the word “MEMO” written clearly with the company name and logo at the top of the page. Below are the header fields identifying the recipient, author, date, and subject much like you would see in an email. In fact, email header fields are based on those traditionally found in memos, so the same principles for what to include here, such as how to title the document in the subject line, are true of emails.

Unlike emails, memos omit the opening salutation but, from there, are similar in their three-part message organization with an opening, body, and closing. Always direct-approach, the memo message opening states the main point, the body supports this with details, and the closing gives action information or a summary. Let’s examine each section of a memo in more detail.  Figure 8.2.1[2] provides a sample memo for review.

Figure 8.2.1: A general overview of four components of a memo: header, purpose, body, and call-to-action.

Header: The header of a memo provides logistical information:

  • The Date provides the complete and current date.  To avoid confusion, always spell the date out: June 5, 2020, not 06/05/2020.
  • The To line identifies to whom the message is addressed.  Depending on the size of the company or department, the receiver’s full name and title may also be included.
  • The From line identifies the sender of the message.  Again, full name and title may be required.
  • The Subject line identifies the topic of the memo.  Subject lines must be specific, composed of descriptive nouns (8 words or less), not full sentences, and each major word should be capitalized.

Purpose: The first paragraph of the memo contains the most important information.  The reason for writing the memo as well as the action requested of the receiver should be stated directly in this paragraph.  Get to the point as quickly as possible using only 1-2 sentences to state the information.

Figure 8.2.2[3]

Figure 8.2.2: An example of a one sentence opening paragraph for a memo stating the reason for writing and the requested receiver task.

Body: The middles paragraphs of a memo provide more detailed information about the context or problem and the task, assignment, or action required.  The body of a memo may be multiple paragraphs depending on the memo’s subject matter.  Each paragraph should be between 3 – 5 sentences.  Use of graphic highlights: lists, tables, headers, etc., are encouraged for this section of the memo to achieve conciseness and to increase readability.  Make sure the body paragraphs answer receiver questions and clearly identify a deadline and people involved.

Call-to-Action:  The final paragraph of a memo summarizes content, states next steps, invites feedback, provides resources and offers contact information.  The final paragraph should also ensure goodwill, but avoid cliche sayings.  Use specific and concrete statements to ensure receiver understanding

Example:

Vague: Please contact me at your earliest convenience.

Concrete:  Please call my direct line (ext. 222) by end of day Monday, June 22.

Sample 1: Ineffective Memo

Sample 2: Improved Memo

Types of Memos

Request Memos

A request memo does exactly what its name suggests, requests an action of the receiver.  An effectively-composed request memo will clearly state the requested action within the opening paragraph of the memo. The explanation or justification for the request is included in the body of the memo, while being polite and using the “you” view will ensure the reader understands the benefits of completing the requested action. Requests that require a great deal of effort, time, or resources should follow the indirect approach to have the best chance of persuading the reader.

Reply

Similar to the request memo, the name of this memo also suggests its purpose: replying to a previous correspondence.  When constructing the reply memo, respond to each request in the order made.  Use the direct approach as the receiver will want your immediate response to each request without searching.  If necessary, provide additional information that may be useful to the original request.  Responding immediately to a request memo, especially if you’ve received a request from senior officials within the organization, shows efficiency and professionalism.

Follow-up Memos

A follow-up memo provides a written record of an oral conversation.  For example, a memo that records a discussion of a recent meeting that confirms the time, place, date, participants, meeting purpose and decisions.  Committing the basic facts, decisions, and issues discussed in a meeting ensures that memory does not become the basis for moving forward.  Writing follow-up messages protects you and the receivers by ensuring a shared and common understanding of the important details and facts.  The more important the oral conversation, the more important it is to ensure a written confirmation of the discussion is created.

Figure 8.2.3 [4]

Good Memo Checklist
Figure 8.2.3: A few tips on writing well-structured emails

For more on memos, see the following resources:

Key Takeaway

key iconRecord office policies, procedures, and short reports for formal distribution within an office following memo conventions.

Exercises

1. Let’s say a new bylaw affects the way you do business in the career you’re training for. Assuming you’ve risen to the position of manager at your workplace, write a memo that explains the new bylaw and how you will adjust the way you conduct business there. Be creative with both the bylaw and your policy or procedure with respect to it.
2. Imagine that your company is about to adopt new technology (e.g., new software, new laptops, mobile phones, etc.). Inform the employees and discuss the benefits of the new tool in a memo. Explain in point-form, as in the example above, how this development will impact their work.

3. Write a short summary field study report (see unit 29) for a class lecture in one of your other courses this week. Use a one-page memo to describe the conference and summarize the lecture as if you were reporting it to classmates who could not attend. Summarize the lecture topic accurately and concisely.


  1. GCFLearnFree.org. (2018). Writing a clear business memo [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHZdnldGuls
  2. Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from http://www.cengage.com/cgi-wadsworth/course_products_wp.pl?fid=M20b&product_isbn_issn=9780176531393&template=NELSON
  3. Meyer, C. (2017). Communicating for results (4th ed.). Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://oup-arc.com/access/meyer-4e-student-resources#tag_case-studies
  4. Kopywriting Kourse. (2020). How to write an effective memo.  Retrieved from https://kopywritingkourse.com/how-to-write-a-memo/
  5. Perkins, C., & Brizee, A. (2018, March 23). Memos: Audience and Purpose. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/590/1/
  6. wikiHow. (2018, May 14). How to write a memo. Retrieved from https://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Memo

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