How To Write A Memo for Senior Management
As a corporate employee, writing a business memo is one of the most important skills that you should practice; it will often be the summary of several weeks' or months' work. If executed properly, it can offer you the opportunity to demonstrate both your command of a business subject and your ability to communicate effectively to a number of audiences. It may also be one of few opportunities (especially as a junior employee) to get your foot in the door with senior management; writing a powerful memo can help you to stand out in front of the CXOs that you may not be able to see face to face.
Writing an effective memo can take some practice; however, as a frequent memo writer myself, there are several "tips" that I hope to share with you to accelerate your learning curve. Here are my "Top 5 Tips" for writing a memo that will get your work noticed:
1. Keep it brief. Unless it contains a cure for cancer, no memo should be longer than 2 pages (including the first quarter of a page or so for your introduction) and most should end at the bottom of the first page. Most memos are being sent to people with a limited amount of time, and giving your recipient a brief, clean document versus one that requires those heavy-duty staples will make her or him far more likely to read it. Paragraphs should be brief as well; unless a detailed explanation is the crux of the memo, no paragraph should be more than 3-4 sentences. Avoid reader fatigue!
2. Open carefully, and be "answer first!" Your opening paragraph is the most important in the entire memo (and perhaps the only one a time-crunched reader will take in). Spend the majority of your time here as it should be clear, informative, and to the point. The main points that you want to make in this paragraph are:
- Context. Make sure your reader understands what the point of the memo is. I frequently open my memos with a sentence like, "Management recently asked our team to evaluate whether x, y, z, is true." If it is about a series of events that the reader should be aware of, you can start it with a status update, such as "Negotiations between Alpha Corporation and Beta Corporation continue to remain in deadlock." Make sure your reader knows exactly what you are referring to from the start. Remember, as the "expert" who is writing the memo, you probably have 10 times more knowledge of the subject!
- Relevance. Give the reader an idea of why you are sending the memo at this point in time. Highlight recent events that have caused you to write it (This could range from reaching a certain milestone in your work to recent developments within or outside of the organization.). This will help orient the reader toward the perspective you are trying to provide.
- Opinion. Most memos require the writer to state an opinion on something (We should proceed with this project; Three more months is sufficient time to complete our work, etc.). Provide this statement EARLY, and use the remainder of the memo to support this viewpoint. Remember, if the reader only reads one paragraph, they should know what you've concluded from your work!
3. Use bolding, underlining, and italics to get the biggest points across. Other writing tools that a good memo writer should use are bolding, underlining, and italics. If you step back and skim this hub, you would be able to understand where my big points without reading the entirety of the posting (I hope you do, anyway :) ). In addition to these tactics, I also try to use bullet points intermittently to make the memo look as easy-to-digest as possible.
4. Proofread, proofread, proofread. I cannot emphasize this point enough. After agonizing over your writing for hours, once you finish, you will be very tempted to hit the Print or Send button and be on your merry way. This could be a fatal mistake! A memo is so short that typos and grammatical errors are very easy to pick up, and dilute the effectiveness of your argument. Be sure to read and reread your work before distributing - I would suggest proofreading it and then putting it down for a few hours (if you have time) so that you can reread with fresh eyes.
5. Have a coworker or friend read your memo to ensure it makes sense (if possible). While confidentiality may prohibit this, having someone with less expertise and context read your memo before distributing can be very helpful in terms of understanding how a third party will react to your work. They can highlight areas where information may be confusing or contentious, and allow you to make your words more clear and persuasive.
Hopefully the above points will help you to create memos that get noticed by the corner office!
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